Obsidian Flakes, Blades, and Cores

Obsidian Cache Contents, Str T31, Tayasal
Obsidian Cache Contents, Str T31, Tayasal

Lithics were first classed by material then by form. In other words, obsidian blades were considered separate from chert blades. Nevertheless, each of the two types had similar forms. Cores are simply pieces of chert or obsidian from which blades or flakes have been removed. Blades are very long, narrow, and likely removed from a core by pressure flaking. Flakes are chips of stone stuck from the core. Most obsidian tools begin as blades and most chert tools begin as flakes. Unfortunately, the allotted analysis time did not allow for the differentiation of debitage, which are waste flakes and other pieces from the production process, from utilized and modified flakes. However, obvious unifaces, which are tools modified on only one side, were so classified. Bifaces are tools modified on two sides. Lance/ knife points are larger, thinned, and hafted bifaces with bilateral symmetry. Side-notched points are small hafted bifaces less than 3 cm in length that were likely arrow or dart points. These artifacts appear in Petén during the Terminal Classic period and are frequently found at Postclassic sites (Rice 1987: 213-215). Eccentrics are complex and finely made lithic forms that were not made for utilitarian purposes. These are likely symbols and decoration. A few lithic objects of chert (but not obsidian) include unworked nodules, hammerstones, awls, scrapers, and celts. Hammerstones are stones used to strike other stones in order to remove flakes or other purposes. Awls are pointed tools used to make holes. Scrapers are used to remove flesh from hides and celts are symmetrical axe heads.

Lithic artifacts were variously used in ritual practices; however, with the exception of eccentrics, all of these artifacts were likely predominantly used for everyday purposes. Among the Lacandon, lithics are actually processed during extended ritual performances (Boremanse 1998: 28). Small pieces of chert and obsidian were used by the 20th-century Maya of Chan Kom to draw blood in curing rites (Redfield and Villa Rojas 1934: 173). Lance/ knife points could have been used for heart sacrifice or the dismemberment of remains. Arrow points were used in arrow sacrifices and warfare rituals. Obsidian blades were utilized as cache offerings since the Preclassic period and were used in bloodletting as well.