Mexico City News and Travel

Obsidian, stone of inheritance and pre-Hispanic trade in Teotihuacán

From parents to children and grandchildren this work is passed down through generations. Women, men, and young people dedicate much of their day to work this volcanic glass into outstanding pieces of art, whose characteristics stand out from other stone materials.

All are talented and it is an art that, says Ernesto Rojas, bring in “the genes” by inheritance of those who founded Teotihuacán, a very important pre-Hispanic city of Mesoamerica for its cultural, artistic, religious, political and social development.

“It is an extremely important culture that we have not stopped exploiting, from those times and until today,” says the member of the Cooperativa Artesanal Santa Maria Coatlán.

He says that this archaeological site, located northwest of Mexico City, served as an important obsidian supply center because there were no metals and it was the only source to make instruments and weapons, such as knives, arrows and even mirrors.

Since then, he says, volcanic rock has been the basis of the economy of many families in the nearby municipalities in the State of Mexico. “Hence the importance of preserving that tradition through so many generations,” reiterates the artisan.

Recognized Works

Luz Romero, Director of Artisan Promotion of Teotihuacán, points out that in the municipality there are still more than 300 families dedicated to this artisan work and, for this reason, every year they display their talent when exhibiting their works in the International Fair of the Obsidian.

In its 43rd edition, which took place from March 17 to 21, more than 120 obsidian artists participated and as special guests were Ecuador and Cholula, Puebla, a municipality that has the distinction of Pueblo Magico.

Thus, 62 craftsmen, with 100 pieces competed this year to be recognized for achieving the best creation made with obsidian and other stones.

The brilliance of these works dazzles in the surroundings of the “City of the Gods”, especially in those that attract more tourism, because that’s where they also put their art on sale, says Romero.

For Alfonso Muñoz Cruz, who inherited the workshop from his grandfather and father, tourism mobilizes much of the Teotihuacan handicrafts because it has evolved in many ways.

“Times have changed. Before, in the 80’s, a lot of US citizens came to buy the pre-Hispanic pieces, but in the 90’s and 2000’s something different happened because of an increase in Europeans, Spaniards, Italians, French and Germans visiting Mexico,” he said.

Today there are more tourists coming from Central America, China and Russia, who specially ask for certain objects. “They know that in other countries it is difficult to find sculptures made with hard stones, such as obsidian, quartz, jade and venturina,” he says.

Muñoz Cruz says that from his workshop came the pieces – Aztec Calendar, Jaguar Knight and Time Charger – that the governor of the State of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila Villegas, took to the Vatican.

“We are proud to be stone carvers and artisans,” he said, while emphasizing: “It is our work and the legacy that left us the culture of Teotihuacán.”

Handicrafts that pride

Just look and touch the stone to feel their wonders. In this place, which also houses a large gallery, you can appreciate countless figures representing the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica-Olmeca, Teotihuacán, Zapoteca, Tolteca, Azteca and Maya-.

In their galleries there are pieces from a marble of two centimeters to pieces of two or more meters of height. All with a combination of the colors of the stones: black, brown, gold and rainbow.

Mr. Ernesto Rojas explains that obsidian is a volcanic glass and rich in minerals, which allows you to appreciate in different shades that are transparent, translucent, bright, reflective.

“Everything will depend on the depth of where they are extracted,” said the artisan, who explains in the mines are more common to find black and brown rocks, because finding light shades is more complicated because more must be extracted.

He says that in the hills around Teotihuacán it is still possible to extract the obsidian from some mines, although, says the city council official, other people choose to bring it from Hidalgo and Jalisco.

But after having it in the hands, he says, the first thing is to work it and shape it with a chisel. It is necessary to pass through a diamond stone to accentuate the details and then it is polished with bands of cotton or wool, a process that is repeated when making a paste with the same powder.

“The stone itself is brilliant and, with this technique, it can obtained its natural property. In fact, obsidian is not very expensive, it acquires its value for the days that we dedicate to each craft,” he adds.

There are figures that demand two hours to be created and others that take months since the acquisition of the rock. Others require more time because of the number of small slabs they have embedded, as if it were a puzzle.

By Carlos Trejo Serrano