The production, consumption, and function of stone tools in prehispanic Central Mexico: a comparative study of households spanning the formative to postclassic period
Walton, David Patrick
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This study evaluates how prehispanic central Mexicans made stone tools—primarily from obsidian—and used them in their homes over a period of 3,000 years. Mesoamerican scholars have often assumed the functional purposes of different lithic tools based on their material or technological attributes. Most limit their studies to single sites and extrapolate broader reconstructions of economic activities. I assess stone tool functions and associated economic activities through technological analyses of more than 43,000 lithic artifacts and, in addition, a feasibility study for high magnification use-wear analysis utilizing 589 of these artifacts from multiple household contexts in the central Mexican villages of Amomoloc (900-650 B.C.), Tetel (750-500 B.C.), and Mesitas (600-500 B.C.); the town of La Laguna (600 B.C.-A.D. 150); the city of Teotihuacan (A.D. 200-550); and the Aztec village of Cihuatecpan (A.D. 1150-1550). I determine that pressure blades—the most common tool form—were multifunctional. They were regularly modified via pressure trimming or notching and recycled through bipolar percussion to suit specific tasks. Blade production error rates decreased consistently, especially after the invention of core platform grinding near the end of the Classic period (A.D. 100-600). Preliminary results of the use-wear feasibility study suggest that certain tools became associated with specific tasks. Scrapers were mainly used to produce goods of maguey, wood, and hide. People came to use hafted atlatl dart points and bifacial knives almost exclusively for hunting and meat butchering tasks, respectively, and smaller bifacial drills mostly for shell craft production. Bipolar tools created through anvil percussion were more common during the Formative period (1500 B.C.-A.D. 100), when they were probably used as expedient kitchen utensils. Obsidian tools in central Mexico were not exclusively staple goods. Ritual bloodletting implements are spatially associated with communal altars and commoner and elite residences, but after the Epiclassic period (A.D. 600-900) bloodletting was restricted primarily to temples. Likewise, although weaponry was common during the Classic through Postclassic periods, and jewelry was relatively common during the Late Postclassic period (A.D. 1325-1521), in prehispanic times their spatial distributions were much more restricted across site contexts compared to obsidian staple goods. I demonstrate that in prehispanic central Mexico stone tools were produced and used primarily in household spaces, contrary to models that have emphasized sponsorship by elites or religious institutions. Residents produced stone tools in their homes primarily to satisfy their own needs during the Formative period. As rising populations contributed to urban densities and the development of marketplace economies, household lithic production increased to satisfy broader consumer demand. Producing households often specialized in blade production or followed a multicrafting strategy, in which the scale of production exceeded their own needs.