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Determining the Geological Provenance of Obsidian Artifacts from the Maya Region: A Test of the Efficacy of Visual Sourcing

  • Geoffrey E. Braswell (a1), John E. Clark (a2), Kazuo Aoyama (a3), Heather I. McKillop (a4) and Michael D. Glascock (a5)...

Abstract

During the last four decades, mesoamerican archaeologists regularly have employed various chemical assay techniques to determine the geological sources of obsidian artifacts. In recent years, the reliability of these analytical procedures has increased and their costs have declined, encouraging the assay of ever larger samples. Nonetheless, several constraints make it unlikely that compositional data will be used routinely to attribute entire collections to their geological sources. This report describes a test of visual sourcing, a technique that for many sites in the Maya region is only slightly less accurate than compositional assay. We also propose sampling strategies that combine visual and compositional sourcing in ways that allow large collections to be accurately sourced at low costs. Finally, we suggest ways to develop the technique for use throughout Latin America.

Resumen

Durante las últimas décadas, arqueólogos mesoamericanos por lo general han empleado diversas técnicas químicas de análisis para determinar las fuentes geológicas de artefactos de obsidiana. En años recientes, se ha incrementado la confiabilidad de esta clase de procedimientos analíticos en tanto que su costo ha disminuido, de manera que se ha impulsado el análisis de muestras más grandes. No obstante, hay limitantes que vuelven poco probable que los datos composicionales se empleen en forma rutinaria para la atribución de colecciones completas a las fuentes geológicas de origen. En este reporte se describe una prueba del método visual de atribución, que es una técnica ligeramente menos precisa que los análsis composicionales en el caso de muchos sitios en la región maya. Además, proponemos estrategias de muestreo que combinan el método visual con los análisis composicionales, de manera que sea posible definir la fuente geológica de colecciones grandes a un bajo costo. Por último, proponemos medidas para desarrollar el uso de la técnica en toda Latinoamérica.

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Latin American Antiquity
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