National Geographic : 1993 Nov
LAND OF THE OLMEC On a riverine plain that arcs along the Bay of Campeche, four Olmec centers rose to prominence, enriched by key resources. San Lorenzo exploited fine clay used in pottery and red hematite, a sacred coloring. La Venta had access to rubber, salt, and tar from oil seeps. Close to the Tuxtla Mountains, Laguna de los Cerros and Tres Zapotes quar ried basalt for tools and monuments. Trade spread Olmec ideas and artifacts as far as Honduras to the south and Mexico City to the north. Cobata head found here OLMEC HEARTLAND B~B /IP ( ,,-i A LINEUP OF OLMEC RULERS Hallmark of the Olmec, colossal heads were unknown until 1862, when a Mexican scholar saw a head found at Tres Zapotes. Since then 15 more have been uncovered in the heartland-and numbered in order of discovery at each site (below). The largest, the Cobata head, stands 11 feet high and was carved, like the others, between 1200 and 900 B.c. Some scholars interpret the unique monuments as idealized warriors or ballplayers, but most 10 ft- BELIZE E GUATE DURAS EL SALVADOR ARAGUA COSTA RICA PANAMA- agree with archaeologist Mat thew Stirling, who noted that each "has an individual quality and was probably the portrait of a prominent leader." He believed the "broad-nosed, short-faced" physiognomy re flected a physical type "found over a consider- a able area in Middle America." The San Lorenzo heads are carved from basalt taken from Cerro Cintepec in the vol canic Tuxtlas. Particles of red dish color found on one of the La Venta heads indicate that it was once painted. The flat backs and other features of many of the heads suggest they were recarved from tabletop thrones like that in the painting on pages 102-103. U 1I I I I 2 3 4 5 6 7 8lsl111 Xaa Veracruz Acuila Nea LA Zan minos agoon jT TRAVE 59 TEOP 2 :aeK'- < ^;~"" n 0 ' " 'I 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 e t "
1993 Nov 30