The experimental determination of the function of obsidian scrapers recovered from the formative period site of La Laguna, Tlaxcala, Mexico: a scanning electron microscope approach

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Small obsidian scrapers recovered at the archaeological site of La Laguna and other sites throughout Central Highland Mexico have been interpreted as tools used to process Mexican agave plants for the production of sap. Ethnographic research conducted by Parsons and Parsons (1990) illustrated a striking similarity between the form and function between the modern iron scrapers utilized by modern populations to scrape agave plants for the production of sap and archaeologically recovered obsidian scrapers. However, these tools are possibly multi-purpose implements and Parsons and Parsons (1990) suggest the use of high-powered microscopic analysis to sort out agave scrapers from tools used to process other materials. Using replica obsidian scrapers, several materials were processed to understand the formation of microscopic use-wear on the edge surfaces of tools used to scrape agave, local Mexican woods, deer bone and deer hide. These tools were analyzed with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and compared to archaeological tools from La Laguna. Analysis indicated that use-wear formation from each different material was distinguishable from one another based on the development and prevalence of microflaking, polishing, and striations. As a result, likely functions were assigned to archaeological tools based on the unique wear patterns present on their used edges. Results indicate that residents were creating spoon-shaped obsidian scrapers to process maguey for sap, while some scrapers were created as multipurpose implements.

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