• Polski
  • English
  • AA+A++
Investigation of the Sources and Uses of Obsidian during the Neolithic in Poland

Project information


Project title: Investigation of the Sources and Uses of Obsidian during the Neolithic in Poland

Project No: NCN OPUS 15 2018/29/B/HS3/01540

Project lead: dr Dagmara H. Werra

Project lead, institutional: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences
Project financing: National Science Center


e-mail: werra@iaepan.edu.pl
phone (22) 620-28-81 do 86

Project implementation:

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences



Obsidian, the volcanic glass, was one of the best quality siliceous rocks utilized by pre-historical societies for making various kinds of tools. Due to its characteristic composition and the content of rare soil elements making for the geochemical "fingerprints", it is possible to determine the attributes characteristic for a given geological source of obsidian by applying various instrumental methods. In effect, we may compare the attributes of obsidian archaeological artefacts in order to determine the most probable place of origin for the raw material of which it had been made.

The project will involve a few analyses, among others carrying out EDXRF analysis. The results obtained allow for interpretations concerning the functioning of past societies in pre-history. It is possible to disclose the issues of access to the obsidian deposits and territory control, specialization, and the use of obsidian. The outcome of such analysis allows in the first line to follow the distribution routes of obsidian artefacts and to study the issues related to its acquiring, exchange and the contacts between communities in pre-history.

The oldest traces of using obsidian by prehistorical societies on Polish lands are dated to the Middle Palaeolithic. In Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, we find single specimens as very rare examples of a more numerous presence of obsidian artefacts (ex. Rydno, ochre mine). A dramatic increase in using obsidian begins with the arrival of the first Neolithic societies to Polish lands.

The goal of the presented project will be to recapture the distribution net of obsidian products and to examine the issues related to its mining, manufacturing, and exchange as practiced by Neolithic prehistorical societies.

The goal will be achieved by applying the technological-morphological analysis in combination with the refitting method and weight analysis. They will be performed in order to find out how the Neolithic communities utilized obsidian. We will find out if in comparison to other raw materials different splitting techniques were applied. These methods will also help to analyze in what form did obsidian reach the site: was it rolled as natural concretions and processed on the site, or did it rather come in form of ready tools or semi-products, and if so – which tools were preferred. At this stage of analysis trace evidence will be performed, in order to determine what was the purpose of obsidian products and whether it was different from the flint tools. Next, we will deal with the analysis of particular specimens, in order to determine the source of origin of the products and their chronology. Planned is a series of X-ray fluorescence analyses (energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence–EDXRF). This is a non-destructive method, which is fit to examine even small specimens. The method allows for determining the characteristic composition of a given specimen and will help to find its source of origin. Planned for the first time for Polish material is also dating of obsidian specimens by hydration. This method allows for determining the specimen chronology. Additionally planned at this stage is radiocarbon dating in order to establish the chronology of sites from which the obsidian originates and which were not dated up till now.

The analysis of such a large obsidian collection will allow for the first time on such a scale to attain a wide image of the distribution and use of this raw material in the Neolithic on Polish lands. In effect, we will obtain a picture of contact dynamics and of exchange in time. The project will also allow examining the issue of specialization and technology of using obsidian, as well as issues related to the scope of utilizing obsidian from particular deposits and how access to it was changing. It will contribute to the development of knowledge on past prehistoric societies – on their mutual contacts and the importance of imported products.


Werra, D. H., Hughes, R. E., Nowak, M., Vizdal, M. and Gačková, L. (2021) Obsidian Source Use within the Alföld Linear Pottery culture in Slovakia, Sprawozdania Archeologiczne, 73(1), 331-369. doi: 10.23858/SA/73.2021.1.2615.

Werra, D.H., Woźny, M. and Trela-Kieferling, E. (2022) The investigations of obsidian in Poland – the beginning. In: Walking Among Ancient Trees. Studies in Honour of Ryszard Grygiel and Peter Bogucki. M. Grygiel and P. Obst (eds.), 521-532. Łodź: Wydawnictwo Fundacji Badań Archeologicznych Imienia Profesora Konrada Jażdżewskiego No. 31, Łódź 2022: Fundacja Badań Archeologicznych Imienia Profesora Konrada Jażdżewskiego and Muzeum Archeologiczne i Etnograficzne w Łodzi (alternatively Profil-Archeo Publishing House), ISBN 978-83-948140-9-0.

Kiosak, D., Kotova, N., Demchenko, O., Bardeckyi, A. and Werra, D. H. 2023. Verifying the chronology of Ukrainian Neolithic Praehistorische Zeitschrift, 98(2), 419-436. https://doi.org/10.1515/pz-2022-2058

Moskal-del Hoyo, M., Korczyńska-Cappenberg, M., Kenig, R., Rauba-Bukowska, A., Roffet-Salque, M., Maule, Ch. A., Werra, D. H., Hughes, R. E., Kapcia, M., Wilczyński, J., Czekaj-Zastawny, A., Głód, A. and Nowak, M. 2024. An Early Neolithic house in the Foothills: A case study of pottery and lithic artefacts from the Biskupice site 18 (Wieliczka Foothills, southern Poland). Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 53, 104346. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.104346.


International Obsidian Conference 2019, 27–29 May 2019, Sárospatak (Hungary): Dagmara H. Werra, Investigation of the sources and uses of obsidian during the Neolithic in Poland – preliminary review ;

26th EAA Virtual Annual Meeting 24-30 August 2020; Dagmara H. Werra, Richard E. Hughes, Import – gift – equivalent? Investigating the significance of obsidian during the Neolithic in Poland;

International Obsidian Conference 2021; 30.04-02.05.2021; Dagmara H. Werra, Richard E. Hughes, Marcin Szeliga, Geochemical and Technological Characterization of Obsidian Artefacts from the Neolithic Site of Opatów in Southeast Poland;

UISPP XIX World Congress - Meknes; 2-7.09.2021; Dagmara H. Werra, Marzena Woźny, Siliceous rocks mining, using and identification -short overview of a history of archaeological friendship between humanities and natural sciences;

27th EAA Annual Meeting (Kiel Virtual, 2021);6-11.09.2021; Dagmara H. Werra, Richard E. Hughes, Mark Nowak, Marián Vizdal, Lýdia Gačková; Alföld Linear Pottery Culture Communities in Eastern Slovakia (the North-Eastern Carpathian Basin) in the Light of Obsidian Source Use;

Summer School of Archaeology 2022, August 22–26, 2022; Eastern Slovakia, Tokaj Region; Dagmara H. Werra, Piotr Werens;  Let's make tools not war. On the sources and uses of obsidian by prehistoric communities; https://www.castrum-zemlun.site/;

28th EAA Annual Meeting (Budapest, 2022); 31 August - 3 September 2022; Dagmara H. Werra, Marcin Szeliga, Katarzyna Pyżewicz; Value, Significance and use of ‘exotic’ materials – in view of the presence of obsidian on Neolithic sites in Poland;

7th Arch_RNT Archaeological Research & New Technologies, Kalamata, Greece,6 to 8 October 2022; M. Moskal-Del Hoyo, A. Rauba-Bukowska, R. Kenig, M. Roffet-Salque, C. Maule, D. H. Werra, M. Nowak, A. Czekaj-Zastawny and M. Korczyńska; A study of pottery and obsidians from an Early Neolithic house in the foothills: A case study of the Biskupice Site 18 (Wieliczka Foothills, Southern Poland);

29. stretnutie východoslovenských archeológov v Zemplínskom Múzeu v Michalovciach; 23 listopada 2022, Michalovce, Słowacja; Dagmara H. Werra, Richard E. Hughes, Marek Nowak, Marián Vizdal and Lýdia Gačková; Pochodzenie zabytków obsydianowych z wybranych stanowisk wczesnego neolitu na wschodniej Słowacji;

Przeszłość ma przyszłość! / The Past Has a Future! 4. Konferencja naukowa Wydziału Archeologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego (13-17.03.2023); Dagmara H. Werra, Marcin Szeliga, Katarzyna Pyżewicz: Pochodzenie i wykorzystanie obsydianu w neolicie ziem polskich – na przykładzie materiałów z Opatowa, Polska południowo-wschodnia;

International Obsidian Conference, 3-6 July 2023, Metroplaza (Engaru Town), Japan; Dagmara H. Werra, Marcin Szeliga, Richard E. Hughes, and Rafał Siuda: Technological analysis and geochemical characterization of obsidian artefacts from the Neolithic sites from Poland: An overview; Dagmara H. Werra, Katarzyna Pyżewicz, and Jolanta Małecka-Kukawka: The use of obsidian by Neolithic communities in the light of the use-wear analysis: A few observations from Poland;

XXth UISPP World Congress, September 5-9, 2023 West University of Timișoara, Romania; Dagmar H. Werra, Anna Sokólska-Majchrzak: Differentiation of siliceous rocks used by Final Paleolithic communities in the Vistula River basin; Dagmar H. Werra: Relationship between the settlements and the outcrops in the light of the extraction, exchange, and use of obsidian;

XXXVIII Lubelska Konferencja Badania Archeologiczne w Polsce: Środkowowschodniej, Zachodniej Białorusi i Ukrainie, Lublin-Zamek, 6-7 listopada 2023 r.; Dagmara H. Werra, Marcina Szeliga, Katarzyna Pyżewicz, Richard Hughes: Neolityczny inwentarz obsydianowy z Opatowa w świetle wyników najnowszych analiz technologicznych, funkcjonalnych i geochemicznych;

They write about us:

Nauka w Polsce: Szymon Zdziebłowski, "Smocze szkło" na terenie dzisiejszej Polski było znane już ponad 20 tys. lat temu


XXth UISPP World Congress, September 5-9, 2023 West University of Timișoara, Romania


Prof. Katsunori Takase - lecture and workshop

logo projektu Investigation of the Sources and Uses of Obsidian during the Neolithic in Poland