The Organizational Structures of Mesoamerican Obsidian Prismatic Blade Technology



This chapter examines the organizational structures associated with the development of specialized obsidian blade production in Mesoamerica. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, Mesoamerica contained multiple large state-level societies that operated with essentially neolithic technologies, relying on stone tools for virtually all their cutting tasks. Obsidian was used for cutting tools in many areas of Mesoamerica and a specialized pressure blade technology developed to supply both domestic and state-level consumption needs. This chapter outlines the organization, scale, and complexity of obsidian blade production in Mesoamerica and the distribution systems that supported it. Mesoamerica is an example of the organizational complexity in stone tool production possible in ancient state-level societies when metallurgy is absent.


Stone Tool Maya Region Spanish Conquest Pressure Blade Craft Specialist 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anderson, Arthur, Frances Berdan, and Jane Lockhart 1976 Beyond the codices. The Nahua view of colonial Mexico. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  2. Berdan, Frances 1982 The Aztecs of Central Mexico. An imperial society. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Boksenbaum, Martin, Paul Tolstoy, Garman Harbottle, Jerome Kimberlin, and Mary Nivens 1987 Obsidian industries and cultural evolution in the Basin of Mexico before 500 B.C. Journal of Field Archaeology 14:65–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Braswell, Geoffrey, and Michael Glascock 2002 The emergence of market economies in the ancient Maya world: Obsidian exchange in Terminal Classic Yucatan, Mexico, In Geochemical evidence for long-distance exchange, edited by M. Glascock, pp. 33–52. Bergin and Garvey, Westport.Google Scholar
  5. Burton, Susan 1987 Obsidian blade manufacturing debris on terrace 37. In Ancient Chalcatzingo, edited by D. Grove, pp. 321–328. University of Texas Press, Austin.Google Scholar
  6. Carballo, David 2005 State political authority and craft production at the moon pyramid, Teotihuacan, Mexico. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  7. Carrasco, Pedro 1978 La economía del México prehispánico. In Economía política e ideología en el México prehispánico, edited by P. Carrasco and Johanna Broda, pp. 13–74. Editorial Nueva Imagen, México.Google Scholar
  8. Cassiano, Giofranco 2005 La technología de navajillas prismáticfas en la perspectiva histórica. Paper presented at the INAH Homenaje to Guadalupe Alba Mastache, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, John 1982 Manufacture of Mesoamerican prismatic blades: An alternative technique. American Antiquity 47: 355–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clark, John 1986 From mountains to molehills: A critical review of Teotihuacan’s obsidian industry. In Research in economic anthropology, supplement No. 2. Economic aspects of prehispanic highland Mexico, edited by B. Isaac, pp.23–74, JAI Press, Greenwich.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, John 1987 Politics, prismatic blades, and Mesoamerican civilization. In The organization of core technology, edited by J. Johnson and C. Morrow, pp. 259–285. Westview Press, Boulder.Google Scholar
  12. Clark, John 1989 Obsidian: The primary Mesoamerican sources. In La Obsidiana en Mesoamérica, edited by M. Gaxiola G. and J. E. Clark, pp. 299–319. INAH, Colección Científica 176. Mexico.Google Scholar
  13. Clark, John 2003 Craftsmanship and craft specialization. In Mesoamerican lithic technology: Experimentation and interpretation edited by K. Hirth, pp. 220–238. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, John, and Douglas Bryant 1997 A technological typology of prismatic blades and debitage from Ojo de Agua, Chiapas, Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 8: 111–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cobean, Robert, Michael Coe, Edward Perry, Karl Turekian, and Dinkar Kharkar 1971 Obsidian Trade at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, Mexico. Science 174: 666–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coe, Michael, and Richard Diehl 1980 In the land of the Olmec. The archaeology of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan. University of Texas Press, Austin.Google Scholar
  17. Crabtree, Donald 1968 Mesoamerican polyhedral cores and prismatic blades. American Antiquity 33: 446–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diaz del Castillo, Bernal 1956 The discovery and conquest of Mexico 1517–1521. Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, New York.Google Scholar
  19. Darras, Véronique 1999 Tecnologías prehispánicas de la obsidiana: Los centros de producción de la región de Zinápero-Prieto, Michoacán. Cuadernos de Estudios Michoacanos, No. 9. Centre Français d’ Études Mexicaines et Centraméricaines, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  20. Darras, Véronique 2006 Obsidian strategy and power in the Tarascan society from the Malpais de Zacapu, Michoacan. Paper presented at the 71st annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Juan, Puerto Rico.Google Scholar
  21. Dreiss, Meredith, and David Brown 1989 Obsidian Exchange Patterns in Belize. In Research in Economic Anthropology, Supplement 4, edited by P. McAnany and B. Issac, pp. 57–90. JAI Press, Greenwich.Google Scholar
  22. Epstein, Steven 1991 Wage labor and guilds in medieval Europe. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  23. Feinman, Gary 1999 Rethinking our assumptions: Economic specialization at the household scale in ancient Ejutla, Oaxaca, Mexico. In Pottey and people, edited by J. Skibo and G. Feinman, pp. 81–98. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  24. Feinman, Gary, Richard Blanton, and Stephen Kowalewski 1984 Market system development in the prehispanic Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. In Trade and exchange in early Mesoamerica, edited by K. Hirth, pp. 157–178. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.Google Scholar
  25. Flenniken, J. Jeffrey, and Kenneth Hirth 2003 Handheld prismatic blade manufacture in Mesoamerica. In Mesoamerican lithic technology: Experimentation and interpretation edited by K. Hirth, pp. 98–107. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  26. Garcia, Chávez, Michael Glascock, J. Michael Elam, and Harry Iceland 1990 The INAH salvage archaeology excavations at Azcapotzalco, Mexico: An analysis of the lithic assemblage. Ancient Mesoamerica 1: 225–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. García Cook, Angel 2003 Cantona: The city. In El urbanismo en Mesoamérica. Urbanism in Mesoamerica, edited by W. Sanders, A. Mastache and R. Cobean, pp. 311–343. INAH/Penn State University, Mexico City/University Park.Google Scholar
  28. García Moll, Roberto 1977 Análisis de los materialies arqueológicos de la cueva del Texcal, Puebla. Colección Cientifica 56. INAH, Mexico.Google Scholar
  29. García Velázquez, Jorge, and Gianfranco Cassiano 1990 La producción de navajillas prismáticas en el Postclásico tardío: El caso de la plaza de la Banca Nacionalizada. In Etnoarqueología: Primer coloquio Bosch-Gimpera, edited by Y. Sugiura and M. Carmen Serra, pp. 513–526. UNAM, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  30. Hammond, Norman 1972 Obsidian Trade Routes in the Maya Area. Science 178: 1092–1093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hartenberger, Brit, Steven Rosen, and Timothy Matney 2000 The Early Bronze age blade workshop at Titris Hoyuk: Lithic specialization in an urban context. Near Eastern Archaeology 63: 51–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Healan, Dan 2003 From quarry pit to the trash pit: Comparative core-blade technology at Tula, Hidalgo and the Ucareo obsidian source region. In Mesoamerican lithic technology: Experimentation and interpretation edited by K. Hirth, pp. 153–169. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  33. Hirth, Kenneth 2006 Obsidian Craft Production in Ancient Central Mexico . The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake CityGoogle Scholar
  34. Hirth, Kenneth 2008 Unidad doméstica, comunidad y artesanía en un cacicazgo del Formativo Medio: Revalorando la importancia del Proyecto Chalcatzingo, In El Formativo en Mesoamerica, edited by A. Cyphers and K. Hirth, pp. 93–125. UNAM, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  35. Hirth, Kenneth 2009 Craft production, household diversification, and domestic economy in prehispanic Mesoamerica, In Housework: Craft Production and Domestic Economy in Ancient Mesoamerica, edited by K. Hirth, pp. 13–32 Archaeological Publications of the American Anthropological Society No. 19.Google Scholar
  36. Hirth, Kenneth, and Bradford Andrews 2002 Pathways to prismatic blades, edited by K. Hirth and B. Andrews, pp. 1–14. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Monograph 45, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  37. Hirth, Kenneth, Bradford Andrews, and J. Jeffrey Flenniken 2003 The Xochicalco production sequence for obsidian prismatic blades: technological analysis and experimental inferences. In Mesoamerican lithic technology: Experimentation and interpretation edited by K. Hirth, pp. 182–196. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  38. Hosler, Dorothy 1994 The sounds and colors of power. MIT Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  39. Hurtado de Mendoza, Luis 1977 Obsidian studies and the archaeology of the Valley of Guatemala. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Penn State University, University Park.Google Scholar
  40. Hurtado de Mendoza, Luis, and William Jester 1978 Obsidian sources in Guatemala: A regional approach. American Antiquity 43: 424–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jackson, Thomas, and Michael Love 1991 Blade running: Middle Preclassic obsidian exchange and the introduction of prismatic blades at La Blanca, Guatemala. Ancient Mesoamerica 2: 47–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Katz, Friedrich 1966 Situación social y económica de los Aztecas durante los siglos XV y XVI. Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  43. Kirchoff, Paul 1952 Mesoamerica: Its geographic limits, ethnic composition and cultural characteristics, In Heritage of Conquest, edited by S. Tax, pp. 17–30. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.Google Scholar
  44. MacNeish, Richard S., Antoinette Nelken-Terner, and Irmgard Weitlaner de Johnson 1967 The prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley, Vol. 2: Non-Ceramic artifacts. University of Texas Press, Austin.Google Scholar
  45. McAnany, Patricia A. 1989 Stone Tool Production and Exchange in the Eastern Maya Lowlands: The Consumer Perspective from Pulltrouser Swamp, Belize. American Antiquity 54: 332–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Neiderberger, Christine 1976 Zohapilco: Cinco Milenios de Ocupación Humana en un Sitio Lacustre de la Cuenca de México. Colección Científica 30, INAH, Mexico.Google Scholar
  47. Neiderberger, Christine 1987 Paleopaysages et archaeologie pre-urbaine du Bassin de México. Col. etudes mesoamericaines 1–11. CEMCA.Google Scholar
  48. Parry, William 1987 Chipped Stone Tools in Formative Oaxaca, Mexico: Their Procurement, Production and Use. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology, No. 20. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
  49. Parry, William 1994 Prismatic blade technologies in North America. In The organization of North American prehistoric chipped stone tool technologies, edited by P. Carr, pp. 87–98. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
  50. Pastrana Cruz, Alejandro 2002 Variation at the source: Obsidian exploitation at Sierra de las Navajas, Mexico. In Pathways to prismatic blades, edited by K. Hirth and B. Andrews, pp. 15–28. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Monograph 45, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  51. Pastrana, Alejandro, and Patricia Fournier 1998 Explotación Colonial de Obsidiana en el Yacimiento de Sierra de Las Navajas. In Primer Congreso Nacional de Arqueología Histórica: Memoria Oaxaca, 1996, edited by E. Fernández, D. Gómez and S. Gómez, pp. 486–496. CONACULTA-INAH, Mexico.Google Scholar
  52. Rochette, Erick No date Archaeological research in the Rio Motagua Valley, Guatemala. (Manuscript)Google Scholar
  53. Rosen, Steven 1997 Lithics after the stone age. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek.Google Scholar
  54. Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de 1961 Florentine Codex. General history of the things of New Spain, book 10, the people. Translated by D. Dibble and A. Anderson. Monographs of the School of American Research and the University of Utah, No. 14, Part 11, Santa Fe.Google Scholar
  55. Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de 1981 Historia general de las cosas de Nueva EspaZa. 4 Volumes, Editorial Porrua, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  56. Sanders, William, and Robert Santley 1983 A tale of three cities: Energetics and urbanization in pre-hispanic central Mexico. In Prehistoric settlement patterns, edited by E. Vogt and R. Leventhal, pp. 243–291. University of New Mexico Press/the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Albuquerque/Cambridge.Google Scholar
  57. Santley, Robert 1983 Obsidian trade and Teotihuacan influence in Mesoamerica. In Highland-lowland interaction in Mesoamerica, edited by A. Miller, pp. 69–124. DORLC, Washington.Google Scholar
  58. Santley, Robert 1984 Obsidian exchange, economic stratification, and the evolution of complex society in the Basin of Mexico. In Trade and exchange in early Mesoamerica, edited by K. Hirth, pp. 43–86. University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.Google Scholar
  59. Santley, Robert, Janet Kerley, and Thomas Barrett 1995 Teotihuacan period lithic assemblages from the Teotihuacan Valley, Mexico. In The Teotihuacan Valley project final report - Volume 3, The Teotihuacan period occupation of the valley, part 2. Artifact analyses, edited by W. Sanders, pp 466–497. Occasional Papers in Anthropology No. 20. Matson Museum of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park.Google Scholar
  60. Shafer, Harry, and Thomas Hester 1983 Ancient Maya chert workshops in Northern Belize, Central America. American Antiquity 48: 519–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shafer, Harry, and Thomas Hester 1991 Lithic craft specialization and product distribution at the Maya site of Colha, Belize. World Archaeology 23: 79–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sheets, Payson 1975 Behavioral analysis and the structure of a prehistoric industry. Current Anthropology 16: 369–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sheets, Payson 1978 Artifacts. In The prehistory of Chalchuapa, El Salvador, edited by R. Sharer, 2: 2–107. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  64. Spence, Michael 1981 Obsidian production and the state in Teotihuacan. American Antiquity 46: 769–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Spence, Michael 1984 Craft production and polity in early Teotihuacan. In Trade and exchange in early Mesoamerica, edited by K. Hirth, pp. 87–114. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.Google Scholar
  66. Spence, Michael, Jerome Kimberlin, and Garmon Harbottle 1984 State-controlled procurement and the obsidian workshops of Teotihuacan, Mexico. In Prehistoric quarries and lithic production, edited by E. Ericson and B. Purdy, pp. 97–105. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Titmus, Gene, and John Clark 2003 Mexica blade making with wooden tools: Recent experimental insights. In Mesoamerican lithic technology: Experimentation and interpretation edited by K. Hirth, pp. 72–97. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  68. Torrence, Robin 1986 Production and exchange of stone tools. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations