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Zotz Trip Report





Phil Weigand, intrepid archeologist

 On March 7, 2005, Pedro Fernández Somellera, Susy and John Pint  met with Phil Weigand and Rodrigo Esparza with the plan of visiting and mapping an obsidian mine that these two intrepid archaeologists had located. “Obsidian was normally mined from open pits on the surface, but the mine we found is completely underground and as dark as a cave. The reason they went to so much trouble is that the obsidian they were getting is of the highest quality and has a creamy, green luster to it which must have been highly valued.”

We left Pedro’s truck in a little town and piled into the back of Phil’s pickup. “The road is really rough and my truck is already as beat up as a truck can get.”

We followed a dirt road for some distance from the town and eventually entered the property of a friendly farmer. “We’ve been riding on an expressway until now,” said Phil, “but here comes the rough stuff.”

And rough it was. We had to make sure somebody was sitting on two concrete slabs (kept in the truck bed for ballast) so they wouldn’t fly around and land on top of us...


...Pedro and Rodrigo in one of those rare moments when they weren't flying through the air..


......After half an hour of bouncing and bumping, we pulled to a stop among tall oak trees. Pieces of obsidian covered every inch of the ground around us like Autumn leaves in New England. We picked up unfinished arrow and spear heads, knives, flakes, scrapers and other fragments that had obviously been worked on and discarded....



We were standing in the middle of a typical obsidian workshop and it brought home the importance—perhaps unimaginable to us moderns—that obsidian played in the lives of the people living here for most of the last two thousand years.


Those ancients had no metal tools or weapons but they knew what few people today would believe, that nothing on earth is as sharp as an obsidian blade. “All other liquids crystallize when they turn solid,” explained Phil, “except obsidian, which has no crystal structure whatsoever.”

Metal can’t be sharpened less than the size of its smallest crystals, but obsidian has no such limit. In the old days, Mexican indígenas used to line the edges of their flat wooden swords with obsidian flakes and it is said that they could use them to slice off a man’s leg with one blow.

...A few minutes later, we arrived at the entrance to the mine, one of very few underground obsidian mines to be found anywhere.





Rubbing our sore bottoms after the hammering they had received on the awful, rocky road, we made our way up a hillside covered with obsidian debris...


Phil and Rodrigo hiking up the slope beneath the mine. Every step we took produced clinking sounds, as if we were walking on broken champagne glasses.


Several pieces we picked up did indeed have a smoky-green luster and a very shiny surface. “Do you think they made mirrors out of this?” I asked. “Oh no,” replied Phil. “They only used the blackest obsidian for that because they believed mirrors depict how you will look in the afterlife and black was the color of death.”

...As we discussed death and obsidian, we got ready for a quick look inside the mine. Emanating from the small, triangular entrance hole, barely half a meter high, was a light current of air carrying the unmistakable smell of a dead animal inside. “Yech!” shouted Susy, telling the others about the rotting sheep carcasses that often welcome visitors to caves in Saudi Arabia...


The brave explorers, smiling for the camera BEFORE leaning over and getting a whiff of that "unmistakable smell."



Once again, it was decided that I would go first into the Smelly Unknown. So I crawled into the first room and found myself surrounded by a thick swarm of angrily buzzing bugs. “You’ll love it, Susy,” I shouted. “There’s even a welcoming committee here to greet us.”

I ducked under the low ceiling and crawled into the next room. The evil stench was coming from somewhere in here but I couldn’t find the source. Above me I could see a small skylight. A few meters on, I nearly put my hand into a gooey black puddle that I immediately recognized from so many visits to Western Mexico’s caves. “Hey, we’ve got vampire bats, too,” I shouted, hoping this would encourage Susy and Pedro to rush right in. Of course, the fresh vampire guano added yet another tantalizing odor to the already notable aroma of the mine.

...Ten meters from the entrance, I came to a steep downslope. I glanced up at the ceiling and gulped. Sharply pointed “spears” of obsidian were pointing down at me and it looked like any one of them could easily be pulled out…perhaps resulting in the collapse of the entire roof!...


...Mary Rojas below the fragmented ceiling of the cave..

“Hey, you two, come on in…here’s something you won’t see in many caves.”

To my surprise, Pedro and Susy did come in, braving the bugs the decomposing corpse and the slimy vampire guano. By then, I was moving down the slope to total darkness and another, much bigger, pool of vampire goo.

Now, Phil said this mine was as dark as a cave, but I would say “as dark as the darkest cave” because the black obsidian ceiling and walls—with a little help from the vampire guano on the floor—absorbed light just like the basalt walls of a lava tube, making it difficult indeed to see anything.



Some things, however, were more than easy to see in that black room. Around ten bats were darting all around me. Whenever one landed on the wall, it would shift left and right, show me its fangs, shake its head menacingly and then fly right at me.

Ah, but I knew about this little trick. It’s all a show and they never actually hit you (much less bite you, which they only do to sleeping or immobile prey). One nice thing about this room which we soon christened “La Alcoba de los Vampiros,” was that you could stand up and move around easily: at one point, the ceiling is 3.5 meters high.

...By now, Susy and Pedro had joined me. This gave me only moments to crawl through a low, wide opening into a round room that marks the end of the mine, twenty-four meters from the entrance. As I found nothing interesting in it, we all exited to tell the archeologists of our finds...


...Susy leaving the cave under the belief that we were all finished...


...Once we had made our report, I began to gather the survey equipment together.  "You mean we're going back inside?" exclaimed Susy.

"Of course," I replied. "Only surveyors get to fully appreciate all the subtle delights of a cave. It'll be great fun!"

At this, Susy turned to Pedro. "O Pedrito, wouldn't you like to have fun surveying the my place?" ....

Pedro replied caballerosamente: "¡Sí, como no! I wouldn't miss it for the world!...heh heh."



And back inside we went. In no time, Pedro became an expert in selecting the ideal site for the next survey station and we were moving along like pros. But by the time we reached that point where you can see the spooky Alcoba de los Vampiros below you, I could see Pedro hesitating...

...Suspecting that Pedro had absorbed a few too many of the mine's delights, I promised him we’d make it a quick job and the two of us took the plunge down the steep slope...


...On the right you can see this spot, now known as "Pedro's Penance."  Click to see the rest of the mine.

Click to see complete map.

Before we left, I took a quick peek inside a hole in the east wall of the Alcoba. The floor of this passage was thick with razor-sharp obsidian blades that tinkled as they did their best to cut through my jeans and skin. I was almost ready to stop and put on my caving gloves, but then I saw that the passage ended not far ahead. “Ya Vámonos!” I said to Pedro and out we went.

On our way back, Phil Weigand told us this mine could easily be one or even two thousand years old. One help for determining its age would be to look for the remains of torches or firebrands that the ancient miners must have used for light. These could be easily carbon-dated. Finding small scraps of wood in that stygian darkness would require some very bright lights and, suddenly, there we were planning our return trip!



....Less than a week later, we were back, with Luis and Mary Rojas, Claudio Chilomer and the ever-enthusiastic Pedro.


...Near our parking spot we noticed there was a second obsidian mine in the neighborhood...and this one is still active!


...This time I brought along a car battery and Pedro supplied a mighty, million-candlepower lamp. If there was anything worth seeing in that mine, we planned to see it well! We dragged all the gear inside, along with boxes and bags of photo equipment. All of us were amazed how much more interesting the mine looked, lit up by the monster light...

..Enjoying the mine as the ancient miners never saw it...


...The sharply-pointed “knives” of obsidian, protruding from the ceiling like stalactites, could now be fully appreciated and the Alcoba de los Vampiros took on an almost homey look...


...Luis and Mary enjoying the Alcoba de los Vampiros in all its glory..


...And now we could see the greenish tint on large chunks of obsidian in the far wall of the mine, just about ready for removal...




...Unfortunately, our bright light did not reveal any rock paintings or remains of ancient torches. We then spent several hours taking multiple-flash pictures, in no hurry because we knew Claudio was outside keeping guard from the bottom of his always handy hammock...

Self-sacrificing Claudio Chilomer volunteered to stay outside and guard the mine.



In the Alcoba, the big light also helped us determine the nature of the “mysterious grey powder” we had found on the floor in substantial quantities. Was it ash, a mineral or what?  Now we could see that the black dust was only found around the perimeter of a thick, gooey deposit of fresh vampire guano. “This is what happens to the vampire guano when it gets old and disintegrates,” stated Rojas with his usual air of certainty. Although all previous examples of very old vampire guano I had ever seen, had the shine and consistency of brittle black plastic, I had to admit that he had a good case. Hopefully an analysis of the sample we gave to Phil will shed more light on this sticky problem...

...…which turned into a stinky problem when Luis dipped a (gloved) finger into the thickest part of the goo for a photo, releasing an awful stench which quickly decided all of us that it was time to “vamoose.”...


" ¡ Guácala !." is how you put it in Mexican Spanish.

And so ended our exploration of the creepy-crawly,creamy-green obsidian mine.

John Pint

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