Lapidary, the ancient craft of cutting, carving, and polishing stones and minerals, has been practiced in various cultures throughout history. Among these, pre-Hispanic cultures in Mexico have a rich tradition of working with stones like obsidian, flint, granite, jade, and marble.
This craft not only fueled commercial activity and trade but also left a lasting impact on the art and culture of the region. Today, skilled lapidary artisans continue to create beautiful and intricate works, drawing inspiration from their pre-Hispanic ancestors.
The Origins of Lapidary
During the pre-Hispanic era, various stones such as obsidian, flint, granite, jade, and marble were extensively used in the region. These stones were often transported over long distances, driving trade and commerce. The 16th-century Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún described the expertise of lapidaries in his writings:
The lapidary is well taught and examined in his trade, a good connoisseur of stones, which to work them he removes the race, cuts them and joins them together, or sticks them with others subtly with bitumen to make mosaic work.
The good lapidary artificially carves and invents works, subtly sculpting and polishing very well the stones with the instruments that he uses in his trade.
The bad lapidary is usually clumsy or rough, he does not know how to polish, but spoils the stones, carving them rough or uneven, or breaking them, or breaking them into pieces.
Modern Lapidary Artisans
Even today, contemporary lapidary craftsmen in Mexico continue to draw inspiration from their pre-Hispanic roots, incorporating traditional techniques and motifs into their work. Be it intricately carved figures or vibrant necklaces and other jewelry, these artisans keep the ancient craft alive and thriving.
The Lapidary Craft in Teotihuacan
In the State of Mexico, the lapidary tradition can be found in Teotihuacan and the municipal capital of San Martin de las Pyramides, as well as in San Francisco Mazapa. These areas are known for their exceptional obsidian and onyx carvings.
Additionally, there are records of lapidary artisans in Amecameca and Zacualpan, though on a smaller scale. Onyx mining and exploitation can also be found in Santo Tomás de los Plátanos.
The Legacy of Pre-Hispanic Lapidary
The ancient art of lapidary has left an indelible mark on the cultural heritage of Mexico. Skilled artisans continue to use time-honored techniques, creating captivating works that serve as a testament to their pre-Hispanic predecessors. As a unique blend of ancient and modern craftsmanship, the lapidary tradition is a fascinating and enduring aspect of Mexican culture.
Celebrating the Art of Lapidary
From its pre-Hispanic origins to its continued practice today, the art of lapidary in Mexico is a fascinating testament to the skill and creativity of its artisans. By embracing their ancient roots and incorporating them into contemporary works, these craftsmen ensure that the rich heritage of lapidary remains alive and well for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
In-Text Citation: Artesanía Mexiquense, La Magia De Nuestra Gente. 1st ed., Mexico, Gobierno del Estado de México, 2006.