Featured Object: Stone Tool: Blade
- Post Date7/7/2016
- AuthorHalley Juvik
- Reading Time3 minute read
This small stone blade of greenish-black obsidian (1990.11.0015) was found in Teotihuacan, Mexico in the 1940’s. Because it was found on the surface of the Teotihuacan Archaeological Site, it was likely manufactured and used by the Aztecs, who were the last indigenous inhabitants of the area. Mesoamerican cultures had many applications for obsidian including mirrors, jewelry, and swords, but because it is small and fragile this particular blade was probably used for ritual bloodletting.
Bloodletting was an integral part of Mesoamerican life and religion. The Aztecs, who inhabited Teotihuacan from the 14th century until the Spanish conquest, considered drawing blood a form of personal sacrifice. A delicate blade such as this one would have been used by an elite to demonstrate his/her connection to the gods. In these ceremonies, the individual would stand on a pyramid or raised platform in front of an audience and cut themselves with a blade or stingray spine, allowing the blood to spill onto the ground. Displays such as these not only reaffirmed a leader’s religious conviction, but also cemented their social status.
Obsidian—or iztli in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs—was a perfect material for this activity because of its extreme sharpness. It is a naturally occurring volcanic glass that fractures easily into sharp points, making it an ideal substance for blades and weapons. Historically, it was utilized by cultures all over the world, including the Middle East and Easter Island. Obsidian is even being used today as a new experimental material for surgical scalpels.
In addition to these traits, obsidian is an extremely helpful tool in archaeological research. Researchers can trace each sample to its specific source based on the chemical composition and color. For instance, there are 2 obsidian quarries to the northeast of Teotihuacan, near Pachuca and Otumba. The material for the Spurlock blade was probably quarried in Pachuca because it has a greenish tinge, while Otumba obsidian is gray. Obsidian artifacts were exchanged throughout the Americas, and because the material can be pinpointed to a specific source, such pieces inform archaeologists about the trade routes and practices of Pre-Columbian societies.