Archaeological Approaches to Obsidian Quarries: Investigations at the Quispisisa Source

Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


Prehistoric stone tool quarries can be a source information about past resource exploitation and management, tool production, and labor organization. Research is complicated, however, by the sheer abundance of discarded material and by a dearth of temporally diagnostic evidence. Here we discuss research at stone sources in light of ongoing work at the source of Quispisisa Type obsidian in highland Peru, where exploitation resulted in the excavation of numerous quarry pits and the accumulation of tailings piles and knapping debris. Using this lithic resource as an example, we discuss approaches to stone tool sources, including system-oriented and regional-scale investigations as well as considerations of the social and ritual significance of geological source areas.


Source Area Triangular Point Quarry Site Ritual Context Archaeological Approach 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Jesus Vilchez, Steve Shackley, Katharina Schreiber, Richard Burger, Michael Glascock, Yuichi Matsumoto, Yuri Cavero, Cirilo Vivanco, and Roger Murillo, and acknowledge support from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, the Stanford University Branner Library of Earth Sciences, and the UC Berkeley Archaeological Research Facility.


  1. Barberena, R., Hajduk, A., Gil, A. F., Neme, G. A., Durán, V., Glascock, M. D., et al. (2011). Obsidian in the South-Central Andes: Geological, geochemical, and archaeological assessment of north Patagonian sources (Argentina). Quaternary International, 245(1), 25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bencic, C. M. (2000). Industrias líticas de Huari y Tiwanaku. In P. Kaulicke, & W. H. Isbell (Eds.), Huari y Tiwanaku: Modelos vs. evidencias. Boletín de Arqueología PUCP, (Vol. 4, pp. 89–118). Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú Fondo Editorial.Google Scholar
  3. Benzoni, G., & Smyth, W. H. (1857 [1565]). History of the new world. London: Hakluyt Society.Google Scholar
  4. Bradley, R. (2000). An archaeology of natural places. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Bradley, R., & Edmonds, M. R. (1993). Interpreting the axe trade: Production and exchange in Neolithic Britain. New Studies in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brumm, A. (2010). Falling Sky: Symbolic and cosmological associations of the Mt. William Greenstone Axe Quarry, Central Victoria, Australia. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 20(2), 179–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burger, R. L. (1984). Archaeological Areas and Prehistoric Frontiers: The case of Formative Peru and Ecuador. In D. L. Browman, R. L. Burger, & M. A. Rivera (Eds.), Social and economic organization in the Prehispanic Andes (Vol. 194, pp. 33–71). Oxford, England: B.A.R. International Series.Google Scholar
  8. Burger, R. L., & Asaro, F. (1977). Trace element analysis of obsidian artifacts from the Andes: New perspectives on Pre-Hispanic economic interaction in Peru and Bolivia—LBL6343. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.Google Scholar
  9. Burger, R. L., Asaro, F., Michael, H. V., & Stross, F. H. (1984). The Source of obsidian artifacts at Chavín de Huántar. Appendix E. In R. L. Burger (Ed.), The prehistoric occupation of Chavín de Huántar, Peru (Vol. 14, pp. 263–270). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Burger, R. L., Asaro, F., Michael, H. V., Stross, F. H., & Salazar, E. (1994). An initial consideration of obsidian procurement and exchange in prehispanic Ecuador. Latin American Antiquity, 5(3), 228–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burger, R. L., Asaro F., Salas G., & Stross F. (1998a) The Chivay obsidian source and the geological origin of Titicaca Basin type obsidian artifacts. Andean Past 5, 203–223.Google Scholar
  12. Burger, R. L., Asaro, F., Trawick, P., & Stross, F. (1998b). The Alca obsidian Source: The origin of raw material for Cuzco Type obsidian artifacts. Andean Past, 5, 185–202.Google Scholar
  13. Burger, R. L., Fajardo Rios, F. A., & Glascock, M. D. (2006). Potreropampa and Lisahuacho obsidian sources: Geological origins of Andahuaylas A and B Type obsidians in the province of Aymaraes, Department of Apurimac, Peru. Ñawpa Pacha, 28, 109–127.Google Scholar
  14. Burger, R. L., & Glascock, M. D. (2000). Locating the Quispisisa obsidian source in the department of Ayacucho, Peru. Latin American Antiquity, 11(3), 258–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burger, R. L., & Glascock, M. D. (2001). The Puzolana obsidian source: Locating the geologic source of ayacucho type obsidian. Andean Past, 6, 289–307.Google Scholar
  16. Burger, R. L., & Glascock, M. D. (2002). Tracking the source of Quispisisa Type obsidian from Huancavelica to Ayacucho. In W. H. Isbell & H. Silverman (Eds.), Andean archaeology I: Variations in sociopolitical organization (pp. 341–368). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.Google Scholar
  17. Burger, R. L., & Glascock, M. D. (2009). Intercambio prehistórico de obsidiana a larga distancia en el norte Peruano. Revista del Museo de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia, 11, 17–50.Google Scholar
  18. Burger, R. L., Mohr Chávez, K. L., & Chávez, S. J. (2000). Through the Glass Darkly: Prehispanic obsidian procurement and exchange in southern Peru and northern Bolivia. Journal of World Prehistory, 14(3), 267–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Burger, R. L., & Salazar, L. C. (2004). Machu Picchu: Unveiling the mystery of the Incas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Burger, R. L., Schreiber, K. J., Glascock, M. D., & Ccencho, J. (1998c). The Jampatilla obsidian source: Identifying the geological source of pampas type obsidian artifacts from Southern Peru. Andean Past, 5, 225–239.Google Scholar
  21. Cann, J. R., & Renfrew, C. (1964). The characterization of obsidian and its application to the Mediterranean region. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 30, 111–133.Google Scholar
  22. Clark, J. E. (2003). A review of twentieth-century mesoamerican obsidian studies. In K. G. Hirth (Ed.), Mesoamerican lithic technology: Experimentation and interpretation (pp. 15–54). Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.Google Scholar
  23. Close, A. E. (1996). Carry that weight: The use and transportation of stone tools. Current Anthropology, 37(3), 545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cobo, B. (1979 [1653]). History of the Inca Empire, translated and edited by Roland HamiltonRetrieved from Scholar
  25. Contreras, D. A. and Nado, K. (in press). Interpreting geochemically characterized obsidian from Chavín de Huántar, Peru. In D. Peterson and J. Dudgeon (Eds.), The archaeology of circulation, exchange and human migration: Techniques, cases, evidence. Equinox Publishing, Ltd.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Contreras, D. A., Tripcevich, N., & Palomino, Y. C. (2013). Investigaciones en la fuente de la obsidiana tipo Quispisisa, Huancasancos Ayacucho. In Proceedings of the XVI Congreso Peruano del Hombre y la Cultura Andina y Amazonica, UNMSM, Lima, Peru, October 2009, Lima, Peru.Google Scholar
  27. Cooney, G. (1998). Breaking stones, making places: The social landscape of axe production sites. In A. M. Gibson, & D. D. A. Simpson (Eds.), Prehistoric ritual and religion (pp. xiii, 242 p.). Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton.Google Scholar
  28. Couture, N. C. (2003). Ritual, monumentalism, and residence at Mollo Kontu. In A. L. Kolata (Ed.), Tiwanaku and its hinterland: Archaeology and paleoecology of an Andean civilization, (Vol. 2, pp. 202–225). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  29. Edmonds, M. M. (1990). Description, understanding and the chaîne opératoire. Archaeological Reviews from Cambridge, 9(1), 55–70.Google Scholar
  30. Edmonds, M. R. (1995). Stone tools and society: Working stone in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. London: Batsford.Google Scholar
  31. Eerkens, J. W., & Rosenthal, J. S. (2004). Are obsidian subsources meaningful units of analysis? Temporal and spatial patterning of subsources in the Coso Volcanic Field, southeastern California. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31(1), 21–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Eerkens, J. W., Vaughn, K. J., Carpenter, T. R., Conlee, C. A., Grados, M. L., & Schreiber, K. (2008). Obsidian hydration dating on the South Coast of Peru. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35, 2231–2239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Elston, R. G., & Raven, C. (Eds.). (1992). Archaeological investigations at Tosawihi. A Great Basin Quarry, Part 1: The periphery, Vol. 1. Report prepared for the Bureau of Land Management, Elko Resource Area, Nevada. Silver City, NV: Inter-mountain Research and Bureau of Land Management.Google Scholar
  34. Ericson, J. E. (1984). Towards the analysis of Lithic production systems. In J. E. Ericson & B. A. Purdy (Eds.), Prehistoric quarries and Lithic production. New directions in archaeology (pp. 1–10). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Giesso, M. (2003). Stone tool production in the Tiwanaku heartland. In A. L. Kolata (Ed.), Tiwanaku and its hinterland: Archaeology and paleoecology of an Andean civilization, (Vol. 2, pp. 363–383). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  36. Glascock, M., Speakman, R. J., & Burger, R. L. (2007). Sources of archaeological obsidian in Peru: Descriptions and geochemistry. In M. Glascock, R. J. Speakman, & R. S. Popelka-Filcoff (Eds.), Archaeological chemistry: Analytical techniques and archaeological interpretation (pp. 522–552). Washington, DC: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gosden, C., & Marshall, Y. (1999). The cultural biography of objects. World Archaeology, 31(2), 169–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gould, R. A. (1980). Living archaeology. New studies in archaeology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Healan, D. M. (1997). Pre-hispanic quarrying in the Ucareo-Zinapécuaro Obsidian Source Area. Ancient Mesoamerica, 8, 77–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Holmes, W. H. (1900). The Obsidian Mines of Hidalgo, Mexico. American Anthropologist, 2, 405–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Holmes, W. H. (1919). Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquities, Part I, Introductory, The Lithic Industries. Bulletin of American Ethnology 60. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  42. Ingold, T. (2006). Rethinking the animate, re-animating thought. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 71(1), 9–20.Google Scholar
  43. Ingold, T. (2011). Being alive: Essays on movement. Knowledge and description. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Jennings, J., & Glascock, M. D. (2002). Description and method of exploitation of the Alca obsidian source, Peru. Latin American Antiquity, 13(1), 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Klarich, E. A. (2005). From the monumental to the mundane: Defining early leadership strategies at late formative Pukara, Peru (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation). University of California, Santa Barbara.Google Scholar
  46. Klink, C., & Aldenderfer, M. (2005). A projectile point chronology for the South-Central Andean Highlands. In C. Stanish, A. Cohen, & M. Aldenderfer (Eds.), Advances in Titicaca basin archaeology, (Vol. 1, pp. 25–54). Los Angeles, CA: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.Google Scholar
  47. Lechtman, H. (1984). Andean value systems and the development of prehistoric metallurgy. Technology and Culture, 25(1), 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Liritzis, I., & Laskarisa, N. (2011). Fifty years of obsidian hydration dating in archaeology. Journal of Non-Crystalline Solids, 357(10), 2011–2023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McBryde, I. (1997). ‘The landscape is a series of Stories’. Grindstones, quarries and exchange in aboriginal Australia: A lake eyre case study. In A. Ramos-Millán & M. A. Bustillo (Eds.), Siliceous Rocks and Culture (pp. 587–607). Granada: Universidad de Granada.Google Scholar
  50. McCown, T. (1945). Pre-Incaic Huamachuco: Survey and excavations in the region of Huamachuco and Cajabamba. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 39, 223–399.Google Scholar
  51. Moore, J. D. (2010). Making a Huaca: Memory and Praxis in Prehispanic far northern Peru. Journal of Social Archaeology, 10(3), 398–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nash, D. J. (2002). The archaeology of space: Places of power in the Wari empire (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation). University of Florida.Google Scholar
  53. O’Connor, B., Gabriel, C., & John, C. (2009). Materialitas: Working stone, carving identity. Prehistoric Society research papers. Oxford: Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  54. Ogburn, D. E. (2004). Evidence for long-distance transportation of building stones in the Inka empire, from Cuzco, Peru to Saraguro, Ecuador. Latin American Antiquity, 15(4), 419–439.Google Scholar
  55. Owen, B. D., & Goldstein, P. S. (2001). Tiwanaku en Moquegua: Interacciones regionales y colapso. In P. Kaulicke (Ed.), Horizonte Medio (Boletin de arqueología PUCP, Vol. 2, pp. 169–188). Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.Google Scholar
  56. Rademaker, K. (2006). Geoarchaeological investigations of the Waynuna Site and the Alca Obsidian Source. M.S., University of Maine.Google Scholar
  57. Rademaker, K. (2012). Early human settlement of the high-altitude Pucuncho Basin, Peruvian Andes (Unpublishe Ph.D. dissertation). Department of Anthropology and Quaternary Studies, University of Maine, Orono.Google Scholar
  58. Rudebeck, E. (1998). Flint extraction, axe offering, and the value of cortex. In M. R. Edmonds & C. Richards (Eds.), Understanding the Neolithic of north-western Europe (pp. 312–327). Glasgow: Cruithne Press.Google Scholar
  59. Saunders, N. J. (2004). The cosmic earth: Materiality and mineralogy in the Americas. In N. Boivin & M. A. Owoc (Eds.), Soils, stones and symbols: Cultural perceptions of the mineral world (pp. 123–141). London: UCL.Google Scholar
  60. Schiffer, M. B. (1975). Behavioral chain analysis: Activities, organization, and the use of space. Fieldiana, 65(103–174).Google Scholar
  61. Sellet, F. (1993). Chaîne opératoire: The concept and its applications. Lithic Technology, 18, 106–112.Google Scholar
  62. Shackley, M. S. (2005). Obsidian: Geology and archaeology in the North American southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  63. Shackley, M. S. (2011). X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) in geoarchaeology. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shott, M. J. (2003). Chaîne opératoire and reduction sequence. Lithic Technology, 28(2), 95–105.Google Scholar
  65. Skeates, R. (1995). Animate objects: A biography of prehistoric ‘axe-amulets’ in the central Mediterranean region 61. London: Prehistoric Society.Google Scholar
  66. Smith, M. L. (1999). The role of ordinary goods in premodern exchange. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 6(2), 109–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Taçon, P. S. C. (2004). Ochre, clay, stone and art. In N. Boivin & M. A. Owoc (Eds.), Soils, stones and symbols: Cultural perceptions of the mineral world (pp. 31–42). London: UCL.Google Scholar
  68. Topping, P. (2010). Neolithic axe quarries and flint mines: Towards an ethnography of prehistoric extraction. In M. B. La Porta, A. Burke, & D. Field (Eds.), Ancient mines and quarries: A trans-atlantic perpective (pp. 23–32). Oxford: Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  69. Torrence, R. (1986). Production and exchange of stone tools prehistoric obsidian in the Aegean. New studies in archaeology. UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Tripcevich, N. (2007). Quarries, caravans, and routes to complexity: Prehispanic obsidian in the South-Central Andes (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation). University of California, Santa Barbara.Google Scholar
  71. Tripcevich, N. (2010). Exotic goods and socio-political change in the south-central Andes. In C. Dillian & C. White (Eds.), Trade and exchange: Archaeological studies from history and prehistory. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  72. Tripcevich, N., & Contreras, D. A. (2011). Quarrying evidence at the Quispisisa obsidian source, Ayacucho, Peru. Latin American Antiquity, 22(1), 121–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tripcevich, N., Eerkens, J. W., & Carpenter, T. R. (2012) Obsidian hydration at high elevation: Archaic quarrying at the Chivay source, Southern Peru. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(5), 1360–1367.Google Scholar
  74. Tripcevich, N., & Mackay, A. (2011). Procurement at the Chivay obsidian source, Arequipa, Peru. World Archaeology, 43(2), 271–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Turner, R. J. W., Knight, R. J., & Rick, J. W. (1999). Geological landscape of the pre-Inca archaeological site at Chavin de Huantar, Peru. Current Research 1999-D. Geological Survey of Canada, 47–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Uhle, M. (1909). Peruvian throwing-sticks. American Anthropologist, 11(4), 624–627.Google Scholar
  77. Williams, P. R., Dussubieux, L., & Nash, D. J. (2012). Provenance of Peruvian Wari obsidian: Comparing INAA, LA-ICP-MS, and portable XRF. In I. Liritzis & C. Stevenson (Eds.), The Dating and Provenance of Obsidian and Ancient Manufactured Glasses (pp. 75–85). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
  78. Yacobaccio, H. D., Escola, P. S., Pereyra, F. X., Lazzari, M., & Glascock, M. D. (2004). Quest for Ancient Routes: Obsidian sourcing research in Northwestern Argentina. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 193–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California-BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Ecosystem Research, Kiel UniversityKielGermany

Personalised recommendations