Economic growth in Mesoamerica: Obsidian consumption in the coastal lowlands

Barbara L. Stark, Matthew A. Boxt, Janine Gasco, Rebecca B. González Lauck, Jessica D. Hedgepeth Balkin, Arthur A. Joyce, Stacie M. King, Charles L.F. Knight, Robert Kruger, Marc N. Levine, Richard G. Lesure, Rebecca Mendelsohn, Marx Navarro-Castillo, Hector Neff, Michael Ohnersorgen, Christopher A. Pool, L. Mark Raab, Robert M. Rosenswig, Marcie Venter, Barbara VoorhiesDavid T. Williams, Andrew Workinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Economic growth is rarely examined for ancient states and empires despite its prominence as a topic in modern economies. The concept is debated, and many measures of growth are inaccessible for most of the ancient world, such as gross domestic product (GDP). Scholars generally have been pessimistic about ancient economic growth, but expectations derived from dramatic growth in modern economies can lead to overlooking important evidence about economic change in the past. The measure of economic growth that we adopt focuses on the economic well-being of ordinary households. We evaluate one domain of evidence: imported obsidian implement consumption in the coastal lowlands of Mesoamerica. We situate the obsidian study against a backdrop of ideas concerning economic growth in ancient societies because such topics have received only modest attention for Mesoamerica. For the major Mesoamerican ceramic periods, we (1) display the already-known early technological shift in predominant techniques of obsidian implement production-from percussion and bipolar flakes to prismatic pressure blades-that led to more efficient tool production for long-distance trade, (2) note other lithic technological improvements, and (3) evaluate increased obsidian access with a growing market system in the last centuries of the prehispanic record.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-282
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Inc.


  • Ancient economy
  • Economic growth
  • Lithic technology
  • Market development
  • Mesoamerica
  • Obsidian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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