Not just a pretty face: although known for its heads, Olmec civilization broke American ground in pyramids and communication.San Lorenzo San Lorenzo, town, S Honduras, on the Gulf of Fonseca. Its satellite, Henecán is the chief Pacific port of Honduras. Henecán's modern port facilities and deepwater harbor and channel approach were constructed in the late 1970s after the old port at in Veracruz was the site of one of the first great urban centers in Mexico--the largest in the Olmec empire--more than three millennia ago. Its magnificent architecture was unparalleled on the continent and its trade vessels dominated the seas into the far reaches of Central America Central America, narrow, southernmost region (c.202,200 sq mi/523,698 sq km) of North America, linked to South America at Colombia. It separates the Caribbean from the Pacific. .
The ancient city began to disintegrate hundreds of years before Christ before Christ
adv. Abbr. B.C. or b.c.
In a specified year of the pre-Christian era.
Adv. 1. and has now been all but swallowed up by the jungle. Its inhabitants
The game is based loosely on the concepts from SameGame. have long since disappeared. Still, the rich legacy of the Olmec lives on.
The Olmec are often called the mother culture of Mesoamerica. They founded the earliest civilization in the Americas. They were the first to build pyramids, carve stellae and create a calendar and a political system. The Maya, Mixtecs, Zapotecs and Huastecs built their cultures upon Olmec tenets.
Olmec culture reached its apex by the middle formative period--900 B.C. to 500 B.C. But by 400 B.C., San Lorenzo--and other grand cities like La Venta
The Olmec called themselves Si. In the 1920s, a writer referred to them as "Olmec," a word taken from Mexican chronicles from the 1[6.sup.th] century, which meant "people of the land of rubber" in Nahuatl. It referred to the people living along the Gulf coast where rubber was produced, which also happened to be the ancient stronghold of the Olmec.
One of their greatest accomplishments was the construction of ceremonial centers and elaborate temples. The most impressive of the sites was at La Venta, a small island surrounded by mangroves, where the Olmec constructed a cone-shaped pyramid encircled en·cir·cle
tr.v. en·cir·cled, en·cir·cling, en·cir·cles
1. To form a circle around; surround. See Synonyms at surround.
2. To move or go around completely; make a circuit of. by 50-ton stone slabs carved with animal figures and free-standing, 10-foot-tall stone heads. Most of the heads have been moved to the La Venta Museum Park in Villahermosa, and La Venta is now surrounded by an oil refinery, oil being one of the state's top revenue producers.
No tours are offered to the town of La Venta. A visitor can only guess at its illustrious history by catching a glimpse of the few giant heads perched on mounds inside traffic circles. Most of the finds have been moved to La Venta Museum Park, which has a scale model of the ancient Olmec city. It also has giant Olmec heads and lifelike statues placed along pathways in a junglelike park, in addition to its small museum to introduce the visitor to Olmec culture. Another caretaker of ancient Olmec artifacts artifacts
see specimen artifacts. is the Museum of Anthropology in Jalapa, Veracruz, which holds many of the priceless finds of San Lorenzo.
PUTTING PEN TO STONE
Another notch in the Olmec glory belt was its writing--the first culture in the Americas to communicate in such a fashion. Hieroglyphics dated to 650 B.C. were recently discovered on a roller stone--believed to be used as a royal stamp for cloth and animal skins--near La Venta. Found with a deposit of pottery shards and figurines, the glyphs actually were executed 350 years before the earliest specimens of writing were thought to exist.
One distinction that sets the Olmec apart from other Mesoamerican cultures is their gigantic, round-faced, helmet-clad stone heads sculpted sculpt
v. sculpt·ed, sculpt·ing, sculpts
1. To sculpture (an object).
2. To shape, mold, or fashion especially with artistry or precision: from basalt basalt (bəsôlt`, băs`ôlt), fine-grained rock of volcanic origin, dark gray, dark green, brown, reddish, or black in color. Basalt is an igneous rock, i.e., one that has congealed from a molten state. . These monuments weigh several tons each and have become the artifact most associated with the onceglorious civilization. The features seem African, which leads many experts to conclude that the Olmec originally came from West Africa. Scholars also speculate that the heads are those of dynasties of rulers. Archacologists Rebecca Gonzalez Lauck of the National Institute of Anthropology (INAH INAH Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (Spanish: National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico)
INAH I Need A Hug ) and Ann Cyphers Guillen from the National Autonomous University of Mexico The National Autonomous University of Mexico (Spanish: , abbreviated UNAM) is a large public university in Mexico. It was founded on September 21 1551 as the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México (UNAM) recently ran radiocarbon ra·di·o·car·bon
A radioactive isotope of carbon, especially carbon 14.
a radioactive isotope of carbon, esp. tests at the sites of La Venta and San Lorenzo and determined that they were inhabited as far back as 1,700 B.C.
Along with the heads, massive oblong pieces--once believed to be altars--recovered from the La Venta and San Lorenzo sites (now on exhibit at the La Venta park) were used as thrones. Some of the giant heads also show signs of having once been thrones, so it's believed that once a king died, his throne was converted into his likeness. Another curious fact is that many of the heads we find today show signs of mutilation Mutilation
See also Brutality, Cruelty.
Mutiny (See REBELLION.)
hacked to death; body pieces strewn about. [Gk. Myth.: Walsh Classical, 3]
had breasts cut off. [Christian Hagiog. , as if someone took a sledgehammer See Opteron. to them. This was supposedly an Olmec custom that went on for 700 years. Again, once the king died, it's theorized, his regal image was disfigured dis·fig·ure
tr.v. dis·fig·ured, dis·fig·ur·ing, dis·fig·ures
To mar or spoil the appearance or shape of; deform.
[Middle English disfiguren, from Old French desfigurer .
It was the discovery of a giant buried head in 1862 by Mexican archaeologist Jose Melgar at Tres Zapotes, that first revealed the existence of the Olmec to the modern world. Later finds confirmed the importance of this ancient culture although it wasn't until 1939 that the Tres Zapotes head was fully uncovered.
Olmec art is varied and, besides basalt, artifacts in green stone and wood have also been uncovered, although much smaller in size than the stone heads. It's been said that the Olmecs achieved a level of stone carving that was far superior to that of the Maya. Although the Maya were probably the Olmec's most successful imitators, their styles, using the same themes, were markedly different.
WORSHIPPING A GRAIN
For example, take the corn god. Corn was considered the life-sustaining force in the Olmec diet and therefore worshipped as a supreme being. The Olmec drew ears of corn on ceremonial ax heads (hachas) made of jade and used them as offerings. Many other stone figures show a corn god with a droopy droop
v. drooped, droop·ing, droops
1. To bend or hang downward: "His mouth drooped sadly, pulled down, no doubt, by the plump weight of his jowls" mouth, spiked eyebrows, almond eyes and cleft head representing sprouting corn. The Olmec god was different from the Maya corn god in that he was an adolescent in appearance while the Maya god looked older.
One of the most famous green stone sculptures is called the "Lord of Las Limas" and was discovered by chance by children of the town of Salazar in Veracruz who were out looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. a nutcracker. At first, the figure was thought to be the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus in her lap, prompting the villagers to dress it and place it in the local church. Later, the Museum of Anthropology in Jalapa caught wind of it and purchased it for the museum. At one point, it was stolen and turned up in San Antonio, Texas “San Antonio” redirects here. For other uses, see San Antonio (disambiguation).
San Antonio is the second most populous city in Texas, the third most populous metropolitan area in Texas, and is the seventh most populous city in the United States. As of the 2006 U.S. , before returning once more to Jalapa. Odd as it may seem, in Olmec times, figures like this were, in fact, dressed in ceremonial garments and given a place of honor in a temple. The sculpture turned out to be not a likeness of the Virgin but, instead, of a male ruler carrying the corn god, signifying that he was its protector and nurturer.
Over the years, the Olmec migrated from Mexico into Central America. An archaeological site called EL Sitio in Guatemala contained an ax head of what's believed to be a god or king with an ear of corn carved into its forehead, a sure symbol of the Olmec presence. Statues and other artifacts also have been found as far south as Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Olmec were spread over a wide area of Mexico and not confined solely to the humid wetlands of the Gulf coast. Researchers have concluded that their first settlements originated in the central highlands, north and south of the Valley of Mexico The Valley of Mexico is a highlands plateau in central Mexico roughly coterminous with the present-day Distrito Federal and the eastern half of the State of Mexico. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, the Valley of Mexico was a center for several pre-Columbian civilizations, and predate the Gulf coast cities by 200 years. As evidence, ancient ceramics painted with maize images have been found at Tlapacoyo in the State of Mexico The State of México (often abbreviated to "Edomex" from Estado de México in Spanish) is a state in the center of the nation of Mexico. The State's capital is the city of Toluca. . In the town of Chalcalzingo in Morelos, the doorway into a sacred cave has carvings of a sprouting corn god dated between 1500-1000 B.C. The cave, according to the Olmecs, was the entryway into the underworld and place of the origin of life. Many Olmec relies have also been uncovered further south in the state of Guerrero and can be seen on display in the history museum at the Fortress of San Diego.
The Olmec, rather than predating the Maya as is widely believed, are more likely to have been their contemporaries and most probably fought wars with them. It's similar to parallel development, scholars conclude. Although the Maya had a complex political state this, too, was copied from the Olmec. The Olmec are credited with creating the first political state from rural beginnings and this contained rulers and royalty within a formal framework of government. They had a very defined concept of the king, his place in the cosmos and his duties and the duties of his people.
The Olmec appear to have vanished as a race, but scholars like Kent Riley III, from the Southwest Texas State University at San Marcos, tell us it isn't so.
The descendants of the Olmec today are called the Mejozoques, he said. Another, earlier branch were the OlmecaXicalancas, famous for painting the stupendous stu·pen·dous
1. Of astounding force, volume, degree, or excellence; marvelous.
2. Amazingly large or great; huge. See Synonyms at enormous. murals at Cacaxtla in Tlaxcala in the [7.sup.th] and [8.sup.th] centuries A.D.
The Mejozoques are still alive and well in the Guatemala highlands, Chiapas and the Mazateca mountain region of Oaxaca, according to Riley. One such place in the mountains is Huatla de Jimenez, birthplace of Maria Sabina, a curandera curandera /cu·ran·de·ra/ (koo-ron-da´rah) [Sp.] healer; a woman who practices curanderismo. or healer who became famous in the 1960s for dispensing "magic" or hallucinogenic hal·lu·ci·no·gen
A substance that induces hallucination.
[hallucin(ation) + -gen.]
hal·lu mushrooms, perhaps indiscriminately, to all who called at her humble hut. Sabina most likely followed ancient Olmec traditions in her use of herbs, plants, flowers and potions. The inhabitants of Huatla still build houses in the traditional style of the Gulf Coast Olmecs and name them after fishes, a throwback throwback
see atavism. to the times before they migrated to the mountains.
The Olmec made sacrifices to deities in bodies of water like lakes and set up tableaus around them. One made of wood dating around 1100 B.C. was found near EL Manati. Archaeologists also discovered three balls made of rubber, clear evidence that the Olmec played sport. The ruins of what's believed to be a ball court have, in fact, been unearthed Unearthed is the name of a Triple J project to find and "dig up" (hence the name) hidden talent in regional Australia.
Unearthed has had three incarnations - they first visited each region of Australia where Triple J had a transmitter - 41 regions in all. at the La Venta site. The ritualistic rit·u·al·is·tic
1. Relating to ritual or ritualism.
2. Advocating or practicing ritual.
rit game was played in order to resolve political matters, among other issues.
The Olmec are also responsible for spreading the cult of the shaman and in their vision of the cosmos, he was depicted as a were-jaguar or half man and half jaguar. The Olmec also believed that they were descended from the jaguar. The "transformation" of a shaman into a jaguar usually incorporated certain ritual dancing, singing, chanting and ingesting a mind-altering drug or ground-up tobacco. The Olmec also cast the jaguar as a rain god and fertility deity and considered it one of the most powerful animals in their physical and spirit worlds. A special ceremony in the month of May to pray for rain also involved masks, cracking of whips to simulate thunder and offerings of jade objects to the jaguar. Many small statuettes showing werejaguars also have been found at the major Olmec ruins. Besides the jaguar god and corn god, the pantheon of deities contained a fire god and feathered serpent, most likely the forerunner of the feathered serpent god called Kukulcan by the Maya.
As researchers continue to delve into the ancient world of the Olmec, new data unfolds, justifying their rightful place as Mexico's--and the Americas--greatest civilization.
Patricia Alisau is a freelance writer based in San Antonio, Texas.