Technological, use-wear, and residue analyses of obsidian blades from Classic Maya burials at Pook's Hill, Belize

W. James Stemp, Geoffrey A. Braswell, Christophe G.B. Helmke, Jaime J. Awe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Obsidian artifacts are commonly recovered as funerary items in ancient Maya burials. Young and old individuals of both sexes and different social classes were buried with different quantities of obsidian, primarily in the form of prismatic blades. Although obsidian blades can serve many functions, those recovered from funerary contexts have traditionally been interpreted as bloodletters. Support for this interpretation has come from ethnohistoric sources, iconography, and the recovery of obsidian blades from locations with similar ritual associations, such as caches and caves. However, based on use-wear analyses it has been demonstrated that not all blades from caches and caves are bloodletters. In this paper we report on the findings of the technological, use-wear, and residue analyses of obsidian artifacts recovered from burials at the ancient Maya site of Pook's Hill, in modern-day Belize. Based on use-wear analysis, three of the blades from the Pook's Hill burials were likely used as bloodletters. Most blades from the burials were used for a variety of other tasks. Moreover, two blades recovered from non-burial contexts at Pook's Hill were used as bloodletters based on use-wear analysis. The results also suggest that the cutting-edge/mass ratio calculated for blades used as bloodletters may serve as a predictor of blade choice for bloodletting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101859
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Bloodletting
  • Burials
  • Cross-over immunoelectrophoresis
  • Cutting-edge/mass ratio
  • Maya
  • Obsidian blades
  • Use-wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


Dive into the research topics of 'Technological, use-wear, and residue analyses of obsidian blades from Classic Maya burials at Pook's Hill, Belize'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this