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NAST invites you to our annual Aveni Lecture Series. This year's lecture is "A Geography of Thrones: Xultun's North Acropolis" given by Heather Hurst, professor of anthropology and associate chair of the anthropology department at Skidmore University.


Xultun is one of the great Classic period Maya cities of lowland Guatemala. In the course of many generations of kings and queens, an elegant city of soaring pyramids, large plazas, wide causeways, and elite residential areas rose within the central precinct. Distinct from the very dense urban zone is the Los Arboles complex, which sits isolated to the north. From 2010 to 2019, archaeologists of the San Bartolo-Xultun Project investigated the architectural form, construction phases, and activities associated with this complex. Outstanding preservation of the penultimate phase, likely 5th century CE, revealed an extensive program of modeled plaster sculpture adorning Los Arboles’ platform and upper friezes, marking this acropolis as a sacred location associated with ancestral deities and dynastic history. In 2021, lidar data for the Xultun area transformed our understanding of this northern acropolis and led to the discovery of new stelae. This lecture will present a synthesis of investigations to date, as well as examine the unusual geographic context of the acropolis to better understand its role as a sacred place in Xultun’s historic and mythic identity.

Heather Hurst is an archaeologist and archaeological illustrator who works in Central America and Mexico. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Yale University in 2009, completing a multi-site investigation of Maya wall paintings in the Guatemalan lowlands. Currently a Professor at Skidmore College, her research and teaching interests focus on artists’ materials and practice, mural painting, architecture, and cultural heritage preservation. Hurst has participated in twenty years of fieldwork in Mesoamerica, including research at the sites of Bonampak, Copán, Homul, Oxtotitlán, Palenque, Piedras Negras, San Bartolo, Tikal, and Xultun. Her work has been published in National Geographic, Science, and The New York Times, and exhibited at the Met, The National Gallery of Art, and LACMA, among others. Hurst received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “genius” Fellowship in 2004 and was awarded recognition as a Guggenheim Fellow (2017) and a Burkhardt Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (2018).

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