National Geographic : 1956 Sep
373 Philip Drucker Binding Babies' Heads Produced High-browed Priests Like These Figurines Four of the heavy-jowled men who depicted an ancient ritual (page 366) stand for their portrait after scientific resurrection in 1955. Sculptors drilled the eye sockets deep enough to receive eyeballs of semiprecious stones. Pockmarked figure at left shows the effect of soil chemicals on its granitic body. monial Court, and beyond it the Tomb of Columns (page 370). On a precise line along this axis were buried nearly all of La Venta's most striking tombs, altars, and offerings. Dr. Stirling's group had found in 1943 the first great jaguar mask of La Venta in the southeast corner of the court. We discovered its identical twin in the southwest (page 374). The bases of the structure turned out to lie much deeper than we had expected. A whole season-January to May-went by be fore we had fully uncovered the mosaic plat form and its massive foundations. Everywhere we dug, moving backward in time, we found ample proof that the Olmec had repeatedly rebuilt their structures. Per haps the priests decreed these revisions and refurbishings to stimulate their people's reli gious fervor. Perhaps it was to mark the end of some calendric period or the start of a new. At any rate, we were to encounter one pave ment upon another, one coat of bright clay blotting out a second and a third, an adobe platform trimmed, repaired, rearranged. The Olmec's final touch on the Ceremonial Court had been to surround it with a perimeter of basalt columns, about 190 feet long and 136 feet wide, and to floor it with scarlet clay. These thin floors seem almost to have been painted on, perhaps replacing those washed bare by the previous season's rain. But at least the builders had given some thought to providing runoff. Aware that any enclosure in the rain-drenched jungles of Tabasco would become a duckpond during part of each year, the Olmec architects deliberately laid their floors with a slight grade and, in later periods, devised systems of shallow drain gutters. After the Olmec people abandoned La Venta, about A.D. 800, gales gradually drifted the court four or five feet deep in sand. When Dr. Stirling first glimpsed it, only the crowns of the columns protruded. Awed Intruders Left Crude Offerings Embedded in the loose sand we found evi dence of a curious fact: a later people than the Olmec, ignorant of the court's mysterious symbolism, yet awe-struck by the colonnade and the sculptured monuments, had made of ferings of crude pottery to these unknown gods. In the course of our extensive excavations we found still other buried pavements as strik ing as the mask of the jaguar god-huge, solidly based, precisely engineered. Time has dulled the polish of their serpentine blocks.