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Full text of "Some obsidian workings in Mexico"

Breton, Adela. 

i^ome obsidian workings in Mexico. 
FROM: Transactions of the 13th Inter- 
national ^ongress of Americanists, Kev^ 
York, 1902, pp. 265-268. 




Huntington Free Library 

Native American 





Cornell University 

The original of tiiis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 

Reprinted from the Tjransactipiis 

of the - • ' 

luteruational Congress of Americanisit^ 
" / 1902* 

Some ObsiHian Workings in Mexico. 


Some Obsidian Workings in Mexico. 



Having visited several obsidian workings in the States of Hi- 
dalgo, Michoacan and Jalisco, chiefly for the purpose of obtaining 
geological specimens, I think a brief note of them may be useful 
to any one who has opportunity to study them more thoroughly. 

In Hidalgo, the Cerro de Nabajas near Pachuca, is so well 
known that I need scarcely mention it, especially as Professor 
W. H. Holmes has printed an account of his visit there. It is most 
easily reached from Pachuca, by riding on the Tulancingo road 
about two hours and then straight up the hill, altogether three and 
a half hours of fairly fast riding. This is to the first pits and 
mounds of rejects, but as they extend all over that side of the hill, 
and also on the north, towards the Rancho of Zembo, a stay might 
with advantage be made at the Hacienda of Guajolote, from 
which they could be observed at leisure. The rejects on the sur- 
face are mostly of the ordinary types. 

Near Tulancingo, to the northeast, about two miles from' the 
town, are two mounds of chips and rejects, where lance-heads 
have been made. The mounds are 20 feet across and 8 to 10 feet 
high. Some of the rejects are carefully finished while others are 
only roughly shaped. All are broken, so that one finds pointed 
ends, square-shaped ends and middle pieces, which belonged to 
implements from 10 to 17 centimeters long and from 5 to 6 centi- 
meters wide. Another shape is larger, and must have been 22 
centimeters long, and 9 wide; these also are pointed at one 
end. The obsidian may have been brought there either from 
a neighboring hill, or from the Cerro de Nabajas on the other 
side of the valley, the mounds being at the eastern end of the 
ancient site which begins below the large cave traditionally said 
to have been made by the Toltecs. 

At Zacaultipan, 22 leagues north, obsidian was also worked, as 
there is an outcrop of it there, and small heaps of rejects remain. 


To the south of Tulancingo, about four and a half hours' ride 
on the road to Apam, and beyond the Rancho of Lagunita, there 
is a ridge of obsidian, which has been worked, partly at so remote 
a period that a thick lichen has had time to grow on some of the 
chips in that extremely dry climate. 

There are some small shady caves in the side of a low hill near, 
to which the workers brought their roughly shaped pieces to 
finish, and the fragments are strewn down the slope. There are all 
•sorts of bits, broken and half-finished implements, in fact every- 
thing except those many-sided objects which hitherto have been 
called cores, but which are conspicuous by their absence from all 
the workings I have seen, except one, to be mentioned later on. 


Zinapecuaro, or place of Tzinapo, the Michoacan name for ob- 
sidian, is a pleasant town about half an hour's drive from the 
station of Huingo on the Mexican National Railway between 
Acambario and Morelia. Obsidian crops out in several places, 
the chief of which is a low hill beyond the church. Here are num- 
bers of pits and heaps of rejects. The obsidian has been regularly 
mined, the pits being about two feet in diameter and fifteen or 
more deep. From the convenient situation this would be an ad- 
mirable place to study. The pits could be descended with a rope 
ladder and their comparative age, and the method of working ob- 
served. In addition to the pits which are on top of the hill, some 
caves have been made on the far side, and careful digging might 
give interesting results as the floor is deep in refuse. A curious 
thing in one of the caves is that rounded hammer-lumps, which 
have apparently been used, are embedded in the white crystalline, 
sandy stuff of which the cave walls are composed, as if in situ like 
the other lumps of obsidian. 

Some of the heaps of rejects consist almost entirely of very 
small thin chips, perhaps left from the making of awls or needles. 
Specimens of rejects from Nabajas and Tinapecuaro, are in the 
museum at Bristol, England. 

Zinapecuaro must have been a very ancient place of settlement. 
The climate is delightful, the soil rich, there are medicinal, warm 
springs and several isolated hills well adapted for fortification. 
One of these has had its slopes shaped into low terraces one or two 


feet high and eleven or twelve feet broad. Another, the largest, 
in the centre of the valley, is scarped and terraced, and has remains 
of btiildings on top, including a subterranean chamber with steps 
leading down to it, now covered with fallen stones. Beyond this 
hill, in the valley, is an ancient site, about 5 miles from the town, 
with mounds and leveled spaces. One sculptured stone was still 
l3ring there in 1896. The building of a hacienda, nearby, may have 
absorbed any other worked stones. 


Ixtlan de los Buenos Aires takes its name f ixxm the ixtli =: 
obsidian, to be found near it, but I failed to discover the spot. It 
is, I believe, in the direction of Hostotipacquillo. 

Nearer to Guadalajara, the Volcano of Tequila has developed 
obsidian to a remarkable extent. Above the town of Tequila, 
the walls of the fields are made of great blocks of it, but I had not 
time there to look for any workings. On the opposite side of the 
mountain, at Teuchitlan, obsidian rejects are thickly strewn over 
a great extent of ground. 

Teuchitlan is a small town at the foot of a long spur of the 
volcano, five leagues from Refugio, a station on the railway from 
Guadalajara to Ameca, but probably more easily reached now 
from the new branch line to San Marcos. In addition to the 
obsidian, it has a most interesting ancient site on the summit of 
the hill, and the remarkable mounds and circles called Huaerchi 
Monton half way up. 

The obsidian rejects are massed at three points. One is a ter- 
race by a mound on a slope above the town, where the ploughed 
ground is covered with unusually large and long pieces, roughly 
flaked. The second is a spot at the foot of the hill, near a spring, 
where vast quantities of flakes and rejects of all descriptions are 
wedged together in a layer about 12 feet square. I have not been 
able to refer to my notes for the dimensions of this layer, but an 
American told me he had taken out 5000 flakes (some of which are 
in the Field Columbian Museum at Chicago) and I .took out 2000 
in 1896-7, and that made a very small hole in the deposit. Very 
many of the flakes are broken. They are of all sizes, from razor- 
like blades 8 or 9 inches long, to the smallest and thinnest possible. 
Some of mine are in the Peabody Museum at Harvard and others 
in the Museums of Bristol and Manchester, England. 


On this deposit I found some bones, which, with the skull, were 
partly in two red earthen bowls. The front teeth, both upper and 
lower, had been filed into peculiar shapes. 

Some three miles frcan Teuchitldn, on another spur of the 
ridge, the obsidian cropping out along the top, has been worked, 
and the heaps of rejects extend for a mile. Some of the flakes are 
covered with a thick white crust. Obsidian takes a long time to 
weather, and the lance-heads at Tulancingo are as fresh as if 
made yesterday, so that where the volcanic glass has materially 
weathered, a prolonged period must have elapsed. 

The town of Etzatlan, about 20 miles beyond Teuchitlan, is a 
station on the railway to San Marcos, and from it the Island in the 
L,ake of Magdalena can be visited. This is in some respects the 
most remarkable of the obsidian workings which I have seen, as 
it appears to have been a manufactory of the many-sided objects 
hitherto, called cores. There are no pits, but lumps of obsidian 
occur on the surface, and these objects are strewn over the ground 
in quantities. In an hour or two my servant collected so many 
that I brought away thirty-one, and only left the others as too 
heavy too carry. 

Now, in not one of the other workings, among the very many 
thousands of pieces of all shapes which I have handled, was there 
one of these "cores." I have found them on temple sites in other 
parts of Mexico, and at Teotihuacan and Mitla they have been 
numerous, but their marked absence from the extremely varied 
heaps of rejects I have mentioned , (especially at^Teuchitldn, their 
presence in burial deposits, as at the mound at Guadalupe near 
Etzatlan, and this enormous quantity, apparently rejects, at Mag- 
dalena, seem to make a reconsideration of their name desirable). 
That they were originally developed from real cores is most prob- 
able, the Mexican mind being peculiarly ingenious in finding uses 
for things which other people would throw away.