Green Obsidian is one of the most historically important minerals when researching Mesoamerican archaeology. Why?

Right outside of Teotihuacan, the largest indigenous metropolis in the Americas, is a town/mine called Pachuca. The obsidian out of this mine comes in a very unique shade of green that has appealed to human civilizations dating back to before the Olmecs (4000 years plus).

The main scientific reason why this Green Obsidian is so important is that when found at an ancient tomb or archaeological site, it indicates ancient Teotihuacano presence in the area. The geography of where this mineral shows up allows scientists to piece together long-lost traderoutes, and in arrowhead form, it implies military activity/conquest.

Green obsidian arrowheads found throughout the Mayan world, far to the southeast of the Valley of Mexico, can indicate whether or not a given Mayan city allied itself/was subjugated by Teotihuacanos (the Teotihuacano Emperor "Spearthrower Owl" installed his sons or military generals as rulers of several Mayan sites in the 4th century AD; the cities where these arrowheads have been found seem to have been allied with the enemies of these Teotihuacan-supported Mayan city-states).

But getting back to the title: what is the Green Obsidian/Chocolate connection?

The Olmecs are often called the "Mother Civilization" of Mesoamerica, but there are civilizations that predate them. The way archaeology works is if you come up with the first writing system, you become "first"-- everything before that is termed "Prehistoric." The first time a system of writing appears in the New World is at Olmec sites.

The Mokaya people of the Southern Coast of Mexico were probably cultural pre-cursors to the Olmecs, roughly 5000 years ago. Much of Olmec tradition and indeed, even the Mesoamerican ballgame, can be credited to the Mokaya. For our purposes: they are credited with bringing cacao to Mexico (interestingly: it's not the local cacao plant they domesticated-- it was Amazon cacao from 100s of miles away in Peru).

The domestication of cacao made some local Mesoamericans very wealthy, and skirmishes over arable land were common in the Mokaya region after cacao first arrived. The introduction of this new crop also created a kind of "nouveau riche" in ancient Mesoamerica-- this was repeated time and time again with each successive civilization. Suddenly these people had disposable income, so what did they buy?

Luxury goods! Which brings us back to Green Obsidian. Most people know that metalwork was relatively unknown throughout the Americas before the arrival of the Conquistadors, and that volcanic glass provided a workable alternative for 1000s of years. This is what Black Obsidian was used for; it was very utilitarian. Being plentiful, it was used in toolmaking and decorativeware by all people regardless of social status.

Green Obsidian being rarer and lighter and prettier in color tended to be seen as a luxury item. Mesoamericans made wealthy from the cacao trade purchased special green obsidian cups to drink their popular beverage, perhaps because their wealth made them feel as close to the gods as their human rulers did.

Teotihuacan was a cultural juggernaut, like the New York City of its day. It attracted different ethnicities throughout Mesoamerica to live and work there, and they set up "barrios" within the metropolis, adopting the cultural values of their city. These memes and traditions were then being transmitted throughout all of Central America.

If you had "made it" in Big Cacao, the thing to do was to express that materially. With Green Obsidian from the Pachuca mine.

Over millennia, cacao became so valuable and ubiquitous, it was used as money. The cacao-drink concept evolved through countless cultures, so many in fact that today we don't know if "Chocolate" comes from the Nahua "Xoco-atl" (bitter water) or the Maya "Chocol-Ha" (hot water).

Green obsidian, however, remains very rare. Metaphysically, we recommend Obsidian for inner reflection (AKA "dealing with your sh**") however some clients say Black Obsidian is too strong for this aim. In recommending Green Obsidian over Black for this purpose, we tell customers that it's a bit like the difference between Green Tea and Black Coffee-- Green Obsidian is simply gentler.

(Pictured here: our stock of Brazilian Green Obsidian, a votive sculpture from beneath Chichen Itza, and Toblerone chocolate, which, as Peter Griffin of Family Guy once wondered: IS the fanciest thing ever)

Steven RosleyComment