Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Obsidian -- A Sharp and Useful Material

A byproduct of volcanic activity, obsidian is a naturally produced glass that forms in different colors -- though the most common color is black. Obsidian was used by Mesoamerican peoples including the ancient Maya for a host of functions.

The ancient Maya used obsidian for cutting things  (in fact, when it is first made, obsidian blades are twice as sharp as a surgical blade). They used it to make weapons such as spear tips and arrowheads, as well as cut lines in pots and carve monuments. As for its religious use, the ancient Maya used obsidian to cut themselves for religious bloodletting.
How did the ancient Maya work obsidian? Like Native American peoples elsewhere, they used pressure flaking -- where flakes of obsidian are pressed off with a tool -- as well as percussion.

It is understood that obsidian mirrors were considered to be a symbol of the god Itzamna (God D). This god was associated with rulers and was thought to have invented writing.

Currently known obsidian sources that the ancient Maya used were located in the highlands. From these quarries, the mined obsidian was taken south via the Motagua valley and along the coast of Belize via canoe.

The main source of obsidian from the Late Preclassic into the Early Preclassic was from a source called El Chayal. As time went on, obsidian from Ixtepeque source became a major source in the Late Classic and in the Terminal Classic (it became the dominant source in the Postclassic).


"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Handbook of Life in the Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

"The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather Irene McKillop;2004

"Ancient Maya Political Economies"; Marilyn A. Masson, David A. Freidel; 2002


  1. It was not a good artical. I like how they tried their best though

    1. it actually is a good article