A black obsidian mirror owned by John Dee (1527-1608/9), a Tudor magician, astrologer, mathematician, and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, has Aztec origins, new geochemical analysis published in Antiquity has confirmed. Dee used the polished mirror as a scryer to try to commune with spirits. The material, a volcanic glass, was valued in Aztec society, being believed to shield against evil spirits. Round obsidian mirrors are also seen in depictions of the god Tezcatlipoca, signifying power and premonition.
There were no records as to how Dee acquired the mirror in the 16th century, a time when new objects were brought to Europe from the Americas, but, because of its similarity to known Aztec mirrors, it was assumed that it was also Aztec in origin. Led by Stuart Campbell of the University of Manchester, analysis of the mirror, two other Aztec mirrors, and a polished rectangular slab show that the obsidian of all four of the objects (now in the British Museum) came from Mexican sources. The obsidian for both Dee’s mirror and a similar one was obtained from a heavily exploited Aztec source near Pachuca.