Institute of Archaeology

Prof Elizabeth Graham

Prof Elizabeth Graham

Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology

Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square

Institute of Archaeology

Joined UCL
1st Sep 1999

Research summary

My archaeological research focuses on the Maya of Precolumbian and early colonial Mesoamerica. I carry out fieldwork in Belize, and have done so since 1973. I presently direct excavations at the site of Marco Gonzalez on Ambergris Caye, an island on Belize’s barrier reef. At Lamanai, we are focusing on improving the care of the on-site collections. We are raising funds for plastic-free storage, and to improve ways to facilitate access to the artefact material.

My last book, Maya Christians and Their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize, combined archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence on the establishment of mission churches and the proselytisation of the Maya in Belize in the 16th and 17th centuries. Investigations at Lamanai have centred on periods of transition, such as the years of the collapse of the Classic Maya dynasties (A.D. 250-830) and the transition to what we call the Postclassic period. Work on the coast at Marco Gonzalez reflects my interest in coastal trade and exchange, but we are also studying the long-term environmental impacts of human activity on soil formation and nutrient retention in the context of future soil and food security. Other research on which I focus is exploding the myth of ‘human sacrifice’, which is generally perceived to have been practiced not only in the Maya and Aztec worlds, but in the ancient world in general—what I like to call the ‘Mel Gibsonisation’ of the past.

Teaching summary

I have taught a variety of courses over the years in both Canada and the U.K.  Most courses focus on origins of civilisations, but I have also taught human evolution, and environment and urbanism in the humid tropics.  Here at UCL I lecture in a variety of courses but focus on Mesoamerica, the Maya, and the Aztecs at the undergraduate level, and on the graduate level on the Maya, and on our new modules, which introduce the archaeology of the Americas in general.  I also supervise a range of Ph.D. students from around the world who come to the Institute to study Mesoamerican civilizations, although I have also supervised students who work in Cuba and the Caribbean, as well as in the fields of cultural heritage, conservation, urban agriculture, and Neotropical urbanism.


University of Cambridge
, | 1983
University of Rhode Island
, | 1970