The Active Materiality of Obsidian

Author(s): Rosemary Joyce

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "2019 Fryxell Award Symposium: Papers in Honor of M. Steven Shackley" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

When Steve Shackley informed me that over 90% of obsidian samples from Puerto Escondido, Honduras, that he had analyzed came from an unidentified source, presumably nearby, he started a process of re-education that led me to a place where he may not be comfortable, but that I deeply appreciate. This involves a reconsideration of the way that obsidian manifests today to us, as archaeologists, and the degree to which it may have presented itself differently to the people in the past whose lives we study. Drawing on theoretical work broadly called "new materialism", I examine how volcanic glass is distributed across the landscape of northern Honduras, what the way material use by people in Honduras before 900 BCE might suggest about how they perceived obsidian glass as bounded and located, as mobile and circulating. I argue that the combination of chemical compositional analyses valued for their accuracy and not organized in falsely precise ways with social theories that ask us not to take the essential nature of something like obsidian for granted is consequential in understanding political, economic, and social relations in Honduras, in ways faithful to the example Steve provided in his own work in the US Southwest.

Cite this Record

The Active Materiality of Obsidian. Rosemary Joyce. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450789)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -92.153; min lat: -4.303 ; max long: -50.977; max lat: 18.313 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24240