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Grinding Stones

Submitted by mccaffer on Fri, 03/07/2008 - 2:17pm

This relatively common artifact class in Postclassic archaeological assemblages includes ground stone manos and metates, and less frequently mortars and pestles. These are usually made of basalt, a coarse black igneous rock available from volcanic outcrops throughout central Mexico. A basalt source is known from the base of Popocatepetl, about 20 km west of Cholula. Grinding stones were generally large, heavy objects, with metates measuring about 40-60 cm in length by about 30 cm in width, and manos measuring about 30-50 cm in length and 10 cm in cross-section. Postclassic metates were usually quadrangular slabs raised off the ground by three conical supports (Tolstoy 1971:288). Manos were long cylinders that usually had flattened sides where they were worn down through use.

Manos and metates were used for grinding dried corn kernels into meal, especially for making tortillas. Ethnohistoric sources suggest that grinding corn was primarily a female task (Figure 168), and grinding stones were symbolically associated with female identity (Sahagún 1950-1982,

Book 6:173; Hellbom 1967; Brumfiel 1991). Grinding corn is labor intensive, requiring about one hour per kilogram of dried corn (Hayden and Cannon 1984:68), with an estimated 5 kg required to feed a family of eight (Kowalewski 1982:156).

A total of 63 grinding stone fragments were recovered at UA-1. The majority of these (60%, n=38) were associated with the occupation level (figure 169). Grinding stones found in the upper levels tended to cluster above the structural remains and the trash midden. If these were originally part of the systemic assemblage of Structure 1, then it would indicate that the presence of grinding stones on the surface is indicative of subsurface occupational remains.


Figure 168. Woman grinding corn using a mano and metate (after Sahagún 1950-1982,


The greatest concentration of grinding stones in the occupational levels occurred in the trash midden, where 19 fragments were found. A smaller concentration was located in Unit N1/E2, on the porch just east of Room 4. Two manos were found in Room 2 where they may have been stored for future use.



Figure 169. Spatial distribution of grinding stones

The relatively high frequency of grinding stones associated with Structure 1 indicates that the preparation of corn meal was probably a significant task within the systemic context. Grinding corn was an important activity that took place within the household compound, and therefore this data provides strong evidence for a domestic function for Structure 1. Furthermore, since grinding corn was traditionally a female task, this is additional evidence for the presence of women in the Structure 1 compound.


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