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Back You are here: Home Columns Columns John Pint A visit to an underground obsidian mine Black, red, yellow… and now: white obsidian?

A visit to an underground obsidian mine Black, red, yellow… and now: white obsidian?

One day at the Casa de Cultura in Teuchitlán, I spent a while chatting with Chava Villalobos, one of the most knowledgeable guides at the Guachimontones archaeological site. Chava was born in Teuchitlán and for a long time his teacher was the late Phil Weigand. When I mentioned that I was interested in obsidian, he told me about a deep mine he knew of where the Indians had been extracting the biggest pieces of obsidian he had ever seen. Not even Rodrigo Esparza, “The Obsidian Detective,” knew about this place, he said, and offered to take us there whenever we’d like.

The result was yet another expedition to a little-known site. A few weeks later, we set out for El Pedernal, Jalisco’s biggest obsidian deposit, four kilometers square, which lies just west of Teuchitlán. The rainy season had turned the dirt roads in the area into canals of soupy brown mud, but the sun was shining and we couldn’t complain. Soon we were out of the car and hiking along a wide camino which looked more like an abandoned road than a trail. It was strewn with thousands of pieces of obsidian, many of which sported razor-sharp edges which would have made quick work of car tires. Every few steps the archaeological experts among us would stoop over and pick up long flat shards of shiny black obsidian, neatly chipped to make formidable knife blades. “There’s nothing sharper than an obsidian blade,” they told me. Metal blades, they explained, can only be sharpened down to the size of their molecules, but because obsidian is a glass, with no crystal structure, there’s no limit to how fine the edge can be. I was told that obsidian scalpels are being used more and more for important operations because they make the smoothest cuts imaginable, allowing the flesh on the two sides to reunite and heal quickly and easily.

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