A to Z 2022, Blog

X is for Xaga – #atozchallenge

X is for Xaga

Xaga is a synonym for obsidian a volcanic glass rather than a mineral. The name Xaga is used predominately by California Native Americans.

Most people are familiar with obsidian as the material used to make arrowheads. It is an ideal material because it was easy to chip and once chipped is as sharp as broken glass. It is also a hard material (5.5 on Mohs scale) so it is not likely to shatter on impact which would be an important aspect of an arrowhead.

Commercially, obsidian can be used to make blades that are much sharper than steel. Some scalpels are made of obsidian, however they are not approved for use on humans in the U.S. They are very brittle and break easily if lateral pressure is applied – that could be disastrous. They are used in veterinary medicine and research work.

There is an ongoing project to try and determine how and when people came to the ‘new world’. For years it had been thought  humans crossed over a ‘Bering land bridge’ from Russian into North America. So far there has not been irrefutable proof. Now, however there is hope that by examining obsidian tools routes may be determined. It seems obsidian carries unique fingerprints to specific volcanoes so origins can be traced back. Pretty, cool, eh?

Follow this link for some interesting photos of obsidian at Glass Mountain in California from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. There are many images and videos online of obsidian lava flows from California and Oregon. They are amazing to see.

Contemporary jewelry is made with obsidian. It has a low toxicity potential, but it does have the potential to cause silicosis if safety measures are not taken.

13 thoughts on “X is for Xaga – #atozchallenge”

  1. Living in Oregon, my brother and I loved obsidian more than any other rock we found when that dredged rock pile was dumped on our driveway. I am fascinated by the idea that the obsidian can be traced to a particular volcano. I just finished a great book “Origin” by Jennifer Raff, a genetic history of the peopling of this continent. I recommend it.

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    1. I don’t take notes much anymore, John, but they selected a cool name. I ready something about obsidian turntables, but it was confusing at best. I was never clear if it was a material used, or just a marketing name.

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