Obsidian Studies and the Archaeology of 19th-Century California

Document Type


Publication Date



Obsidian studies play an integral part in archaeology around the world, particularly in the Americas, but few archaeologists have employed obsidian studies to understand Native American life at historical archaeological sites. Yet, obsidian sourcing and hydration analysis can provide critical insights into site chronology and use, lithic recycling, and procurement and trade at contact and colonial sites. Obsidian geochemical sourcing and hydration analyses of a 19th-century rancho site in northern California have revealed new information on Native Americans who labored there in the second quarter of the 19th century. The obsidian data indicate a significant amount of lithic manufacture and use, a change in obsidian procurement in the 1800s, and an unprecedented number of obsidian sources represented on-site. The implications for general obsidian studies, as well as for regional archaeological issues, concern the problems with popular sourcing methods in northern California and the need to revisit current understandings of the first micron of hydration rim development.


Published in the journal, Journal of Field Archaeology, by Maney Publishing.


Maney Publishing