Graffiti Was Here

By | December 7, 2019

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Graffiti at the Unterfahrung Kefergasse (a tunnel under the Westbahn) in Penzing, Vienna. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

The debate over graffiti has been ongoing for decades. Is it art? Is it vandalism? Should it be covered under freedom of expression? While these questions may never be answered, one thing is clear: the tendency of mankind to leave their mark on walls has been around since before the invention of written language.

The word graffiti, as well as its singular form “graffito,” is Italian and derived from the word “graffio,” meaning “a scratch.” However, the practice of “tagging” walls was happening long before there was a word to describe it. In fact, the earliest graffiti is believed to have been created between 13,000 and 9,000 B.C. The graffiti in question is “Cueva de las Manos”, a cave painting found in Santa Cruz, Argentina. Its name translates to “The Cave of Hands,” which is a pretty apt description of the cave painting which consists entirely of hands in various sizes and positions.

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Cueva de las Manos. Source: (

Thousands of years later, the Greeks and Romans were still at it, writing their names and poems on buildings. In Turkey, in what was once the location of the Greek city of Ephesus, there’s a drawing of a foot, a hand, a heart, and a number. According to the local guides there, it was an advertisement for prostitution. Graffiti has also been found in the ruins of Pompeii, the oldest of which includes a timestamp dating it to October 3, 78 B.C.