Buying local or ancient outsourcing? Locating production of prismatic obsidian blades in Bronze-Age Northern Mesopotamia

Ellery Frahm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


It is widely held that crafting prismatic chert and obsidian blades was extremely specialised in the Bronze-Age Near East. The prevalent narrative holds that there were just a few dedicated workshops in Anatolia's Upper Euphrates Valley, from which blade segments were exported to Northern Mesopotamia. Due to the challenges of chert sourcing, obsidian has been incorporated into the narrative. Recently, Tell Mozan was added to the proponents' list of Mesopotamian sites with blades imported from Anatolian workshops. Two issues are addressed in this paper. First, does archaeological evidence regarding the spatial organisation of blade production support an interpretation that incomplete reduction sequences imply off-site production? It is shown here that, at known workshop sites, the reduction sequence occurs only in small portions of large urban centres, and even there certain reduction products are under-represented. Second, do obsidians at Tell Mozan and other sites originate from sources near the proposed blade workshops? Highly diverse obsidians at Tell Mozan are inconsistent with a reliance on Anatolian workshops, and a reassessment of prior sourcing studies reveals a regional "sourcescape" more variable than generally thought. The result is a very different picture of lithic craft specialisation in Northern Mesopotamia: diverse obsidian cores and preforms reaching the cities' specialists involved in household production principally for the local market.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-621
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati are co-directors of the Urkesh expedition under the auspices of the International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies (IIMAS). Export of the Tell Mozan artifacts was approved by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, Syrian Arab Republic. Michael Glascock of the MURR Archaeometry Laboratory is thanked for NAA and XRF data used to evaluate the EMPA data and establish inter-technique compatibility of the measurements. This research was supported by the Departments of Earth Sciences and Anthropology at the University of Minnesota , Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield , and Marie Curie Network FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN: New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies (NARNIA) . Two anonymous reviewers offered comments and criticisms that improved the resulting paper.


  • Bronze Age
  • Canaanean blades
  • Craft specialisation
  • Lithic analysis
  • Northern Mesopotamia
  • Obsidian sourcing
  • Organisation of production
  • Prismatic blades


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