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Obsidian Economy in the Armenian Highlands During the Late Neolithic. A View from Masis Blur.


The research reported here focuses on the social mechanisms underlying the widespread distribution of obsidian in prehistoric sites of the Southern Caucasus in general, and Armenia in particular, during the Neolithic period, ca. 6000 – 5300 cal. BCE. This work challenges the assumption that the acquisition and exchange of obsidian, a raw material ubiquitous in the Southern Caucasus, requires little explanation. It is widely held that obsidian is easily available throughout the Armenian Highlands, as well as in Anatolia, thus obsidian sourcing can offer very little information on contact and exchange during the Neolithic. Prior research on obsidian sourcing has focused on the identification of the sources used at a given site. These earlier studies generally concluded that while many Neolithic settlements of the Southern Caucasus, and those located in the Ararat plain of Armenia specifically, relied on multiple sources for raw material procurement, most had a greater preference (over 60%) for the obsidian source located at the least travel distance from the settlement. These data support a least-cost model of procurement. The present work employed portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (pXRF) to analyze a statistically significant sample (854 out of ca. 11000 or about 8 %) of obsidian artifacts excavated from the site of Masis Blur in the Ararat Plain. In contrast to earlier works, these data indicate a pattern of source utilization substantially more complex than presently theorized. We find that the residents of Masis Blur utilized at least nine sources. These sources remained surprisingly constant throughout the occupational history of the site. We discovered that acquisition was not driven by a single factor and that a simple least-cost model does not sufficiently explain the obsidian acquisition pattern observed at Masis Blur. The Neolithic inhabitants of Masis Blur obtained obsidian through both direct and indirect means. In short, this work provides insight into the strategies of obsidian procurement which in turn allows us to draw larger conclusions of socio-economic networking in the Neolithic of Armenia and beyond.

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