May 1, 2010

Blade core

This obsidian core was collected by Robert F. Heizer during one of his archaeological expeditions in Guatemala. Unlike jade, which was circulating primarily among the upper classes of central American societies, obsidian was readily available to most households. Cores and blades were produced and traded in large numbers to be used, with appropriate modifications, in hunting, farming, woodworking, weaponry and  ritual. In a 1971 volume, Heizer and colleagues published an account of blade production among the Atzecs as told by the Spanish missionary Motolinia, soon after the Spanish conquest.

Robert F. Heizer came to UC Berkeley in the 1930s as an undergraduate transfer from Sacramento Junior College, then an active center for archaeological research in northern California. He received his BA (1936) and PHD (1941) working closely with Alfred Kroeber and, soon after World War II, he was appointed Assistant Professor (1946) in the Anthropology Department. He was Curator of North America Archaeology at the PAHMA from 1956 until his death in 1979.

One of the first to realize that archaeological research in pre-war California was rather crude in its field methods and general modus operandi, Heizer was always a strenuous proponent of rigorous methodology and a pioneer of scientific applications. It is thus perhaps surprising that early in his career his attention to detail was apparently a matter of concern, as expressed in this hand-written note archived at the museum. The author of the note, though without absolute certainty, was likely Llewellyn Lemont Loud who had worked for the museum since 1911 and spent years excavating and recording archaeological sites in California and Nevada.

More than 60 years later, the remarks feel more like rivalry between different institutions than personal grudge or criticism. Loud himself was a cause for frustration for Alfred Kroeber who, at times, questioned Loud's commitment to wrapping up his archaeological reports in a timely manner. It took Loud 17 years to complete the publication of his excavation at Lovelock cave, Nevada (1912-1929).

Hearst Museum 3-22955
Obsidian prismatic blade core
Guatemala, Papalhuapa, "Templo de Montezuma"
Collected by Robert F. Heizer, John Graham and H. Williams, 1965

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