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Submitted by mccaffer on Fri, 03/07/2008 - 2:10pm

.Lithic Flakes and Blades

After potsherds, lithic flakes and blades are the most abundant artifact class found in central Mexico. At Cholula, the great majority of lithics are made of obsidian, but whitish chert was also used. Flakes and blades were used for many tasks both within the household context and without. As a result, blades are found in virtually all contexts of a site.

The pre-Columbian production and distribution of obsidian blades was described by early chroniclers (Taube 1991:61-70), including Sahagún (1950-1982, Book 10:85):

The obsidian seller is one who, [with] a staff with a crosspiece . . . forces off obsidian blades, he breaks off flakes. He sells obsidian, obsidian razors, blades, single edged knives, double edged knives, unworked obsidian . . .

Experimental attempts at reproducing pre-Columbian blade technology have successfully produced prismatic blades (Clark 1989). Through this reduction process, obsidian cores may produce 150-200 prismatic blades.

Obsidian is known from several sources in the central highlands, including Cerro de las Navajas (Hidalgo), Otumba (Mexico), and Guadalupe Victoria (Veracruz). While neutron activation testing is usually required to accurately source obsidian samples, the Cerro de las Navajas source is easily identifiable because it is the only Mesoamerican source of green obsidian.

Since obsidian can be distinguished by source, it has been studied from the perspective of exchange networks throughout Mesoamerica (Pires-Ferreira 1976; Zeitlin 1982; Santley, Kerley, and Kneebone 1986). Control over obsidian resources (especially the Cerro de las Navajas source) and the monopoly of production have been cited as mechanisms by which Teotihuacan was able to build an economic empire (Spence 1981, 1986; but see Clark 1986). In the Postclassic period there is evidence that first Tula and later Tenochtitlan attempted a similar strategy of economic control.

Source analysis of obsidian from Cholula would be useful for inferring the degree to which Cholula participated in the central Mexican economic sphere. Obsidian from the ceremonial precinct at Cholula (n=89) was sourced using X-ray fluorescence analysis (Hester, Jack, and Heizer 1972), with the majority of pieces originating from Zaragoza, Veracruz (54%). Another 18% came from the Cerro de las Navajas source in Hidalgo. Since the samples came from back dirt piles at the excavation, however, the periodization of the materials is unknown.

The research potential of lithic flakes and blades at UA-1 relates to Postclassic exchange, as indicated by the relative frequency of green obsidian. A second potential relates to the distribution of obsidian, using the ratio of obsidian flakes to blades, which might relate to lithic production within the compound as opposed to market distribution of finished blades. The presence/absence of exhausted cores could provide corroborative evidence of this relationship.

At UA-1, at least 4625 blades and flakes were recovered (Wolfman 1968:28). An unquantified number of blades and flakes were found during subsequent sorting. Of the original count, 4042 (87%) were obsidian. More than two-thirds of the obsidian (68%, n=2745) consisted of trapezoidal blades removed from cylindrical cores. Eleven cores were found in the initial sorting, including 9 obsidian cores, and an additional 17 core fragments were later found in sherd bags from the trash midden area. Using the estimate of 150 blades per core, this number of cores could account for all of the blades found, especially since most of the blades were broken into at least two pieces. One possible explanation is that residents of the compound may have obtained prepared cores for private production and consumption, rather than obtaining finished blades through market distribution. An alternative possibility could be that traveling obsidian merchants might have come to the compound to produce blades, with their expended cores deposited with other domestic refuse. It is impossible to test these hypotheses with the available information, but the second possibility is more consistent with the ethnohistoric evidence since blade extraction was a craft specialization requiring acquired skills.

The majority of obsidian cores (64%) identified during the initial investigation were recovered in the upper levels of the site (Figure 161). The greatest concentration occurred in Unit N3/E1, where 3 cores were found in Level 1, and another was found in the east balk of N2/W1. Two cores were found in the mixed debris of Well 2, indicating that obsidian blade production was still an important activity in the Colonial/Historic period. One core was found in Porch Area B, just east of Room 3. An additional 14 core fragments were recovered in subsequent analysis of the trash midden materials, and 4 fragments were found in Level I above the midden.

Although an analysis of lithic blades and flakes was not attempted in this dissertation project, a tabulation of lithics from the trash midden was made (Table 48).


Figure 161. Spatial distribution of lithic cores



n %


Obsidian 661 .91

Blade fragments (446) (.67)

Debitage (202) (.31)

Core fragments (13) (.02)

Chert 64 .09


Totals 725 1.00


Obsidian was by far the most common material used, outnumbering chert by more than 9 to 1. Green obsidian was relatively rare, making up only 6% of the obsidian, with no cores and only 2.5% of the obsidian debitage. The scarcity of production debris may indicate a more restricted distribution network for green obsidian with finished products acquired from outside the domestic compound. In contrast, grey obsidian was probably worked within the Structure 1 compound, either by its occupants or by traveling obsidian sellers. Additional investigations are needed to test these preliminary indications, and source analysis should be used to identify the sources of gray obsidian.

Projectile Points

Projectile points made of obsidian and chert are a relatively common artifact class in Postclassic central Mexico. Unlike prehistoric North America, however, where they are often used as temporal diagnostics, Mesoamerican projectile points have received relatively little attention. In fact, when Paul Tolstoy (1971) attempted to organize information on central Mexican points he was forced to adapt a classificatory system and nomenclature from Texas.

Based on ethnohistoric evidence, points were hafted onto several kinds of weapons, including spears, atlatl darts, and arrows. In archaeological examples, this distinction is recognized on the basis of size and thickness (Tolstoy 1971:281-282). Atlatl points are intermediate between the other two classes of weapons, with points that range between about 5-7 cm in length. Arrow points measure less than 5 cm in length, and are fairly thin and lightweight.

Also included in this class are large lens-shaped bifaces that may have served either as ceremonial knives or possibly spear points. Ceremonial knives are one of the more famous artifact classes from Postclassic Mexico, where they were often depicted in pre-Columbian pictorial manuscripts in scenes of heart sacrifice (Figure 162), and were used as a symbolic representation for war.

Within the Mesoamerican cultural system, warfare was closely associated with male gender identity. For example, in the Aztec bathing ceremony a male child was presented with a miniature shield and darts, as well as items of male clothing (Sahagún 1950-1982, Book 6:201). The umbilical cord of a male baby was buried on a battlefield, since this


Figure 162. Ethnohistoric representations of ceremonial knives

was where males could earn honor and prestige (Sahagún 1950-1982, Book 6:204).

The distinction between arrow and atlatl points is significant for several reasons. First, in terms of weapon technology it could relate to hunting as opposed to militarism. Pre-Columbian depictions of warfare often show warriors carrying atlatls and spears in battle, while the bow and arrow is rare, and usually limited to Late Postclassic contexts. Ethnohistoric accounts of Postclassic migrations suggest that the bow and arrow was introduced by Chichimec tribes that migrated out of the north in the Early Postclassic period (Jimenez Moreno 1966).

The research potential of projectile points is greatest in terms of the interpretation of site function. Since they are one of the artifact classes most closely associated with male identity, their presence within the UA-1 compounds can be used to infer male activity areas.

A second potential of a spatial analysis of projectile points is in terms of site history. It seems unlikely within a relatively densely inhabited area such as Cholula that arrows and atlatl darts would be randomly discharged and abandoned. If the projectiles were used in practice I would expect them to be collected for reuse. Consequently, projectile points would have a relatively low chance of entering the archaeological record unless there were a battle and consequent abandonment of the area. On the fringes of the urban center where the UA-1 site was located, there might be a greater potential for hunting, especially near the edge of the ancient lake or in cornfields. The spatial context of discarded points in extra-mural areas may therefore be used to infer the presence of open fields where hunting may have been practiced. The distinction between atlatl dart points and arrow points may be useful in identifying other patterns, particularly if darts were more prominent in warfare and arrows more useful for hunting.

The research potential of ceremonial knives was probably not in terms of functional utility in any sense other than during sacrificial rites. They certainly carried important symbolic meanings, however, and may have been placed on altars. Alternatively, if the bifaces were used as spear points, their spatial distribution may have been similar to that of projectile points.

In the preliminary analysis of the UA-1 objects (Wolfman 1968:26-27), 58 projectile points were classified into seven categories:

1) Long side-notched - 20 examples were found, all made of chert (Figure 163). These ranged in length from 58-85 mm; in width from 27-32 mm; and had a length to basal width ratio of between 2.12-3.20.



Figure 163. Long side-notched chert projectile point

2) Short side-notched - 9 examples were found, with 4 of obsidian and 5 of chert. These ranged in length from 36-53 mm; in width from 23-35 mm; and had a length to basal width ratio of 1.27-1.88.

3) Intermediate side-notched - 3 examples were found, with 2 made of obsidian and 1 of chert. These ranged in length from 46-50 mm; in width from 19-23 mm; and had a length to basal width ratio of 1.97-2.67.

4) Broken side-notched - 4 examples had complete side-notched bases but the tips were broken and could not be measured for length. Three were made of obsidian, and one was chert.

5) Broken base - 11 examples were broken, with the base missing. Four were made of obsidian and 7 were chert.

6) Tanged - 4 tanged points were found, all made of chert. These measured 56-66 mm in length, and 28-32 mm in width.

7) Arrow Points - 7 side-notched arrow points were found, defined on the basis of small size and weight. Six were made of obsidian and 1 was chert. These measured 20-32 mm in length and 10-16 mm in width.

Additionally, 6 chipped stone knives were found (Wolfman 1968:28). Three were triangular in shape, measuring 30-64 mm in length, and 22-31 mm in width. Two were made of obsidian and one was chert. Two larger obsidian blades that measured 64 and 120 mm in length, and 49 and 53 mm in width, respectively. Finally, a triangle of obsidian was flaked along its convex base, measuring 47 mm in length and 40 mm in width.

During the subsequent analysis of the UA-1 materials, additional projectile points were found in the unwashed sherd bags, so that a total of 102 points are now known from UA-1. Unfortunately, the original points analyzed by Wolfman could not be located, so a reanalysis was not attempted.

Combining the original data (recorded on Object Cards) with the additional objects, the spatial distribution of projectile points from Structure 1 is plotted in Figure 164. Nearly twice as many projectile points were found in the upper levels (n=64), as opposed to the occupation deposit (n=38). The spatial pattern of points in Levels 1 and 2 was dispersed, although there were relatively less in the northern portion of the site. The greatest concentration was in Trench 1, in the same area as the high concentration of ceramic balls.

The number of projectile points was lower in the occupation levels, but a substantial number of points was still found, including examples in direct contact with the floor. Two concentrations are apparent: in the porch area to the east of Room 4, and in Room 2. Although comparable data is unknown, I suspect that this is an unusually high number of projectile points for such a small excavated area. The majority of the points studied by Wolfman were of the larger




Figure 164. Spatial distribution of projectile points

variety, probably used with atlatl darts, suggesting a prominence for military weaponry. The high number of points in the extra-mural overburden indicates that darts were not just curated in the area, but were actually discharged and abandoned.

There is strong ethnohistoric evidence for militarism in Postclassic Cholula, which was an active participant in the "Flowery Wars" against the Aztecs (Durán 1964; Torquemada 1975-1983). Accounts of conquests of Cholula are also available, including the conquest of the Olmeca-Xicallanca by the Tolteca Chichimeca (Historica Tolteca-Chichimeca; Carrasco 1971), and possibly a Late Postclassic conquest by the neighboring Huexotzinca. The Cholula massacre during the Spanish Conquest was one of the most infamous atrocities committed (Peterson and Green 1987), and it allegedly extended into the outlying residential areas of the city (Diáz del Castillo 1963:199-200).

Based on the large number of projectile points recovered, it is tempting to interpret the destruction of Structure 1 as the result of military conflict. With the excavation of other contemporary sites at the urban center, perhaps a horizon of similar events will emerge to substantiate such an interpretation. Until comparative collections become available, however, the high presence of military weaponry is noted, particularly as they relate to the presence of males in the living compound.


Chipped Stone Tools

Another class of lithic artifacts is chipped stone tools. These are primarily scrapers, but perforators and burins also occur (Tolstoy 1971:283-287). Scrapers occur as end scrapers, discoidal scrapers, and "turtleback" scrapers. Chipped stone tools are made of either obsidian, quartzite or chert.

Scrapers were probably used for leather-working and wood-working. The "turtleback" scraper is associated with the removal of the fibrous pulp from maguey leaves for textile production. These activities were characteristically male tasks, based on descriptions and pictorial representations from the ethnohistoric sources (Hellbom 1967). Using ethnographic analogies with Maya groups, Masson (1991) has recently argued that high concentrations of chipped stone tools in domestic contexts indicate that women also used, and produced, lithic tools.

The research potential of chipped stone tools is centered on inferring activities practiced in particular features within the UA-1 site. The presence of scrapers and related artifacts imply such tasks as leather-working and wood-working.

Wolfman (1968:27-28) analyzed 17 scrapers from the UA-1 excavation. Fifteen were made from large obsidian blades, and most were worked on all four sides. Two other scrapers were made from unprepared cores.

Scrapers were found in four locations in the occupational levels of Structure 1 (Figure 165). Two were found in the porch area just east of Room 4, and one was found in Room 3 near the altar. Three were recovered from the Trash Midden, together with a chipped stone drill. Additionally, a total of 5 scrapers were found associated with the group burial in Units S5/W3 and S6/W3. Scrapers were also found in the upper levels of the site, in about equal numbers to those in the occupation levels.

On the basis of the scrapers found in the Structure 1 compound, these tools were probably used by its residents. This suggests that the residents of the compound practiced wood- and/or leather-working. Since scrapers were included among the burial goods, they may have had some symbolic significance relating to either gender or occupational identity of the group.

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