Deutsch  Politik  Geschichte  Kunst  Film  Musik  Lebensart  Reisen 
English  Politics  History  Art  Film  Music  Lifestyle  Travel
Français  Politique  Histoire  Arts  Films  Musique  Art de vivre  Voyages

Index
  Links  Werbung  Feedback  Today's deals at Amazon.com
© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

Google
 
Web www.cosmopolis.ch
The Olmecs
Article added on December 9, 2004
  
According to Michael D. Coe, Yale University, Richard A. Diehl's book The Olmecs: America's First Civilization is "the first truly complete and authoritative account of this 3,000-year-old culture". Although the Yale professor previously published the essay "Olmec archeology" in the compilation The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership (Princeton, 1995) together with Diehl and, therefore, maybe not be totally free in his appreciation, The Olmecs probably is the best available introduction to this ancient civilization.

In his Preface, Diehl warns the reader that, regarding controversies surrounding the Olmecs, he is "not an impartial judge" and has "strong opinions concerning many of them", which of course he supports by data, arguments and sources which allow the reader to draw his own conclusions. Diehl acknowledges that "tomorrow's research may overturn many of [his] interpretations and conclusions."

This is wise since the study of the Olmec civilization is still young. Many Olmec sites "lie undisturbed beneath cattle pastures and jungles". In the acid tropical soils of Olman, southern Veracruz and Tabasco, no Olmec skeletons survived, thus their physical appearance remains a mystery. And although "the Olmecs had a writing system, no complete texts, historical or otherwise, have survived. Everything we know about them comes from investigations by archaeologists, art historians, linguists and other scholars."

The civilization following the Olmecs, the Aztecs, had either no knowledge of their predecessors and/or at least never passed it on to the Spaniards who invaded their country in the 16th century and recorded their legends and myths.

At the time of the Spanish invasion, "the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs called the inhabitants of Olman the Olmeca-Huixtotin (Olmeca: inhabitant of the rubber country; Huixtotin: People of the Saltwater). Although the Olmeca-Huixtotin lacked any direct connection with their Formative-period predecessors, early archaeologists mistakenly applied the term Olmec to the remains of both cultures." And as the book title The Olmecs reveals, the term is still used today.

The subject of the article, the ancient Olmec culture flourished in the southeastern Mexico's Gulf lowlands between 1500 and 400 BC. It is currently considered the earliest civilization in Mesoamerica, which includes central and southern Mexico and northern Central America.

Furthermore, the Olmecs are "one of only six pristine civilizations in human history". Pristine civilizations were not based on older models, they developed sui generis. In other words, their cultures were the earliest civilizations in their respective regions. The other five pristine civilizations include the Egyptian and Sumerian ones in the Near East, the Indus culture in modern India and Pakistan, the Shang in China and the Chavin culture in Peru. What sets the Olmecs apart is the fact that they were "the only one that evolved in a lowland tropical forest environment."

Archaeologists divide Mesoamerica's pre-Columbian history and culture into five major epochs: the Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Formative or Preclassic, Classic and Postclassic periods.

The Olmec civilization dates back to the Early and Middle Formative periods, more precisely to 1500 to 400 BC. It is subdivided into four stages, pre-, Early, Late and Epi-Olmec. "The last three stages are defined by the rise and fall of three great Olmec centers, San Lorenzo, La Venta and Tres Zapotes.

Diehl argues that the term "Formative" period is not appropriate in the sense that the Olmecs "lived in societies too large and complex to be considered simple village farmer folk", as early scholars believed. However, "Formative" is appropriate in the sense that the Olmecs are the "Mother Culture that underlay later civilizations."

The Aztec, the Maya and other later civilizations overshadow the Olmecs. In the late 19th century, because of their refined appearance, Olmec antiquities were incorrectly attributed to the later cultures of the Aztecs, the Maya or even the Chinese. "It was not until 1932 that George C. Vaillant of the American Museum of Natural History correctly identified their great age age and their connection with southern Mexico's Gulf lowlands." In 1939, Matthew W. Stirling began a seven-year campaign of pioneering investigations on Olmec and related sites in Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas in order to locate the civilization in space and time. The true age of Olmec civilization was finally resolved in 1955 by three archaeologists from the University of California-Berkeley, Robert Heizer, Philip Drucker and Rober Squier. Their excavations north of La Venta's Great Pyramid revealed four construction phases containing charcoal fragments. The newly perfected technique of radiocarbon dating permitted them to reveal that Stirling had been correct and that La Venta emerged as a thriving society by 800 BC and was abandoned in the fifth century BC.

"Olmecs were the first Native Americans to erect large architectural complexes, live in nucleated towns and cities, and develop a sophisticated art style executed in stone and other imperishable media." Today, the Olmecs are best-known for their monumental sculptures, colossal heads and small objects carved from jadeite and other semi-precious stones.

Diehl's book covers a lot of ground: after an introduction to the Olmec history and culture, he studies the rise and fall of San Lorenzo, the earliest Olmec city, established centuries before cities appeared anywhere else in the Americas. Another chapter is dedicated to La Venta, the capital of "Middle Formative Mesoamerica's most influential community [, which] flourished in the heart of a vast wetland zone." Olmec daily life and culture, Olmec art, Olmecs abroad in Eastern and Western Mesoamerica as well as Epi-Olmec culture form the other chapters. In short, The Olmecs is a substantial introduction to this fascinating American civilization.


Richard A. Diehl's book The Olmecs: America's First Civilization. With 152 illustrations, 20 in color. Thames & Hudson, 2004, 208 p. Get it from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Amazon Canada. This book is the source for the article on the left.

Museums and sites dedicated to the Olmecs (suggested by Diehl)
- National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City
- Museo de Antropología in Xalapa, Veracruz
- Parque La Venta in Villahermosa, Tabasco
- Carlos Pellicer Museum in Villahermosa, Tabasco
- La Venta itself is located 124 km east of Villahermosa just off Mexico Highway 180
- Tres Zapotes near Highway 180 and Tenochtitlán Village near San Lorenzo also have small site museums.





Deutsch  Politik  Geschichte  Kunst  Film  Musik  Lebensart  Reisen 
English  Politics  History  Art  Film  Music  Lifestyle  Travel
Français  Politique  Histoire  Arts  Films  Musique  Art de vivre  Voyages

Index
  Links  Werbung  Feedback  Today's deals at Amazon.com
© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

Google
 
Web www.cosmopolis.ch