Prismatic blade

In archaeology, a prismatic blade is a long, narrow, specialized stone flake tool with a sharp edge, like a small razor blade.[1] Prismatic blades are flaked from stone cores through pressure flaking or direct percussion.[2] This process results in a very standardized finished tool and waste assemblage. The most famous and most prevalent prismatic blade material is obsidian, as obsidian use was widespread in Mesoamerica, though chert, flint, and chalcedony blades are not uncommon. The term is generally restricted to Mesoamerican archeology, although some examples are found in the Old World, for example in a Minoan grave in Crete.[3]

Prismatic blades were used for cutting and scraping, and have been reshaped into other tool types, such as projectile points and awls.


An obsidian prismatic blade fragment from Chunchucmil, Yucatán, Mexico

Prismatic blades are often trapezoidal in cross section, but very close in appearance to an isosceles trapezoid. Triangular blades (in cross-section) are also common. The ventral surface of the prismatic blade is very smooth, sometimes bearing slight rippling reflecting the direction of applied force and a very small bulb of applied force (indicative of pressure reduction). Flake scars are absent on the ventral surface of these blades, though eraillure flakes are sometimes present on the bulb . The dorsal surface, on the other hand, exhibits scar ridges running parallel to the long axis of the blade. These facets are created by the previous removal of blades from the core. The proximal end contains the blade's striking platform and its bulb of applied force, while the distal end will consist of a snap break, a feather termination, or a stepped termination.


Obsidian prismatic blade production was ubiquitous in Mesoamerica, and these tools can be found at a large majority of Mesoamerican archaeological sites from the Preclassic period on until the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century. Ethnohistoric sources recount the process of prismatic blade production. Fray Motolinia, a Spanish observer, recorded:

It is in this manner: First they get out a knife stone (obsidian core) which is black like jet and 20 cm or slightly less in length, and they make it cylindrical and as thick as the calf of the leg, and they place the stone between the feet, and with a stick apply force to the edges of the stone, and at every push they give a little knife springs off with its edges like those of a razor.[4]

The production of prismatic blades creates not only a very standardized final product, but also a standardized waste assemblage.[5] The analysis of obsidian debitage can reveal whether or not prismatic blade production occurred at a site and, if it had, what stages of production the process included. In other words, the types of manufacturing waste present (e.g., rejuvenation flakes and/or blades, platform rejuvenation flakes, etc.) at a site can inform archaeologists about the stage in which blades were being produced.[6]


  1. ^ Hester et al. (1971)
  2. ^ Driscoll, Killian; García-Rojas, Maite (2014). "Their lips are sealed: identifying hard stone, soft stone, and antler hammer direct percussion in Palaeolithic prismatic blade production" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Science. 47: 134–141. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2014.04.008.
  3. ^ Betancourt, Philip P., Hagios Charalambos: A Minoan Burial Cave in Crete: I. Excavation and Portable Objects, 2014, INSTAP, ISBN 1623033934, 9781623033934, google books
  4. ^ Hester et al. (1971)
  5. ^ Clark and Bryant (1997)
  6. ^ Clark (1997)


  • Clark, John E. (1997) Prismatic blademaking, craftsmanship, and production: an analysis of obsidian refuse from Ojo de Agua, Chiapas, Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 8:137-159.
  • Clark, John E., and Douglas D. Bryant (1997) Technological typology of prismatic blades and debitage from Ojo de Agua, Chiapas, Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 8: 111-136.
  • Hester, Thomas R., Robert N. Jack and Robert F. Heizer. The Obsidian of Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, Mexico. University of California Archeology Research Facility. No. 13 pp. 65–131, 1971.

A blade is the portion of a tool, weapon, or machine with an edge that is designed to puncture, chop, slice or scrape surfaces or materials. Blades are typically made from materials that are harder than those they are to be used on. Historically, humans have made blades from flaking stones such as flint or obsidian, and from various metal such as copper, bronze and iron. Modern blades are often made of steel or ceramic. Blades are one of humanity's oldest tools, and continue to be used for combat, food preparation, and other purposes.

Blades work by concentrating force on the cutting edge. Certain blades, such as those used on bread knives or saws, are serrated, further concentrating force on the point of each tooth.

Blade (archaeology)

In archaeology, a blade is a type of stone tool created by striking a long narrow flake from a stone core. This process of reducing the stone and producing the blades is called lithic reduction. Archaeologists use this process of flintknapping to analyze blades and observe their technological uses for historical peoples.

Blades are defined as being flakes that are at least twice as long as they are wide and that have parallel or subparallel sides and at least two ridges on the dorsal (outer) side. It is important to note that blade cores appear and are different from regular flaking cores, as each core's conchoidal nature is suited for different types of flaking. Blades are created using stones that have a cryptocrystalline structure and easily be fractured into a smooth piece without fracturing. Blades became the favored technology of the Upper Palaeolithic era, although they are occasionally found in earlier periods. Different techniques are also required for blade creation; a soft punch or hammerstone is necessary for creating a blade.

The long sharp edges of blades made them useful for a variety of purposes. After blades are flaked, they are often incorporated as parts of larger tools, such as spears. Other times, the simple shape and sharpness serves the designed role. Blades were often employed in the impression process of material culture, assisting ancient humans in imprinting ornate designs into other parts of their material culture. Scrapers, used for hide working or woodworking, or burins, used for engraving, are two common such examples.

Cores from which blades have been struck are called blade cores and the tools created from single blades are called blade tools. Small examples (under 12 mm) are called microblades and were used in the Mesolithic as elements of composite tools. Blades with one edge blunted by removal of tiny flakes are called backed blade. A blade core becomes an exhausted core when there are no more useful angles to knock off blades.

Blades can be classified into many different types depending on their shape and size. Archaeologists have also been known to use the microscopic striations created from the lithic reduction process to classify the blades into specific types. Once classified archaeologists can use this information to see how the blade was produced, who produced it, and how it was used.


Chunchucmil was once a large, sprawling pre-Columbian Maya city located in the western part of what is now the state of Yucatán, Mexico.

Although the famous explorer and author John Lloyd Stephens traveled within a few kilometers of Chunchucmil during his historic journey across the Yucatán Peninsula (he even met with the owner of the nearby haciendas), the archaeological site went relatively unnoticed by Maya scholars for more than a century because virtually no monuments (stelae) or other grand sculptures have been found there. The lack of royal monuments, combined with other archaeological data, may indicate that Chunchucmil was not a city ruled by a single divine king, as most other Maya polities. Instead, it may have been a commercial center, organized by various lineages and focused upon funneling goods between regions—such as the trade between the Gulf of Mexico and the interior of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Chunchucmil was most populous in the Middle Classical Period (400-650 AD),

Lithic flake

In archaeology, a lithic flake is a "portion of rock removed from an objective piece by percussion or pressure," and may also be referred to as a chip or spall, or collectively as debitage. The objective piece, or the rock being reduced by the removal of flakes, is known as a core. Once the proper tool stone has been selected, a percussor or pressure flaker (e.g., an antler tine) is used to direct a sharp blow, or apply sufficient force, respectively, to the surface of the stone, often on the edge of the piece. The energy of this blow propagates through the material, often (but not always) producing a Hertzian cone of force which causes the rock to fracture in a controllable fashion. Since cores are often struck on an edge with a suitable angle (x<90°) for flake propagation, the result is that only a portion of the Hertzian cone is created. The process continues as the flintknapper detaches the desired number of flakes from the core, which is marked with the negative scars of these removals. The surface area of the core which received the blows necessary for detaching the flakes is referred to as the striking platform.

Lithic reduction

In archaeology, in particular of the Stone Age, lithic reduction is the process of fashioning stones or rocks from their natural state into tools or weapons by removing some parts. It has been intensely studied and many archaeological industries are identified almost entirely by the lithic analysis of the precise style of their tools and the chaîne opératoire of the reduction techniques they used.

Normally the starting point is the selection of a piece of tool stone that has been detached by natural geological processes, and is an appropriate size and shape. In some cases solid rock or larger boulders may be quarried and broken into suitable smaller pieces, and in others the starting point may be a piece of the debitage, a flake removed from a previous operation to make a larger tool. The selected piece is called the lithic core (also known as the "objective piece"). A basic distinction is that between flaked or chipped stone, the main subject here, and ground stone objects made by grinding. Flaked stone reduction involves the use of a hard hammer percussor, such as a hammerstone, a soft hammer fabricator (made of wood, bone or antler), or a wood or antler punch to detach lithic flakes from the lithic core. As flakes are detached in sequence, the original mass of stone is reduced; hence the term for this process. Lithic reduction may be performed in order to obtain sharp flakes, of which a variety of tools can be made, or to rough out a blank for later refinement into a projectile point, knife, or other object. Flakes of regular size that are at least twice as long as they are broad are called blades. Lithic tools produced this way may be bifacial (exhibiting flaking on both sides) or unifacial (exhibiting flaking on one side only).

Cryptocrystalline or amorphous stone such as chert, flint, obsidian, and chalcedony, as well as other fine-grained stone material, such as rhyolite, felsite, and quartzite, were used as a source material for producing stone tools. As these materials lack natural planes of separation, conchoidal fractures occur when they are struck with sufficient force; for these stones this process is called knapping. The propagation of force through the material takes the form of a Hertzian cone that originates from the point of impact and results in the separation of material from the objective piece, usually in the form of a partial cone, commonly known as a lithic flake. This process is predictable, and allows the flintknapper to control and direct the application of force so as to shape the material being worked. Controlled experiments may be performed using glass cores and consistent applied force in order to determine how varying factors affect core reduction.It has been shown that stages in the lithic reduction sequence may be misleading and that a better way to assess the data is by looking at it as a continuum. The assumptions that archaeologists sometimes make regarding the reduction sequence based on the placement of a flake into a stage can be unfounded. For example, a significant amount of cortex can be present on a flake taken off near the very end of the reduction sequence. Removed flakes exhibit features characteristic of conchoidal fracturing, including striking platforms, bulbs of force, and occasionally eraillures (small secondary flakes detached from the flake's bulb of force). Flakes are often quite sharp, with distal edges only a few molecules thick when they have a feather termination. These flakes can be used directly as tools or modified into other utilitarian implements, such as spokeshaves and scrapers.

Mixco Viejo

Mixco Viejo (/ˈmisko ˈβieχo/) ("Old Mixco"), occasionally spelt Mixcu Viejo, is an archaeological site in the north east of the Chimaltenango department of Guatemala, some 50 kilometres (31 mi) to the north of Guatemala City and 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from the junction of the rivers Pixcaya and Motagua. It is a moderate sized ruined city of the Postclassic Maya civilization.

The archaeological site and tourist attraction of Mixco Viejo was named after being erroneously associated with the Postclassic Poqomam capital referred to in colonial records by that name. The archaeological site has now been identified as Jilotepeque Viejo, the capital of the Chajoma Kaqchikel kingdom. To distinguish between the two, the ruins of the Chajoma capital are now referred to as Mixco Viejo (Jilotepeque Viejo) while the former Poqomam capital is referred to as Mixco Viejo (Chinautla Viejo).

This confusion in the identification of the site has hindered study. The Chajoma capital has been investigated archaeologically, under the assumption that it was the Poqomam capital. Although the Chajoma ruins of Jilotepeque Viejo have been well described archaeologically, the archaeological data has been associated with the history of a different site entirely. Doubts about the identification of the archaeological site were first raised by Robert M. Carmack, who realised that the supposed Poqomam capital was not located within the Poqomam linguistic area but rather within the linguistic area of the Kaqchikels. The Poqomam who were settled in the new colonial settlement of Mixco by the Spanish had a long history of fine polychrome ceramic production, but no evidence of such production had been recovered during archaeological investigations, and the ruins were considered too distant from colonial Mixco.Chinautla Viejo was attacked by the invading Spanish in 1525; the first two attacks against the heavily fortified city were unsuccessful. The besieged city received Poqomam reinforcements that were comprehensively defeated on an open field of battle, with the Spanish cavalry being decisive. The capture of Poqomam prisoners allowed the Spanish to discover the location of a cave providing a secret entrance to the city. A third assault broke the month-long siege, allowing the Spanish to take the city. The surviving inhabitants were moved to another settlement and Pedro de Alvarado ordered the city to be burned.

Jilotepeque Viejo was settled by the Chajoma in order to provide a capital that was safer from attack from the hostile Iximche Kaqchikel kingdom than their previous capital. In spite of this, the city fell under the domination of Iximche and the city's architecture, spread in a number of fortified groups along a ridge surrounded by deep ravines, shows a mixture of Chajoma and Kaqchikel styles. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Chajoma of Jilotepeque Viejo may have initially allied themselves with the Spanish together with Iximche and have joined in the general Kaqchikel uprising against the Spanish in 1524. The site was abandoned after the conquest and never reoccupied.

Obsidian use in Mesoamerica

Obsidian is a naturally formed volcanic glass that was an important part of the material culture of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Obsidian was a highly integrated part of daily and ritual life, and its widespread and varied use may be a significant contributor to Mesoamerica's lack of metallurgy. Lithic and contextual analysis of obsidian, including source studies, are important components of archaeological studies of past Mesoamerican cultures and inform scholars on economy, technological organization, long-distance trade, ritual organization, and socio-cultural structure.

Sitio Sierra

Sitio Sierra is an archaeological site located in the Herrera Province of Parita Bay in Panama. It lies in the south-central portion of the country, twelve kilometers from where the Santa Maria River meets the Pacific Ocean. Archaeologists have asserted that it was a nucleated agricultural village presumed to have thrived during the Late Occupation Sequence until the Spanish conquest. It was probably an egalitarian society along with other sites from the same region and time period (such as Cerro Mangote). It contains domestic features including cemeteries, middens, and ancient houses. The area includes two main periods portrayed by more recent settlement areas that are stratified above an earlier cemetery. Systematic pedestrian surveys published in an article by Richard E. Cooke in 1979 hypothesize that the original ancient habitat might have covered at least 45 hectares (Hallar, 2004).

Stone tool

A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric (particularly Stone Age) cultures that have become extinct. Archaeologists often study such prehistoric societies, and refer to the study of stone tools as lithic analysis. Ethnoarchaeology has been a valuable research field in order to further the understanding and cultural implications of stone tool use and manufacture.Stone has been used to make a wide variety of different tools throughout history, including arrow heads, spearpoints and querns. Stone tools may be made of either ground stone or chipped stone, and a person who creates tools out of the latter is known as a flintknapper.

Chipped stone tools are made from cryptocrystalline materials such as chert or flint, radiolarite, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, and quartzite via a process known as lithic reduction. One simple form of reduction is to strike stone flakes from a nucleus (core) of material using a hammerstone or similar hard hammer fabricator. If the goal of the reduction strategy is to produce flakes, the remnant lithic core may be discarded once it has become too small to use. In some strategies, however, a flintknapper reduces the core to a rough unifacial or bifacial preform, which is further reduced using soft hammer flaking techniques or by pressure flaking the edges.

More complex forms of reduction include the production of highly standardized blades, which can then be fashioned into a variety of tools such as scrapers, knives, sickles and microliths. In general terms, chipped stone tools are nearly ubiquitous in all pre-metal-using societies because they are easily manufactured, the tool stone is usually plentiful, and they are easy to transport and sharpen.


Topoxte (/tɒpɒʃtˈɛ/) (or Topoxté in Spanish orthography) is a pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site in the Petén Basin in northern Guatemala with a long occupational history dating as far back as the Middle Preclassic. As the capital of the Kowoj Maya, it was the largest of the few Postclassic Mesoamerican sites in the area. Topoxte is located on an island on Yaxha Lake across from the important Classic period center of Yaxha.Topoxte was named by Teobert Maler in 1904; the name means "seed of the Ramón tree." There is no record of the name Topoxte prior to this. The Ramón tree, commonly known as breadnut, was an important component of the ancient Maya diet. Prior to this the site was known as Islapag, as noted in 1831 by Juan Galindo in his report to the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Trade in Maya civilization

Trade in Maya civilization was a crucial factor in renaming Maya cities.

Chief staples of Maya economic activities were centered primarily around foods like fish, squash, yams, corn, honey, beans, turkey, vegetables, chocolate drinks; raw materials such as limestone, marble, jade, wood, copper and gold; and manufactured goods such as paper, books, furniture, jewelry, clothing, carvings, toys, weapons, and luxury goods. The Maya also had an important service sector, through which mathematicians, farming consultants, artisans, architects, astronomers, scribes and artists would sell their services.

Specialized craftsmen also played a large part, creating luxury items and developing devices to overcome specific problems usually by royal decree. They also engaged in long range trade of almost any other necessities such as salt, potato, stone and luxury items because there was a large need for trade in order to bring such basic goods together. The types of trade varied greatly regionally with specific districts of kingdoms typically specializing in a specific trade which contained workers of every skill set needed to produce their designated specialty. Areas were typically given a designated specialty based upon the resources available in their areas which allowed for very rapid production and distribution of a regions products.

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