maya toolThe Maya civilization did not have the advantage of an available source of iron ore. In Mexico iron ore only is found over 1000 miles to the north in the state of Colima. Archaeologists have determined that the Maya used stone tools fabricated from chert and obsidian. They have overlooked the wide use of specialized tools fabricated from black jadeite. In lieu of the advantage offered by iron tools, Maya technicians discovered the advantage of jadeite as a material for making tools. The size and shape of the Maya tools are identical to the variety of steel tools used by modern artisans working in stone and wood. jade tool large in handThese jadeite tools were the principal tools used by Maya technicians: sculptors, stonecutters, wood carvers, and other artisans. These tools include various sizes and shapes of chisels, gouges, adzes, axes, and hoes.

Jadeite is a very tough mineral with a great resistance to breakage due to the intergrowth of prismatic crystals in its matrix. The green jade that is most popularly used in jewelry is sodium aluminum silicate. However, in “black jade”, the replacement of the AL (Aluminum) by Fe+3 (Iron) produces an isomorph of jadeite, an iron rich jadeite called chloromelanite. Chloromelanite is green/black in color and is referred to as "black jade." Jadeite is formed in few locations in the world. The tectonic plate in the Montagua Valley of Guatemala produces the jadeite the Maya used.

Jadeite is a very hard and durable material. On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, where the maximum hardness is number 10.0 for a diamond, a steel knife blade has the hardness of 5.0; jadeite has a hardness number of 6.5 to 7.0. The Mohs scale indicates that the jadeite material from which Maya tools were fabricated is harder than iron or steel. Thus, the Maya tool making technology elevated the society out of the "Stone Age" and beyond the "Iron Age."

jade tool in useExamples of jadeite tools are not found in royal tombs. These tools belonged to the artisans and not the elite and they would have been passed down through families of artisans as would the techniques for producing them. They will not be found by archaeologists in contexts similar to other artifacts because they were not used or prized by the Maya elite.

Obsidian is a volcanic glass that is sourced in the ring of volcanos along the Pacific Coast of the Maya area. Maya technicians developed techniques for producing cutting blades that can be the sharpest on earth. The sharpened edge of an obsidian blade approaches molecular thinness. This Maya tool material is used for producing scalpels for heart and eye surgery in modern medicine.

C-29 Maya tools gouges chisels