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Zachary Nelson - Obsidian Biface Production at Teotihuacan Reexamining a Coyotlatelco Phase Workshop From Hacienda Metepec

Zachary Nelson - Obsidian Biface Production at Teotihuacan Reexamining a Coyotlatelco Phase Workshop From Hacienda Metepec

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Zachary Nelson
ENTRIX Inc., 807 East South Temple, Suite 350, Salt Lake City, UT 84102, USA
This paper provides a reanalysis of a specialized biface workshop at Coyotlatelco-phase (
. 650–800) Teotihuacan excavated byEvelyn Rattray in 1979. Although Teotihuacan had already declined as a major center prior to this phase, the resident population wasstill being serviced by a variety of craftsmen, including knappers. The remains of an obsidian workshop at Hacienda Metepec giveinsight into workshop production within Epiclassic-period Teotihuacan. A single workshop produced between 4,700 and 8,700projectile points similar in shape to San Marcos points. The homogeneous workmanship indicates a single knapper, perhaps over several years of effort.
Teotihuacan, located in the Basin ofMexico, has long been regardedas a city with important craft production sites. At its height, Classicperiod Teotihuacan (approximately
. 300–600) was the most populous city in Mesoamerica. Craftsmen fabricated the comfortsof life inside its walls; now archaeologists are plumbing the city’sremains for clues about its industries. Archaeologists discoveredlarge surface deposits of obsidian material often associated withlarge public buildings. These sizable deposits formed the basis of many theories about the economic reach of the city withinMesoamerica (Andrews 1999; Clark 1986, 2003a:27–30; Cowgill1997; Millon 1981; Pasztory 1997; Santley 1984; Spence 1967,1977, 1981) and are still being investigated (Carballo 2005).Furthermore, subsequent excavations have demonstrated productionof other materials within the city, such as ceramics (Sheehy 1992),figurines (Sullivan 2004), and lapidary objects (Widmer 1991).Excavation in the outskirts of the city have also revealed areas of craft production (Cabrera Corte´s 2004; Turner 1987).This paper will determine the workshop status, output, andorganization of a specialized biface workshop from Coyotlatelcophase Teotihuacan, which coincides with the Epiclassic period(roughly
650–800). Although Teotihuacan’s earlier Classicperiod economic structure has been the focus of multiple projects(Drennan et al. 1990; Spence 1987), much less is known about itsEpiclassic-period economy or inhabitants (Diehl 1989; MoragasSegura 2005). Even though the Coyotlatelco phenomenon is inter-esting in its own right (Solar Valverde 2006), a full discussionof its issues are beyond this paper. Suffice to say that theCoyotlatelco phase at Teotihuacan was a period of comparativelylow population and partial abandonment, with unoccupied build-ings providing convenient locations for material storage andrefuse disposal. Yet, strong continuity in craft production persistedwithin the city. The Otumba obsidian mines continued to provideraw material for large atlatl darts produced within the Hacienda Metepec barrio (Nelson 2000:42). This reanalysis of the Hacienda Metepec obsidian workshop debitage provides new informationon the nature of obsidian production in Epiclassic-periodTeotihuacan.
The obsidian workshop at Hacienda Metepec was excavated byEvelyn Rattray in 1979. The Hacienda Metepec barrio is on thefar eastern side of Teotihuacan’s East Avenue (Figure 1) (see alsoMillon et al. 1973:Map 82 section 9:N1E7). Excavations realizedwithin this barrio uncovered a large deposit of obsidian debris ina workshop setting (Rattray 1979, 1980, 1981). This location wasinitially selected for excavation because of the abundance of Coyotlatelco ceramic material on the surface. During the courseof excavation, a large subsurface deposit of obsidian debris wasrecovered within and around the remains of a Metepec-phase apart-ment compound that was reused as a Coyotlatelco residence with a workshop and associated dump (Rattray 1989:243) (Figure 2).The apartment compound was a standard Teotihuacan residence(Pasztory 1997:48) in style, consisting of a sunken patio withstairs leading to a columned small room (the portico), then second larger room (north room) behind the first. It had been aban-doned for perhaps 50 years prior to its reuse by Coyotlatelcopeoples (Rattray 1989:243). The portico area measures 5.5 m by7 m (Rattray 1979:5) while the patio measures 10.5 m by 12.5 m (Rattray 1987:454). The initial excavation centered on the porticoarea. However, on encountering obsidian deposits mixed withhousehold refuse in clearly secondary context on the steps, thepatio area was included in the excavation, yielding large obsidiandeposits
in situ
nearly devoid of other cultural material (Rattray1989:243). An area of approximately 170 m 
was excavated, and
E-mail correspondence to: zn@byu.edu
 Ancient Mesoamerica
(2009), 149–162Copyright 
2009 Cambridge University Press. Printed in the U.S.A.doi:10.1017/S0956536109000121
archaeologists recovered 275 kg of obsidian debris, with obsidianflakes 50 cm deep in places. For ease of discussion, the excavationis divided into five units based upon architecture and obsidian con-centrations: north room, portico, steps, patio, and outside areas(Table 1).Although this paper focuses on the Coyotlatelco-phase work-shop, material corresponding to other ceramic phases was alsorecovered. The stratigraphy of the excavation consists of Aztecmaterial on the surface (plow zone), followed by Coyotlatelcomaterial lying on top of a possible mud floor. Then there isMetepec material over a plaster floor and continuing down two sub-sequent floors. Next is late Xolalpan material, then early Xolalpanmaterial, and finally late Tlamimilolpa artifacts above sterile soil(Figure 3) (see Rattray 1980).
Excavated soil was initially sieved through a 4.76-mm screen in thefield and the artifacts were picked out by hand. In addition, Rattraytook five to 10 liters of soil samples for microdebitage analysis from selected features (Rattray 1987). After her analysis (Rattray 1980),the microdebitage and macrodebitage were bagged and packed up.This next section details the procedures followed during this reana-lysis, not Rattray’s original analysis of the workshop (1980). All of the lithic materialrecovered fromthe Hacienda Metepec excavationswere examined for this reanalysis. Shelby Saberon was responsiblefor most of the initial sorting, sieving, and counting operationsunder the general supervision of John Clark. This work is documen-ted in his 1997 undergraduate honor’s thesis. The obsidian artifacts(micro- and macrodebitage) passed through nine nested screens that separated it by size for later analysis (Figure 4) (Saberon 1997).Screens 1–5 (sieve openings of 7.5, 5.0, 3.75, 2.5, and 1.9 cm)trapped the bifaces and large percussion debris, while screens 6and 7 (sieve openings of 1.25 and 0.63 cm) collected the smaller percussion material and larger pressure flaking debris, and screens8 and 9 (sieve openings of 0.28 and 0.20 cm) caught mainlypressure flakes and some percussion debitage. The material that passed through the smallest screen was also collected and analyzed(see Saberon 1997 for more details). After the material wasscreened, the obsidian in each screen was separated according toits visual and technological characteristics (e.g., biface fragment versus flakes) and bagged. Once the biface fragments wereremoved, the flakes were divided by size and attributes. Completecounts were made for several lots of all the flakes and their techno-logical characteristics.Next the large debitage (
1.9 cm) was individually weighed,measured, and examined. Biface fragments were classified along a proposed manufacturing sequence. The scars left by knapping errorsand the type of break were recorded (e.g., straight or transverse) for each biface fragment. Flakes were also classified by their surfacecharacteristics into categories, such as primary percussion (only oneflake scar on ventral surface), secondary (two flakes scars on ventralsurface), tertiary (more than two flake scars on ventral surface), andbifacial thinning flakes. Cortex bearing flakes were also tallied.Smaller debitage did not receive a thorough analysis. Most lots wereexamined for notching flakes, but other flakes were not tallied bytype except in a few instances for comparative purposes.The reconstructed manufacturing sequence for the workshopconsists of the following activities (Figure 4) (see Nelson 2000for a more detailed version). Large obsidian percussion flakeswere struck from cores at the Otumba quarry. These flakes (i.e.,tool blanks) were brought to Hacienda Metepec, where theywere worked into bifaces by percussion.
Percussion biface 1s
are modified blanks with few percussion scars.
Figure 1.
Schematic plan of Teotihuacan (after Millon et al. 1973; Pasztory 1997:35) modified to show Coyotlatelco-phase ceramic dis-tribution (after Ian Robertson’s figure in Go´mez Cha´vez and Cabrera Castro 2006:238).
Figure 2.
Plan map of Hacienda Metepec excavations.
Table 1.
Artifacts found in direct association with workshop deposit
Patio(W1S1–W1S3)North Room (W1N2)Portico Room (W1N1)Steps(W1S1–E1S1)Outside Areas(W2N1, E1N2)Biface fragments 501 85 33 404 162Workshop debris
(kg) 90.81 11.50 11.85 91.36 43.34Prismatic blade fragments 54 10 1 65 65Prismatic cores 4 0 0 4 2Bone tools 2 0 0 2 0Scrapers 7 3 1 8 8Saw 1 0 0 0 0Mano 0 0 1 0 0Hammerstones 2 1 0 1 0Gary large point 0 0 0 0 1Drills 1 0 0 0 1Percussion cores 2 0 0 2 2
Includes the weight of preforms and flakes.
Obsidian Biface Production at Teotihuacan 151

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