The Olmec civilization is believed to have been centered around the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico area (today the states of Veracruz and Tabasco) - further south east than the heart of the Aztec empire. The Olmec culture developed in the centuries before 1200BC (BCE), and declined around 400BC. We know far less about the Olmecs than we do about, for example, the Aztecs and Mayans. There are very few written records to tell us about the culture. In fact, at first Olmec artifacts were thought to be Mayan, and the Mayans were thought to be the first great culture in the area. The generally accepted belief is that the culture arose from people in the area, although some have suggested that the Olmecs may have originally come from Africa. I first encountered the Olmec colossal head at Cancun and Lorenz, Mexico and became fascinated with the sculptures detail. See figure: next page.
OLMEC HEAD AT LORENZ
I have delved into a brief research of the Olmecs and have discovered the following, that Seventeen heads have been discovered to date, 10 of which are from San Lorenzo and 7 from La Venta; two of the most important Olmec centers. The heads were each carved from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their destination, presumably using huge balsa river rafts wherever possible and log rollers on land. The principal source of this heavy stone was Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains. The heads can be nearly 3 m high, 4.5 meters (9.8 feet, 14.7 feet) in circumference and average around 8 tons in weight. The heads were sculpted using hard handheld stones and it is likely that they were originally painted using bright colors (Hmmmm!). The fact that these giant sculptures depict only the head may be explained by the widely held belief in Mesoamerican culture that it was the head alone which contained the emotions, experience, and soul of an individual. Facial details were drilled into the stone (using reeds and wet sand) so that prominent features such as the eyes, mouth, and nostrils have real depth. Some also have deliberately drilled dimples on the cheeks, chin, and lips. The heads all display unique facial features - often in a very naturalistic and expressive manner - so that they may be considered portraits of actual rulers. The scholar M.E. Miller identifies Colossal Head 5, for example, as a second millennium BCE ruler of San Lorenzo. Although the physionomy of the sculptures has given rise to unfounded speculation of contact with civilizations from Africa, in fact, the physical features common to the heads are still seen today in residents of the modern Mexican cities of Tabasco and Veracruz. It is hard for this writer to see Khemetic features and not see the land of Khem as origin, but I digress.
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