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500-Year-Old Obsidian Mirrors Analyzed

Friday, October 8, 2021

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a CNN report, Stuart Campbell of the University of Manchester and his colleagues examined several obsidian objects held at the British Museum. One of the objects, a mirror, once belonged to John Dee, a Renaissance scientist and confidant of Elizabeth I. “Later he became involved in divination and the occult, seeking to talk to angels through the use of scryers (those who divine the future), who used artifacts—like mirrors and crystals,” Campbell said. Geochemical analysis of the museum objects indicate that they were all made from obsidian from Mexico. The mirror in Dee’s possession and a similar one were made with obsidian from Pachuca, a source in eastern Mexico also used by the Aztecs, while a third mirror and a slab of volcanic glass came from western Mexico. “We know that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés sometimes commissioned items from Aztec craftsmen so he could send them back to the Spanish court,” Campbell said. Therefore Dee’s circular mirror may have been made for export, he explained. Such mirrors have also been seen in Aztec illustrations of Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec lord of the smoking mirror. Campbell suggests that the importance of the mirrors to the Aztecs would have piqued the curiosity of European intellectuals like Dee. To read about excavations of the remains of Hernán Cortés' home in Mexico, go to "Around the World: Mexico."

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