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Ancient Middle America

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 map: topographic
  map: Mesoamerica and Its Cultural Areas
 Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica

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Olmec Heartland map.

"'The Grandmother', La Venta (reproduction). Officially known as Monument 5, this statue is thought to represent a dwarf."

La Venta -- Wikipedia

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at La Venta

29 min., 1986, VC 3284



Olmec Heartland map.

La Venta -- Wikipedia

search "La Venta" on JSTOR


Olmec Heartland map.

"A recovered mosaic."

La Venta -- Wikipedia


Olmec Head

Olmec head.



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"Reviews the large scale excavations of the Olmec site of La Venta begun in 1955. Includes a study of the results of the earlier investigations in 1942 and 1943, with representative examples of primitive sculptures, carvings, and constructions found at the excavation site."

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Terms / Concepts

  • theocratic government

  • priesthood

  • "Olmec art style"

  • Quetzalcoatl ("The Plumed Serpent")

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  • Pay close attention to the figurines

  • here the dry season begins in late February and ends in May

    • 100 days or so

  • practice slash-and-burn agriculture

  • "cruciform pattern" probably the "tree of life"

  • Olmec mirrors = earliest mirrors worldwide

  • "Mesoamerican Style" includes pyramids, stone sculpture, carved jade

  • jade and green serpentine (green color) favorites to the Olmecs

  • "island could sustain only 150 persons"

  • site extended one-half mile along the island

  • La Venta was built in four major stages, with a new phase "occurring about every 100 years"

    [52 X 2; every 104 years aligns with Venus cycle]

  • The Jaguar is a "favorite Olmec deity"

  • the serpentine was brought 150 miles from the Gulf Coast

  • [James A. Michener indicated that of about 75 civilizations that existed, only a handful lasted as long as 1000 years]

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Sites / Locations

  • La Venta (ca. 800 - 400 B.C.)

    • Tonala River (Gulf of Compeche)

    • pyramids, stone sculpture, carved jade

    • 2 square miles of dry land

    • the island can not sustain more than 150 persons

    • the site of La Venta extended for 1/2 mile along the Island's low central ridge

    • aligned 8 degrees west of true north

    • deformed skullls / head flattening

      • self-mutilation

    • slash and burn agriculture (swidden agriculture)

    • note the symmetry of the center

      • the center line must have had special religious or magical significance

      • was rebuilt about every 100 years (104 years = 52 X 2)

    • jade and serpentine are important

    • in size, it is one of the smallest of the capitals of civilization, although it is complex, and had an influence in Mesoamerica until the arrival of the Spanish

    • fisheries were first and were then overlaid with maize agriculture

    • bulldozed

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    • Features

      • "ambassador monument"

      • "rattlesnake monument"

      • "The Whale"

      • glyphic writing (hieroglyphics)

      • figurine group

      • pyramids

      • monolithic flat-topped altars

      • mosaic pavements (65 square feet)

      • sculptured monuments

      • jaguar mask

      • carved jade and serpentine

  • Tres Zapotes

  • San Lorenzo

  • Veracruz

  • Tobasco

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  • Review: Coe, Michael D. 1967. American Anthropologist 69: 127-128.

  • Drucker, P., Heizer, R.F. and Squier, R.J. 1959. "Excavations at La Venta, Tobasco, 1955, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 170. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

  • Altar 4 at La Venta.

    "Altar 4 at La Venta. Note the rope that winds along the ground, held by the figure. Note also the eyes and the fangs on the cornice above the figure, implying that the figure is seated in that creature's mouth."

    La Venta -- Wikipedia

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