Paper Moulds of Maya Monuments

paper mould prior to cleaning

Paper mould of stone monument (Block 3, Structure 44, Yaxchilan, Mexico.)

The paper moulds housed in the Peabody Museum were originally produced in situ at Maya archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras during the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries. Sites represented include Yaxchilan, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Kabah, Xcalumkin, Quirigua, Uaxactun, Piedras Negras and Copan. The paper moulds vary in size from 15 cm x 20 cm to over 1.5 meters x 2.5 meters x 15 cm in depth.

Nineteenth-Century Paper Moulding Techniques 

Archival research into Museum and University records provided information on the manufacture of these paper objects. The nineteenth-century paper moulding techniques -- "squeeze" and papier-mache -- served to capture the most subtle surface features of the low-relief carvings in deeply-cut wood and stone. The "squeeze" type were made by carefully pressing moistened paper sheets onto the cleaned relief carving and by tamping firmly into the relief. A paste adhesive was applied with a wide brush between layers of paper sheets, followed by additional sheets of thicker paper that built up the mould. When the mould was nearly dry, it was carefully removed from the carved stone or wood monument. When thoroughly dry, the paper mould was coated on its image relief side with a drying oil or shellac. The moulds were then shipped to the Peabody Museum for subsequent replication in plaster. The shellac coating served as a moisture barrier during the wet plaster casting process. One or more plaster casts can be made from one paper mould.

Documentation, Cleaning, & Containerization  

Cleaning paper mould Piedras Negras Two small paper moulds

Cleaning a paper mould (Stela 36, Piedras Negras).

Paper mould made in 1880 of a carved stone, Uxmal, Mexico (above), and a paper mould made in 1881 of a wood beam, Kabah, Mexico (below).

A few years ago, each paper mould was photographed, identified, numbered, and its condition assessed, surface cleaned, and stabilized. This preservation effort involved Mesoamerican curatorial specialists for identification of site and monument, and conservation expertise for cleaning and stabilization. Because of their fragility as paper objects, each mould was placed in a protective rigid container. They are easily accessible for use in teaching and research and for public exhibition. 

With increased Mesoamerican glyph decipherment studies and recent availability of noninvasive replication processes—digital imaging and laser scanning—these paper objects are able to serve more widely in the international research community than in earlier decades.