IHAP Notes from the Lab: Sourcing the Obsidian

The pXRF setup for obsidian sourcing at the New York State Museum

The pXRF setup for obsidian sourcing at the New York State Museum

The Izapa Household Archaeology Project is still underway and currently in its analysis stage. Above is a picture of obsidian sourcing using portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) at the New York State Museum. Obsidian is a volcanic glass that was used by many early Mesoamerican cultures to make tools. Each volcanic source that produces obsidian has its own chemical signature, allowing archaeologists to determine its volcano of origin. Most obsidian from Izapa comes from sources in Guatemala, but some pieces originate as far away as the Sierra de Pachuca source in central Mexico. The goal of the project is to check how well obsidian procurement at Izapa relates to trends in ceramic patterns from the Terminal Formative or “Protoclassic” period (ca. 150 BC- AD 200) to the Early Classic period (ca. AD 200-550), an important period of cultural development in Mesoamerica. During this era, the institution of divine kingship was developing in the Maya area. Meanwhile, many sites experienced an abandonment or decline in population. This analysis will help us to better understand Izapa’s relationship with sites in Chiapas, Guatemala, and central Mexico during this important period of change.

Note: The Izapa Household Archaeology Project obsidian was exported with permission from the Mexican Consejo de Arqueología to conduct these sourcing analyses. It will be returned to Mexico at the close of the Izapa Household Archaeology Project.

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