The Late Formative to Classic Period Obsidian Economy at Palo Errado, Veracruz, Mexico

Charles Leonard Fredrick Knight

PhD Thesis. 1999

The development and maintenance of sociopolitical inequality has been closely associated with the control over the production, distribution, and consumption of both local and nonlocal commodities during the Formative and Classic periods in Mesoamerica. One commodity commonly produced and exchanged both interregionally and intraregionally in prehispanic Mesoamerica was obsidian, a volcanic glass used for an array of utilitarian and prestige purposes on the southern Golf Coast. Two kinds of models have helped us conceptualize the accumulation of obsidian as a factor in the maintenance of social complexity in regional settlement systems. These are "adaptionist" and "political" models, which focuses on the strategies employed by individuals in attracting the support of others for socioeconomic power. The Proyecto Palo Errado attempted to identify the role of obsidian in the maintenance of sociopolitical inequality on the SGC, focusing on the Late Formative to Classic period hinterland center of Palo Errado, in Southern Veracruz, Mexico. Comparisons were then made with the surface obsidian assemblage from the regional center of Tres Zapotes.

A two-tiered systematic surface survey with collection, plus test pit excavations of both elite and nonelite contexts at Palo Errado were undertaken to identify the variation in household occupation through time, as well as obsidian artifact and material type distribution. Reduction technology analysis was carried out to identify the types of obsidian industries utilized at the site. Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis was performed at the University of Missouri Research Reactor on a sample of 100 obsidian specimens, to identify the obsidian sources recovered at Palo Errado.

Obsidian prismatic blade production and consumption patterns at Palo Errado did not adhere to the resource accumulation strategies of either the political or adaptationist models. At Tres Zapotes there was some evidence for a restricted, elite use of obsidian from the pachuca source, although to a minor degree. In general, nothing from either Palo Errado or Tres Zapotes indicates that the accumulation of obsidian was a strategy the elite employed to gain a sociopolitical advantage over others.