Mesoamerican Grooved Curved Sticks: Short Swords, Fending Sticks, or Other Purpose?

Author(s): Phil Geib

Year: 2016


Curved sticks with longitudinal facial grooves were dredged from the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá at the start of the 1900s. They are also depicted in art there and at other sites such as Tula. These artifacts are similar to specimens recovered from various sites throughout the North American Southwest, where one suggested function was for defense against atlatl darts. Accepting this speculative account, Mesoamerican archaeologists have identified these artifacts as fending sticks. Starting in the late 1980s some started to doubt the fending interpretation, with Hassig (1988:294-295) arguing that the grooved curved sticks were specialized short swords for close fighting. My analysis of the Chichén Itzá sticks along with a consideration of the mural evidence disproves the short sword argument, but does not corroborate the fending role. However, there is a tantalizing bit of ethnographic evidence from Diego de Landa that hints at the possibility of the Yucatan Maya deflecting atlatl darts using short sticks in a ritual designated as a dance. There is also some use-wear support for the fending interpretation from the Southwest, where this artifact type dates to at least 8000 years ago. Fending atlatl darts in ritual fights remains a probable interpretation of these sticks.

Cite this Record

Mesoamerican Grooved Curved Sticks: Short Swords, Fending Sticks, or Other Purpose?. Phil Geib. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403684)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;