Why is obsidian superior over steel?
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  1. #1
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    Jason

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    Why is obsidian superior over steel?

    Why would an obsidian blade be superior over a steel one? Here are some well known facts about obsidian:


    1.Freshly broken pieces of obsidian make perfect, smooth edges that are only a molecule wide at their apex. Steel, on the other hand, is jagged on the edge, forming tiny tooth-like serrations on the cutting edge. Those points will bend to either side of the blade through use,dulling the edge. When you sharpen a knife, you are aligning the serrations to the plane of the edge. Steel can be honed to make that cutting edge thinner, and thus, sharper. Steel can theoretically be honed until its edge is just a single molecule wide like obsidian, but here the limitations of the metal come in to play. Obsidian is much, much harder than steel. At molecular width, it's edge is hard enough to maintain that razor edge. At that thickness, the steel blade's serration's (the ones I mentioned earlier) are too weak, and will bend once you try to use that edge. Once you try cutting something, the steel edge will bend, and become less sharp.

    2.Obsidian fractures conchoidally down to the very last molecule, so essentially when you break a piece off the very edge is only a molecule thick. It is at least 50 times sharper than surgical steel can get, and I've heard some say as much as 500 times sharper. If you look at obsidian's edge under a microscope, it is a perfectly smooth, sharp line. Steel (sharpened to a razor edge) will look like a toothed saw blade. Obsidian is in fact so sharp that when you are cut with it, it slices between skin cells and leaves no scarring, as opposed to steel which essentially rips apart the cells. The only downside of the spectacular sharpness of obsidian is that it is brittle, like glass, especially when you're talking about the one-molecule thick edge. If it touches anything harder than itself, you need a whole new edge. So, bone and hide are not harder than obsidian is, therefore, it will not dull when cutting them. It would only get dull if it was scraped against something harder than itself, and not need to be "resharpened". And it would not be sharpened in the same way as steel anyway, it would have to be pressure flaked, creating a new "edge" to cut with.

    3.Steel is almost always composed of very many separate crystals, rather than one large one.
    When steel fractures, it typically fractures along the uneven joins between septate crystals.
    Obsidian contains almost no crystals large enough to affect the material's fracture properties and it is for this reason it breaks smoothly and sharply. Because obsidian lacks crystals, it does not break along lines of weakness in the material, it just fractures along the lines of the stress that caused the fracture. This is also why obsidian and similar materials show conchoidal fractures.
    When you look at the shape of some fractured obsidian, you are looking at the shape of the shockwave that cracked it. When you look at the shape of some fractured steel, you are looking partly at the shape of the shockwave that fractured it, but mostly at the lines of weakness between the steel's imperfections and the joins between it's crystals.

    I have talked to a few hunters that actually use "agate" blades to skin and dress their kills with, and one showed his blade to me and told me he had used it for many years, and never had to resharpen it. However, it is different using a stone blade, because you cannot pry or twist with it, otherwise you greatly risk snapping the blade.

    I also find it very interesting reading about the "Hopewell" mound site in Ohio, where archaeologists found ceremonial blades and artifacts made of obsidian, that they claim to have gotten the material from Yellowstone in Montana, probably Obsidian Cliffs. (Where they have also recently found artifacts at the site itself.) Why would these men travel around 1600 miles, just to get this material? To me it's obvious, it is a superior material! True, these blades were determined not to have been used, but only to be ceremonial, but they traveled to get it, because they knew what it was, and how valuable it was to be used as a "cutting" material.

    So what do you think? Would an obsidian knife be superior over a steel one? I for one absolutely do!

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	obsidian cliff.jpg 
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ID:	1259448 Obsidian Cliffs, Yellowstone Montana.

    Some more reading: Relative frequency of butchering cutmarks produced by ...

    Stone Tool, Bison Butchering Experiments in Archaeology/Anthropology Forum Forum

    Butchering With Obsidian | Field & Stream
    Last edited by IAMZIM; Jan 12, 2016 at 03:30 PM.

  2. #2
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    the boss

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    Hmm. We all know how sharp a fresh obsidian flake can be so I won't need to go there.

    Perhaps you can explain why we have so many steel knives, and so few obsidian knives on the market?

    Why wood carvers use steel knives?

    Why Butchers use steel knives?

    Why we don't have obsidian hunting knives at Cabella's or Bass Pro?

    Why didn't you tell your eyewitness account again?

    Then tell me what in the heck them natives used to grind the bases on those obsidian lanceolates? You did say this stuff was stronger than steel didn't you?

  3. #3
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    Jason

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    "Harder" than steel. There is a difference. Steel is softer, and because of it being malleable it can bend more easily than stone, thus not "snap" or break, so steel is stronger than stone. It all has to do with it's structure on the molecular level, as stated above.
    Last edited by IAMZIM; Jan 12, 2016 at 03:47 PM.

  4. #4
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    I highly doubted they travel to Yellowstone to get the obsidian, they most likely traded for it.
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  5. #5
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    Jason

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    Quote Originally Posted by Treasure_Hunter View Post
    I highly doubted they travel to Yellowstone to get the obsidian, they most likely traded for it.
    Never thought of that, make sense.

  6. #6
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    Jan 2011
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    "would an obsidian knife be superior to a steel one". An obsidian flake blade is superior but I don't think anyone can make an obsidian knife from a rock as sharp as that flake.

    NO. I would take a Damascus steel blade over obsidian blade. My thoughts are like Treasure Hunters. They didn't travel 3200 miles round trip to lug rocks home to make points and blades. They probably traded for rock.
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  7. #7
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    and all along i have thought it was kind of harsh in the bible where god told joshua to make flint knives, to circumcise the second generation of isrealites coming out of the wilderness.

    also this : How obsidian Stone-Age knives still cut it in surgery - CNN.com
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  8. #8
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    the boss

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    Quote Originally Posted by IAMZIM View Post
    "Harder" than steel. There is a difference. Steel is softer, and because of it being malleable it can bend more easily than stone, thus not "snap" or break, so steel is stronger than stone. It all has to do with it's structure on the molecular level, as stated above.
    No answer for my questions? I'll answer yours.

  9. #9
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    Jason

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Stewart View Post
    "would an obsidian knife be superior to a steel one". An obsidian flake blade is superior but I don't think anyone can make an obsidian knife from a rock as sharp as that flake.

    NO. I would take a Damascus steel blade over obsidian blade. My thoughts are like Treasure Hunters. They didn't travel 3200 miles round trip to lug rocks home to make points and blades. They probably traded for rock.
    If they had not traded for them, they would not have lugged them home, I agree, they would have made them there, then taken them home. But I agree with Treasure Hunter, maybe they traded. I'm not sure how they come to the conclusion that the material came from there, but that IS what they are saying. (By they I mean the archys)

  10. #10
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    Jason

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    Quote Originally Posted by quito View Post
    No answer for my questions? I'll answer yours.
    Ok, sorry.

    Question 1: I don't know.

    Question 2: I only have an opinion on this, that obsidian might break "snap" too easily.

    Question 3: I don't work for Cabella's or Bass pro, so I don't know.

    Question 4: You have stated how you don't believe it anyhow, so why are you so worried about it? I did not post this to get belittled more, right? And, I did post some links on the same subject. Although I don't know these guys in the link, what I do know is they teach classes here in highschool and the college on this very subject, and this is where I saw my "eyewitness" account. I have nothing to prove to you. If you want, you can come here and take the class. Maybe you will learn something.

    Question 5: Once again, I have stated I am not an expert on artifacts. Although, I think I saw a youtube video on how one guy speculated on how it might have been done. (If you are really interested I think you can find it on there if you want to look it up.)
    Last edited by IAMZIM; Jan 12, 2016 at 04:25 PM.

  11. #11
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    I agree nothing is as sharp as a flint/obsidian flake. But my answer is.... would you choose an obsidian sword over a steel one ? If you were dropped off in the wilderness would you rather have a flint knife or stainless steel one ? You only have six arrows for your compound bow, steel broad heads or stone ? etc.......
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  12. #12
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    Jason

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    Quote Originally Posted by patiodadio View Post
    I agree nothing is as sharp as a flint/obsidian flake. But my answer is.... would you choose an obsidian sword over a steel one ? If you were dropped off in the wilderness would you rather have a flint knife or stainless steel one ? You only have six arrows for your compound bow, steel broad heads or stone ? etc.......
    You make a good point,but as for me,
    I'll be honest, I'm not sure....

    This is interesting though...They claim they could chop off a horse's head with this one... Some of the more significant portrayals of obsidian use involve blood-letting and warfare. One example includes the macuahuitl, a broad–faced club studded along its edges by obsidian prismatic blades. These weapons are predominantly used in warfare and date to the Post classic period, when the Mam, Kic'he'and Kakchikel's used it against the Spaniards, which feared it as the chronics said: "They can cut a horse head with one stroke". Earlier depictions of obsidian is usually restricted to their appearance as dart, razors or lancets, and it is commonly believed that the material was not associated with weapons such as clubs or spears until later phases in Mesoamerica. During the Pre classic period, obsidian was a rare item in the lowland areas, found predominantly in elite and ritual contexts. In many Maya excavations evidence of obsidian is likewise found most frequently in privileged settings. As the Late Classic period progressed, obsidian became increasingly accessible to the lower classes of Maya civilization. Thus the value of obsidian can be considered highly variable. It was an important trade item, but found in both elite and common settings, unlike many items whose ownership was confined to the elite, there is no indication that obsidian was used as a currency in Mesoamerica.
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  13. #13
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    the boss

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    I am not interested be-littleing you one bit, and I am not worried about anything. I am just interested in getting to the truth. Usually people with tall tales get checked out here.

    I am not buying your story about witnessing a guy take a 4 inch newly halfted, razor sharp, authentic artifact obsidian blade, and skinning and butchering a buffalo with it without ever sharpening it, and it still was razor sharp when he was done. That was basically your description wasn't it?

    I am amazed at the lengths you are going through to back up your story that doesn't really help it much at all.

    Now I will answer the first questions I asked so you can know too.

    1. because steel works better!
    2. Because steel works better!
    3. Because steel works better, and they wouldn't sell enough to bother with. Look at the porcelain knives and you'll get the idea.
    4. Because you don't want that showing anymore that it has to.
    5. They used an abrading stone because stone will wear down obsidian just like it will steel.

  14. #14

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    it's been years ago, but I remember reading where some surgeons were experimenting with Obsidian scalpels, because they are sharper than steel, and like you mentioned scarring is reduced.

    Imagine the operating room scenario as the surgeon makes requests of the Nurse: clamp, sponge, uni-faced blade.
    Two rules in life: Don't sweat the small stuff.

    It's all small stuff.

  15. #15
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    Jason

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    Quote Originally Posted by quito View Post
    I am not interested be-littleing you one bit, and I am not worried about anything. I am just interested in getting to the truth. Usually people with tall tales get checked out here.

    I am not buying your story about witnessing a guy take a 4 inch newly halfted, razor sharp, authentic artifact obsidian blade, and skinning and butchering a buffalo with it without ever sharpening it, and it still was razor sharp when he was done. That was basically your description wasn't it?

    I am amazed at the lengths you are going through to back up your story that doesn't really help it much at all.

    Now I will answer the first questions I asked so you can know too.

    1. because steel works better!
    2. Because steel works better!
    3. Because steel works better, and they wouldn't sell enough to bother with. Look at the porcelain knives and you'll get the idea.
    4. Because you don't want that showing anymore that it has to.
    5. They used an abrading stone because stone will wear down obsidian just like it will steel.
    I did in fact watch a buffalo skinned, and butchered with ONE 4 inch obsidian blade. It did not need sharpening, during or afterward. If you don't believe this, that is fine, just like I keep saying.

    "I am not interested be-littleing you one bit"
    "I am just interested in getting to the truth"
    "Usually people with tall tales get checked out here."
    "I am not buying your story"
    "
    I am amazed at the lengths you are going through to back up your story that doesn't really help it much at all." Really? You are not interested in be-littleing me? Ok.
    Like I said, you are welcome to come here, take the class, and see for yourself.
    lol!
    Last edited by Treasure_Hunter; Jan 12, 2016 at 06:24 PM.
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