Obsidian 'spirit mirror' used by Elizabeth I's adviser has Aztec origins

Researcher Elizabeth Healey holds John Dee's obsidian mirror.

(CNN)An obsidian "spirit mirror" used by a confidant of Queen Elizabeth I is actually a product of the Aztec culture, according to new research. An analysis of the obsidian mirror, made from volcanic glass, and three other similar objects at the British Museum revealed their Mexican origins.

The obsidian mirror with the Elizabeth I connection belonged to John Dee, an adviser of hers from when she became queen in 1558 and through the 1570s. Dee served as the queen's astrologer and also consulted with her on science. This included Dee acting "as an advocate of voyages of discovery, establishing colonies and improving navigation," said Stuart Campbell, study author and professor at the University of Manchester.
"John Dee is a remarkable historical figure, a Renaissance polymath -- interested in astronomy, alchemy and mathematics -- and confidant of Elizabeth I," Campbell wrote in an email. "Later he became involved in divination and the occult, seeking to talk to angels through the use of scryers (those who divine the future), who used artifacts -- like mirrors and crystals."
    The obsidian mirror used by John Dee was created by the Aztecs.
    While it had been previously suspected that the mirror had been made by the Aztec culture, there were no records accompanying the object to show how it came into Dee's possession.
      A team of researchers used geochemical analysis to target the four obsidian objects with X-rays. This in turn caused the objects to emit X-rays, helping the scientists determine their composition by revealing the elements of the obsidian. In addition to Dee's mirror, they studied two other Aztec mirrors and a rectangular slab of obsidian.
      The analysis showed that all four were made using Mexican obsidian. Dee's mirror and a similarly designed mirror were made using obsidian from Pachuca, a city that is a source of obsidian the Aztecs used. The third mirror and the slab are made of obsidian from the town of Ucareo, another obsidian site in Mexico.
      A study on the findings published Wednesday in the journal Antiquity.
        The researchers estimate that Dee's mirror is about 500 years old, most likely made in the final decades before the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, Campbell said.
        "We know that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés sometimes commissioned items from Aztec craftsmen so he could send them back to the Spanish court," Campbell said. "So it is even possible that some of the circular mirrors like John Dee's were specially made by Aztec craftsmen at the time of the conquest of the Aztec Empire to send back to Europe."
        This figure shows Tezcatlipoca, lord of the smoking mirror, with circular obsidian mirrors on his temple, his chest and his foot highlighted.