Obsidian Source Provenance in the North American Southwest: History, Methods, and Possibilities



For over 35 years, the Southwest Archaeological Obsidian Project, funded by multiple National Science Foundation grants, the Leakey Foundation, and various university research centers, has focused on locating, mapping, and chemically characterizing artifact quality obsidian sources in the greater North American Southwest from about four known sources in the mid-1980s to over 55 sources and source groups in 2021. This research, carried out initially at Arizona State University, then to the University of California, Berkeley, and now a privately funded laboratory in New Mexico, has analyzed hundreds of thousands of obsidian artifacts from not only the North American Southwest, but Mesoamerica, South America, eastern North America, Eurasia, and the Great Rift Valley of Africa. This lecture will touch upon the history of obsidian provenance research in the Southwest, the field and instrumental methods used in the understanding of source provenance, and discuss a few projects from that history as well as current research. Finally, a partial tongue in cheek prognostication of the future of this research will be offered.

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