sábado, 8 de octubre de 2011

ArchaeoHeritage - Seeking to unravel mystery of pre-Aztecan beads

Idaho State University anthropologist and flintknapper Jim Woods, of Twin Falls, is trying  to help solve the mysteries  surrounding tiny beads produced from a special type of obsidian in pre-Aztecan Mexico, about 1,200 years ago. 

Selection of pre-Columbian beads from Mexico [Credit: Web]

The beads are from 1/8- to 1-inch in diameter and are made from a type of obsidian that has microscopic air pockets that refract light, giving the beads a gold shimmer when light is shined on them, similar to tiger’s-eye gemstones. The beads were only discovered about 10 years ago at the Teotihuacan archaeological site near Mexico City, where the largest ancient pyramids in the New World are found. Teotihuacan was an ancient city to the Aztecs and was considered the birthplace to the gods by them. 

“The beads are made of a stone that looks like metal,” Woods said. ‘‘They glow like pyrite, almost gold. It’s really beautiful stuff and all of it was mined out of one giant quarry.” 

Woods, an affiliate Idaho State University anthropology faculty member and a professor of anthropology at the College of Southern Idaho, is working with a collaborator, Alejandro Pastrana from the Mexico National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, to replicate and better understand the significance of these beautiful beads. 

“What I find interesting is that at first the beads seem like such simple, mundane things, but it has turned out to be quite a challenge for modern archeologists to replicate making them and to understand their significance,” Woods said. 

Pastrana contacted Woods for help studying the beads around a year ago, about the same time a workshop for making the beads was discovered at a Teotihuacan quarry where the obsidian for making the beads and famous Aztecan blades was mined. Woods is helping Pastrana understand how pre-Aztec craftsmen made the beads from thin fragments of obsidian blades. 

Woods said he is now one step away from replicating making the beads. The ancient Mexican craftsmen were famous for making obsidian blades about 4 to 8 inches long that were 1-inch wide and 1/16th-inch thick. 

“It was a very complex process to make these blades,” he said, “But they would make notches about an inch apart on the blade, and then break a square piece about an inch in diameter to start making the bead.” 

The next step is the one Woods and colleagues are having trouble replicating. Once the craftsmen had the inch-square pieces they would use some type of tool to tap the center of the square piece to punch out a cone piece (think of seeing a cone in a windshield or piece of glass that has been dinged). They would then chip out the center of the piece, smoothing it, and then round the square outside edge into a circle. 

“We're getting closer. It appears so simple, but we haven’t quite unlocked it,’’  he said. 

Idaho State Journal 

Source: The Archaeology News Network

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