General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 10 Apr 2020/6 Deer
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Professor David Carballo

Question for March 2020

Would pieces of obsidian have been worn as jewellery? Asked by Farleigh School. Chosen and answered by Professor David Carballo.

Obsidian sequins excavated at Teotihuacan
Obsidian sequins excavated at Teotihuacan (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes they were! In a range of Mesoamerican cultures obsidian was either chipped or polished into personal adornments. At Teotihuacan, people made little beads or sequins from obsidian blades. Ken Hirth and I excavated a workshop in the Tlajinga district, located in the south of the city, where they made these. It is a tricky thing to do because obsidian is so brittle and these pieces are very thin, so easy to snap in half. Shown here are some that didn’t break, but we also have many broken examples. You can see from the green hue that these were made from the famous Pachuca (or Sierra de las Navajas) obsidian. Alejandro Pastrana had worked at that source for decades and has documented the Teotihuacano camps and workshops. He also has abundant evidence of their production. In later times the Aztecs, Tarascans, and others polished obsidian into earspools (what today people call “gauges”) and labretts (which would go in a piercing under the lower lip) as well.

Photo by/courtesy of David Carballo.

Professor David Carballo has answered 2 questions altogether:

Where did the Aztecs get the names of their gods from?

Would pieces of obsidian have been worn as jewellery?

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