The Olmecs
Topics: Mesoamerica / Pages: 7 (1581 words) / Published: Mar 5th, 2013

The Olmecs: New Light on a Shadowy Past
In an old movie, a dashing adventurer hacks his way through tangled jungle vines, searching for a lost civilization. Suddenly, he stumbles upon a dark pit hidden by dense undergrowth. At the bottom of the pit stands a huge stone monument covered with strange carvings. The adventurer is thrilled when he realizes that he has chanced upon the remains of an unknown civilization that existed thousands ofyears ago.
More than three thousand years ago in the jungles near the Gulf of Mexico, the people now known as the Olmec developed a complex civilization that lasted for at least eight hundred years before mysteriously disappearing (Autry). Today, thanks to the work of many scholars and archaeologists, people from around the world can learn about the Olmecs and see the artifacts they left behind. There was no solo adventurer who, after stumbling upon Olmec monuments, immediately recognized their significance. Instead, researchers have painstakingly pieced together the story of the Olmecs. After years of puzzling finds, careful excavation, and cooperative research, most archaeologists agree that the
Olmecs created one of Mesoamerica’s first highly civilized societies, a society that shaped the history and culture of the region.
Field research related to the Olmecs began around 1860 in Tres Zapotes, Mexico. Villagers there unearthed a five-foot-high stone head in a field a workman had been clearing (Stuart 95). In 1862, scholar José Melgar saw the head and, in 1869, published an article about it (Piña Chan 25). Over the years, other archaeologists wrote about discoveries of similar stone heads, old monuments, and smaller relics, which did not seem to have been created by any of the early cultures that were already documented.
Archaeologists gradually began to theorize that the objects must have come from a previously unknown ancient culture, one they called Olmec because it seemed to have been centered in Olman,



Cited: Adams, Richard E. W. Prehistoric Mesoamerica. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977. Allan, Tony, et al. Gods of Sun and Sacrifice: Aztec & Maya Myth. London: Duncan Baird, 1997. Autry, William O. “Olmec Indians.” World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia. 1995 ed. CD-ROM. WorldBook. 1995. Bower, B. “Domesticating an Ancient ‘Temple Town.’” Science News 15 Oct. 1988: 246. Carrasco, Davíd. Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers. San Francisco: Harper, 1990. Fagan, Brian M. Kingdoms of Gold, Kingdoms of Jade. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Follensbee, Billie. Olmec Heads: A Product of the Americas. 4 Sept. 1996. 25 May 2000. Grove, David C. Chalcatzingo: Excavations on the Olmec Frontier. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984. Lowenstein, Tom. Mother Earth, Father Sky: Native American Myth. Myth and Mankind. 4. Time-LifeBooks, 1999. Piña Chan, Román. The Olmec: Mother Culture of Mesoamerica. New York: Rizzoli, 1989. Stuart, George E. “New Light on the Olmec.” National Geographic Nov. 1993: 88-114.

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