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Obsidian Hydration at High Elevation: Archaic Quarrying at the Chivay Source, Southern Peru


We examine obsidian hydration as a means to date archaeological sites at high elevation in the central Andes, and in particular quarry sites that are difficult to date by radiocarbon means. The Chivay obsidian source lies in a volcanic depression above the Colca Valley in Arequipa, Peru (71.5355° E, 15.6423° S) at 4950 masl. We compare obsidian hydration readings from one quarry and two workshop locations. Ninety-one flakes from the quarry pit, and 61 and 33 flakes from the workshops were analyzed for hydration bands. Of these, 68 from the quarry, and 54 and 33, respectively from the workshops produced at least one culturally meaningful hydration band. As expected, obsidian appears to hydrate slowly at this high elevation. Yet, variation in hydration readings is low within stratigraphic contexts, suggesting relatively narrow windows of knapping activities in each excavation level. A small number of radiocarbon dates allow us to develop a preliminary hydration rate for Chivay obsidian in this high elevation location. Hydration data indicate that intensive quarrying began by 3800 cal. BC and stopped ca. 2300 cal. BC. By contrast, the two workshops appear to have been deposited 2900 and 1200 cal. BC, and 2700 and 2400 cal. BC. The data are consistent with an uptick in obsidian use by at least the Terminal Archaic period.

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