EMU Volume 20 – Chapter 11

Contribution of Mineralogy to Cultural Heritage

Chapter 11. Obsidian and volcanic glass shards: Characterization and provenancing

D. Barca, G. M. Crisci and D. Miriello

Obsidian is a volcanic product that forms under particular geological conditions, and hence occurs in limited areas of the Earth. In ancient times, obsidian was used successfully by various peoples to produce artistic artefacts, but also to make tools and weapons used in everyday life. For this reason, obsidian was transported from geological sources to other locations. The study of methods used to identify the provenance of obsidian artefacts has become crucial for understanding commercial relations between distant ancient populations. Other volcanic products, generally associated with obsidian, are volcanic glass shards. Glass shards were used in Mexico as aggregates to produce plasters, and recent studies have shown that they were also transported along commercial routes. This chapter presents an introductory overview of the sources of obsidian in the Tyrrhenian area, showing how minor, trace and rare earth elements can be used to solve provenance problems. A case study regarding the provenance of glass shards inside archaeological plasters taken from Teopacazco (Teotihuacan, Mexico) is also presented.

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