Obsidian Woven Through Aztec Society

Aztec society is one of the most well known native tribes in the world. They’re most well known for their intricate infrastructure and religion, however they had a very distinct and powerful military as well. The Aztecs heavily relied on warfare to smother invading tribes, gain resources and territory, and collect sacrifices. To gain such power, warriors depended heavily on weaponry such as bows and arrows, spears, javelin, clubs, swords, and specifically, the atlatl. While a fun word to say, it is a deadly weapon when used properly. The atlatl consisted of two separate mechanisms, a javelin or large dart and a wooden hook to sling the projectile to the users target. According to aztecsandtenochtitlan.com, this weapon was specifically used for long distance and could pierce chainmail armor of European soldiers and leather of other mesoamerican tribes. Almost every warrior in the tribe of city-state had the knowledge of how to wield an atlatl with its obsidian headed projectile. 

Figure 1. a demonstration of how an ancient atlatl would be thrown (Wikipedia 2023)

In their society, it was mandatory for men to participate in warfare, it was viewed as them fulfilling their role as a man and honoring the gods, specifically their war and sun god Huitzilopochtli. Since the Aztecs relied so heavily on warfare and were fearful of the repercussions of having an unworthy sacrifice to their sun god, the Aztecs made a gruesome and morally expensive offering, human sacrifice. 

FIgure 2. An Aztec Sun stone made as an offering to Huitzilopochtli (Aztec Sun Stone, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, 2023)

The reasoning for human sacrifice is circumstantially very sound however. The society feared that Huitzilopochtli would stop the sun, ceasing all life on earth. Typically, Aztecs would turn to prisoners of war as the sacrifice, never encouraging the slaughter of citizens in the city-state. In most cultures of the ancient times, priests would be ranked very high in the hierarchy, but according to mexicolore.co.uk, the priests did not have it easy. They were tasked with performing the human sacrifices with obsidian blades. These obsidian blades were made slowly by chipping away shards of the rock into an impossibly sharp edged weapon. The Aztecs used obsidian as projectile points and other tools throughout their community. Creating a knife or javelin head for an atlatl was a very intricate and trying process, one wrong strike to the obsidian and the tool would split in half, ruined. Obsidian was a precious, dangerous, and effective stone. In fact, the stone was so effective in their weaponry that the civilization didn’t even find the need to advance past it and towards metal. 

Figure 3. examples of what obsidian would be shaped into for weaponry (Daily Mail 2012)

Aztec culture and society was very complex and successful, they developed religion, agriculture, warfare and society, with one common thread, obsidian. Its relevance in all aspects of their culture made it a hot commodity and traced throughout Aztec history.


“Aztec Warriors: Rank and Warrior Societies – History.” 2014. History. July 23, 2014. https://www.historyonthenet.com/aztec-warriors-rank-and-warrior-societies

Cartwright, Mark. 2015. “Aztec Warfare.” World History Encyclopedia. March 18, 2015. https://www.worldhistory.org/Aztec_Warfare/.

Mineo, Liz. 2018. “Unearthing the Secrets of the Aztecs.” Harvard Gazette. April 9, 2018. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/unearthing-the-secrets-of-the-aztecs/#:~:text=MATOS%20MOCTEZUMA%3A%20The%20Aztec%20religion.

Mexicolore. 2019. “Aztec Social Classes.” Mexicolore.co.uk. 2019. https://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/you-contribute/aztec-social-classes.

Roos, Dave. 2018. “Human Sacrifice: Why the Aztecs Practiced This Gory Ritual.” HISTORY. History.com. October 11, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/aztec-human-sacrifice-religion.

Cartwright, Mark. 2022. “Obsidian in Mesoamerica.” World History Encyclopedia. August 24, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/2060/obsidian-in-mesoamerica/.

“An Obsession with Obsidian | the Engines of Our Ingenuity.” n.d. Engines.egr.uh.edu. Accessed October 2, 2023. https://engines.egr.uh.edu/episode/1086.

Further Reading:

Here is a more in depth interview about Aztec civilization in general: https://www.worldhistory.org/Aztec_Civilization/

Here is a journal on how different Mesoamerican civilization utilized obsidian: https://www.jstor.org/stable/827900

1 thought on “Obsidian Woven Through Aztec Society

  1. What theoretical framework and/or archaeological approaches might have helped determine the significance of obsidian? Would these also apply to other cultures — why or why not?

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