Jalisco’s obsidian deposits are thought to be the fourth largest in the world. And because pre-Hispanic civilizations in Mexico did not know how to work metal, obsidian was literally a “gift of the gods” allowing them to manufacture arrow and spear heads, knives, scrapers and even mirrors.
These are just two of the many nuggets of information that I gleaned from Mexico’s first Symposium on Obsidian Research and Characteristics, held at the Colegio de Jalisco in Zapopan from October 1–3, with around 60 people in attendance.
The event was organized by archaeologist Rodrigo Esparza, who specializes in the identification of obsidian by Neutron Activation Analysis, a technology that creates a unique “fingerprint” indicating that an artifact could only have come from a certain deposit. The technique has already proven that the Anasazi Indians were using tools which could only have come from obsidian deposits in Jalisco, he said.
Esparza also revealed the findings of a new study of great interest to specialists attending the symposium that deals with pre-Hispanic techniques that produced a kind of obsidian jewelry found exclusively in the region of what today is called Jalisco.
Around 180 B.C., artisans living and working around today’s pueblos of San Juan de los Arcos and Navajas mastered a technique for producing sheets of obsidian a mere one or two millimeters in thickness, Esparza said. “This was not done by grinding or polishing but by using complicated percussion techniques.”
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