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Seller: ancientgifts (4,561) 100%, Location: Lummi Island, Washington, Ships to: Worldwide, Item: 382632664001 “Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico” by Kathleen Berrin (Editor), and Virginia M. Fields (Editor). NOTE: We have 75,000 books in our library, almost 10,000 different titles. Odds are we have other copies of this same title in varying conditions, some less expensive, some better condition. We might also have different editions as well (some paperback, some hardcover, oftentimes international editions). If you don’t see what you want, please contact us and ask. We’re happy to send you a summary of the differing conditions and prices we may have for the same title. DESCRIPTION: Hardcover with dustjacket. Publisher: Yale University (2010). Pages: 272. Size: 11¾ x 10½ x 1 inch; 4½ pounds. Summary: This catalogue was published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the occasion of the exhibition Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico". Considered the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica, the Olmec developed an iconic and sophisticated artistic style as early as the second millennium B.C. This pre-Columbian civilization, which flourished in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco between 1400 and 400 B.C., is best known for the creation of colossal stone portrait heads of its rulers. Some weighing up to 24 tons, the monumental heads are among ancient America’s most striking and beautiful masterpieces. In the fifteen years since the last major study of the Olmec, archaeologists have made significant finds at key sites in Mexico. This sweeping project brings together the most recent scholarship, along with a diverse selection of more than 100 monuments, sculptures, adornments, masks, and vessels, many of which have never traveled beyond Mexico’s borders, that paint a rich portrait of life in the most important Olmec centers, including San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes. Particular attention is paid to the emergence of the culture, distinctive variations in the art of different city sites, and the chronology and reach of the society during its apex. Centering on the concept of discovery, this wide-ranging volume presents a fresh look at Olmec civilization, recapturing the excitement that greeted the unearthing of the first colossal stone head in 1862. CONDITION: NEW. HUGE new hardcover w/dustjacket. Yale University (2010) 272 pages. Unblemished and pristine in every respect except that dustjacket evidences faint shelfwear. Pages are clean, crisp, unmarked, unmutilated, tightly bound, unambiguously unread. The faint shelfwear to the dustjacket is principally in the form of a faint little "crinkle" to the dustjacket spine head. Condition is entirely consistent with new stock from a bookstore environment wherein new books might show minor signs of shelfwear, consequence of simply being shelved and re-shelved. Satisfaction unconditionally guaranteed. In stock, ready to ship. No disappointments, no excuses. PROMPT SHIPPING! HEAVILY PADDED, DAMAGE-FREE PACKAGING! #8960d. PLEASE SEE DESCRIPTIONS AND IMAGES BELOW FOR DETAILED REVIEWS AND FOR PAGES OF PICTURES FROM INSIDE OF BOOK. PLEASE SEE PUBLISHER, PROFESSIONAL, AND READER REVIEWS BELOW. PUBLISHER REVIEWS: REVIEW: Olmec civilization, which began sometime around 1400 BC, was centered in the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco. Olmec architects and artists produced the earliest monumental structures and sculptures in Mexico, including enormous basalt portrait heads of their rulers. The colossal sculptures in the exhibition weigh between 7 and 10 tons each. The exhibition also includes small-scale jadeite objects that embody the symbolism of sacred and secular authority among the Olmec. Olmec artists were unsurpassed in their ability to work with this extremely hard stone, using elementary tools like chert, water and sand. "Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico", is co-organized by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, LACMA, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and is curated at LACMA by Virginia Fields, senior curator of Arts of the Ancient Americas. The exhibition at LACMA will be the first presentation on the West Coast of the colossal works and precious small-scale sculptures produced by Mexico's earliest civilization. REVIEW: Olmec civilization, which flourished over 3,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests and watery savannahs of Mexico’s southern Gulf lowlands, is acknowledged as the oldest civilization in the Americas to create monumental art and architecture. The Olmec (1800–400 BC) are part of the broader Mesoamerican culture. A twentieth century term, Mesoamerica defines a cultural region encompassing most of Mexico and northern Central America, including the Maya and the Aztec. Like other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Olmec had an advanced social system, networks of commerce extending far across the region, and possibly early writing, calendric, and numeric systems. This book explores the belief systems, social structure, and imagery of ancient Mexican life and culture. The artworks highlighted in these materials are featured in the 2010 exhibition "Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico" which presents the most recent archeological and art historical investigations and interpretations of Olmec-style works. REVIEW: Considered the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica and recognized as America’s oldest civilization, the people known today as the Olmec developed an iconic and sophisticated artistic style as early as the second millennium BC. The Olmec are best known for the creation of colossal heads carved from giant boulders that have fascinated the public and archaeologists alike since they were discovered in the mid-19th century. The monumental heads remain among ancient America’s most awe-inspiring and beautiful masterpieces today. Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico, featuring more than 100 objects, drawn primarily from Mexican national collections with additional loans from over 25 museums, is presented at the de Young Museum. Included in the exhibition are colossal heads, a large-scale throne, and monumental stelae in addition to precious small-scale vessels, figures, adornments, and masks. Olmec brings together for the first time new finds and monuments that have never been seen by American audiences and reveals new scholarship on Olmec culture and artifacts. REVIEW: Kathleen Berrin is curator in charge of Africa and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Virginia M. Fields is senior curator of art of the ancient Americas at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. TABLE OF CONTENTS: Olmec Art: Essence, Presence, Influence, and Transcendence by Sara Ladron de Guevara. San Lorenzo by Ann Cyphers. La Venta by F. Kent Reilly III. Tres Zapotoes: Where Olmec Archaeology Began by Christopher A. Pol. Olmec-Style Art Outside Olman by David C. Grove. The Olmec Legacy in Stone: A Mesoamerican Alpha and Omega by Richard A. Diehl. A Note on the Naming of Olmec Monuments by Christopher A. Pool. PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS: REVIEW: Olmec civilization, which began sometime around 1400 BC, was centered in the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco. Olmec architects and artists produced the earliest monumental structures and sculptures in Mexico, including enormous basalt portrait heads of their rulers. The colossal sculptures that were present in the exhibition weigh between 7 and 10 tons each. The exhibition also included small-scale jadeite objects that embody the symbolism of sacred and secular authority among the Olmec. Olmec artists were unsurpassed in their ability to work with this extremely hard stone, using elementary tools like chert, water and sand. The event and exhibit was co-organized by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, LACMA, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. REVIEW: Beautifully illustrated…the book is an invaluable resource for scholars, researchers, students, and interested general readers. Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Art and Architecture category. [Choice Magazine]. REVIEW: Flourishing from 1800 to 400 B.C.E. in the coastal lowlands of Mexico's Tabasco and Veracruz, the Olmec culture's material legacy has intrigued archaeologists and art historians since the first monumental stone head was uncovered in 1862. This handsome catalog brings fresh scholarship to bear on the exhibition at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—where Berrin and Fields, respectively, are curators—exposing the collections of 26 Mexican and U.S. museums. The 231 color illustrations capture the stone and ceramic figures, vessels, monuments, ceremonial tools, and masks that provided the foundational artwork of Mesoamerica. Seven scholarly essays and detailed annotations contributed by the museums' curators and scholars set the context for the book's organizational themes: the heartland setting, political organization, the Olmec cities, and their cultural influences through time. VERDICT Maps and a substantial bibliography support the text, but the photos make this book of interest to less academic audiences as well. [Syracuse University]. REVIEW: The ancient Mexican civilization traditionally known as the Olmec, approximately 1800–400 BC, left a rich material record of its presence. Yet without written documentation, scholars are left to ponder both the origin of the Olmec and the specific cultural, spiritual, and political significance of the many, primarily stone, works excavated since the nineteenth century. Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico, a collaboration between the Instituto Nacional de Antropolgía e Historia, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, curated by Kathleen Berrin and Virginia Fields, included a selection of over 140 Olmec stone and wood sculptures primarily from the modern states of Veracruz and Tobasco. This was the first time in over fifteen years, and in some cases the first time ever, that many of these objects had been on view in the United States. The exhibition, organized according to temporal and geographical themes (major and some minor Gulf Coast sites) as well as size and proposed function, did not attempt to solve the mysteries of the Olmec, but rather, according to John Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, focused on the most recent scholarship and significant discoveries stemming from finds made in the last fifteen years. As Berrin stated at the press preview, the goal of the complex collaboration was to contextualize the Olmec works. A short film and a few photographs of various excavation sites, along with specific geographic details, were an indication that the context emphasized archeological discovery. There was less certainty regarding the cultural significance, form, and function of many of the works. The problem, of course, as Berrin pointed out is that these objects often raise more questions than answers. One of the most pressing questions is whether or not the Olmec were the “mother culture” that early archeologists and art historians deemed them to be. The close attention to geographic considerations in both the exhibition itself and the catalogue speaks to the current shift toward viewing the Olmec as an array of multi-ethnic groups who inhabited various physical and temporal regions rather than a unified civilization. According to Diana Magoloni Kerpel, this controversy surrounding issues of origin often supersedes what may be the most valuable information to be gleaned from these mysterious and impressive objects. She makes the case that studying cultural persistence, namely the transfer of Olmec artistic and cultural traditions to later civilizations like the Toltec and the Aztec, may very well be the key to uncovering some of the secrets of the Olmec and to deepening an understanding of later civilizations. Kerpel’s preface to the exhibition catalogue as well as some short essays, including “The Olmec Legacy in Stone: A Mesoamerican Alpha and Omega,” by Richard A. Diehl, offer an introduction to this strand of Olmec studies. The catalogue does explore some recent and some continuing research, and the exhibition placards offered descriptions of central locations, the probable influence of the Olmec on their neighbors, and the possible function and legacy of some of the works. But the strength of the exhibition rested in the objects themselves. Two impressive, indeed colossal, basalt portrait heads discovered in the nineteenth century were displayed at the opening and conclusion of the exhibition. The first sculpture, Colossal Head 4 (1200–900 BC, Veracruz), weighs in at about ten thousand pounds. The stone monument, which was displayed in the round and mounted on a circular base which raised it well above the viewer’s head, evokes a great ruler of an ancient civilization while simultaneously forcing the viewer to grapple with the object as a sculptural force dislocated from its origins. The rough, porous, volcanic stone carved without the aid of modern tools (only stone implements) contrasts with the beautifully curved lines of the lips and the straight lines of the helmet. The ears and the decorative elements of the helmet are in relief while the play between solid and void is accentuated in the more sculptural representation of the mouth and nose. The display, of course, dramatically emphasized the monumentality of the piece. The portrait head was viewed singly in a room with blank, dark brown walls, and it was impeccably lit. The circular base and positioning of the piece in the center of the room beckoned the viewer to physically contend with the work from every perspective—from the fullness of the rounded facial features to the perfectly flat surface of the back of the head. There was no escaping the challenge of considering the immense sculpture in relation to the scale of the human body. The portrait head displayed at the very end of the exhibition, Colossal Head 9 (1200–900 BC, Veracruz), was presented in an identical format. This framing of the exhibition succeeded in constructing an aura of mystery and grandeur even as it made evident the staging of the objects within a major museum production. While the basalt heads were the most awe-inspiring of the 140 objects exhibited, smaller stone works were quite impressive in their own right. There were numerous examples of jadeite celts or axes, figurines, and masks displayed in well-lit glass cases. The highly polished surfaces of the celts and fine detail of some of the figurines stand in direct contrast to the texture and scale of the portrait heads. One of the most intriguing sets of objects on display was Offering 4 (900–400 BC, La Venta), discovered in 1959. Fifteen jadeite figurines, measuring six to seven inches in height, surround a central figure (probably granite) facing the group with six slender celts standing on end in the background (about ten inches in height). The color of the stone figurines ranges from white to a deep green. The objects were discovered in this precise arrangement partially buried in reddish-brown sand, covered with white sand and several multi-colored layers of earthen material. A cylindrical hole was dug down to the level of the figurines’ heads in the center of the grouping and filled in with a different mixture of earth. The arrangement of the figures and the use of multiple textures and colors of material to bury the objects suggest a ritual significance (160). The facial features of the figurines are well-formed with full lips, almond-shaped eyes, and distinct noses. The tops of the heads are elongated and bulbous, and the backs of the heads are flattened. Also of note are the twin human figures, Monuments 8 and 9 (1200–900 BC, Veracruz), discovered in 1987. The smoothly polished andesite sculptures portray kneeling male figures each holding a staff. The backs of the figures are sloped to form a perfectly smooth curved surface. They appear as if they are about to spring forward, making them some of the few Olmec objects in the exhibition that imply movement. Well-formed facial features as well as the decorative elements in both the crowns and the garments suggest strong attention to detail. These figures were found facing a feline/jaguar figure said to hold significant spiritual meaning. The juxtaposition of immense and small, smooth and rough, and detailed and simple, combined with an oscillation between two- and three-dimensional space, persisted throughout the exhibition. Contending with the formal and spatial characteristics of these ancient objects emerged as the major benefit of seeing the works in person and contributed to contemplating the larger mystery of who the Olmec were and what their lasting legacy might have been. REVIEW: The Olmec of Mexico may be the Etruscans of ancient Mesoamerica. Much as the Romans overshadowed the Etruscans, the Olmec have long lacked a place in the popular imagination on par with the Aztecs and Maya. But "Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through January 9 and at the de Young Museum in San Francisco starting February 19, might change that. The show reveals that the Olmec civilization, which flourished on the tropical Gulf Coast of Mexico for a thousand years ending about 400 B.C., also achieved greatness in some of its enormous ceremonial works. The exhibition is the biggest of three concurrent shows that opened LACMA's airy and adaptable new Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. The six-foot-tall Colossal Head #5 from the ancient city of San Lorenzo greets visitors with an arresting sneer. At the other end of the long, spacious main gallery is its counterpart, with a face like a smiling Buddha's. Its benign visage, we're told, didn't save the head from having its nose smashed off—mutilations were a common fate for the statuary of deposed Olmec royals. Cutting through the otherworldliness of much of what we see in this show are moments of connection between then and now, notably "El Bebe," a squalling green-stone infant shown in a squint-eyed, gape-mouthed howl familiar to parents throughout the ages. But a ceremonial array of 16 cone-headed figures could feed a UFO enthusiast's fantasies of ancient visitations. Few works anywhere could top two large, nearly identical, serene kneeling male figures that evoke the great statuary of ancient Egypt—but whose sweeping curved lines would appeal to a modernist sculptor. The exhibition's organizational groupings and wall text allow it to passably serve two masters—the aesthetic presentation together with some archaeological context. However, two large replicas of post-Olmec murals could have usefully been replaced with archaeological elements such as photographs of artifacts in situ and detailed maps showing how key finds were arrayed at the three main Olmec capitals uncovered since the mid-1800s. But "Olmec: Colossal Masterworks" combines seriousness of educational purpose with an immense appreciation of the beauty in these astonishing ancient works. REVIEW: "Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico," is the first show of its kind ever on the West Coast. The Olmec civilization, flourishing circa 1800-400 BC along Mexico's Gulf Coast in the vicinity of modern Veracruz, is the oldest in the Americas to have produced monumental art. Visitors are greeted by an extraordinary 6-foot portrait head carved around 3,000 years ago from volcanic rock -- amazingly, without benefit of metal tools. Stone, sand and other abrasives were employed to render this apparent ruler's furrowed brow, almond eyes, broad nose and full, slightly parted lips. He wears a tight-fitting helmet (probably of leather) adorned with an animal pelt, plus decorative flares in his earlobes. The back of the spherical head is as flat as a table top. Some scholars believe that colossal Olmec heads, of which 17 distinctive examples have been discovered, began as the functional bases of royal thrones. Upon the ruler's death, the throne's massive base would be tipped upright, like a funerary marker, and one side would be carved as a memorial portrait. Omec bust 2 Underscoring this possible legacy, the show's two colossal heads rest on rust-colored Cor-Ten steel bases specially designed by Earthworks artist Michael Heizer, whose archaeologist father did pioneering studies of early Mesoamerican cultures. The pedestals' irregular geometry ties them to the rugged landscape and human manufacture. The colossal head at the entry is at once fearsome and mesmerizing, its stare an epic gaze across time. The volcanic stone sculpture gets its power from the individuality of portraiture, which implies the fragility and temporal passage of human life, fused with the geological "eternity" of Earth. Nearby, a sculpture of a mythic animal (a were-jaguar) possesses an equal measure of monumental authority. The fact that this deity is carved from a piece of dark green jadeite just a few inches high only confirms that "colossal" isn't necessarily a function of size. Among nearly 200 objects, other highlights include a narrative ensemble of two monumental stone twins kneeling before a fierce feline; a small ceramic bowl whose painted decoration of interlocking fish seems startlingly modern; and, a wood bust in which a haunting, animistic form emerges from the tree limb from which the head was carved (think Edvard Munch's "The Scream"). LACMA curator Virginia Fields and her international colleagues loosely divided the show into three sections -- one introductory, one focused on Olmec nature-imagery and one on the major artistic production centers. The pavilion's open plan makes it hard to follow the exhibition narrative, but the abundance of natural light serves this work well. REVIEW: America’s oldest civilization, the Olmec, lived mainly in the Mexican Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco from approximately 1400 BCE to 400 BCE. The Olmec lived contemporaneously with the Golden Age of Greece and China’s Zhou Dynasty. Considered the mother culture of Mesoamerica, the Olmec disappeared about twenty-five hundred years ago. They left behind only mysterious traces of their civilization—notably, enormous freestanding sculptural heads carved from giant blocks or boulders. “Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico,” at San Francisco’s de Young Museum through May 8, 2011, features over 140 carved objects including the massive inscrutable heads, a large-scale throne, monumental stelae (carved upright stones), figures, adornments and masks. Some of the awe-inspiring works on display are over eight feet tall and weigh up to eight tons. Each piece is unique. At the start of the exhibition stands a six-foot tall, 12,000-pound highly stylized colossal head, looking like a foreboding statue with supernatural powers (à la Indiana Jones) with a strange head shape, slit-like eyes that stare straight ahead, a wide nose and sensuous full lips. As you gape at it, as everyone does, you’ll know that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Using only basic tools like rock, water and sand, Olmec heads were carved from extremely hard materials. They had no metal tools. In fact, they hadn’t invented the wheel. The stone quarries were as far as eighty miles from the site of the statues, and the huge pieces had to be transported for long distances. It’s estimated that moving a colossal head might have required the efforts of 1,500 people for three to four months. In juxtaposition to the colossal heads and other large pieces, the exhibition also features finely crafted small-scale jadeite and earthenware objects that some say symbolize the religious meaning and secular authority among the Olmec. Don’t miss the delicate jadeite masks and the earthenware fish effigy vessel. While the Olmec colossal heads may depict a religious ruler, some Olmec art is surprisingly naturalistic and displays accurate depiction of human anatomy. Common motifs include downturned mouths and slit-like slanting eyes, both of which are seen as representations of were-jaguars (children with Jaguar features). The mystery of the Olmec—who they were, where they came from, what they spoke, where they went and why they became extinct—is an essential feature of the exhibition. Olmec culture was unknown to historians until 1862, when a colossal head made in Veracruz was first discovered. Seventeen heads have now been unearthed. The mystery has fascinated the public and archaeologists ever since. Little is known about the Olmec, but much is conjectured. Recent archeological research confirms that the Olmec constituted a major civilization with several large cities and outposts that spread to other parts of Mexico and Central America. The Olmec’s political arrangements of strongly hierarchical city-state kingdoms were repeated by nearly every other Mexican and Central American civilization that followed. At their height, the Olmec had irrigation, writing, cacao and the Mesoamerican calendar and ball game. The compass, the invention of the concept of zero, bloodletting and perhaps human sacrifice are also attributed to them. As an indication of how obscure their civilization is, the Olmec didn’t refer to themselves as “Olmec” at all. The Aztec mistakenly used that name to refer to people who lived in Mexico some 2,000 years after the Olmec became extinct. The name Olmec, which means “rubber people,” may be based on the rubber-producing region of Mexico where they originated. The fascinating monumental heads remain among ancient America’s most awe-inspiring and beautiful masterpieces. The Olmec developed an iconic and sophisticated artistic style that spans the centuries. What they left behind is art, not merely artifact. REVIEW: The Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, designed by architect Renzo Piano to be the largest naturally lit museum space in the world, was inaugurated in late September with a gala attended by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Earning nearly as many double-takes that night, though, were two enormous heads carved from volcanic rock some 3,000 years ago. These striking visages serve as centerpieces of a show that celebrates the colossal art of Mesoamerica’s first civilization, the Olmec Empire. This extraordinary display, “the first show of its kind ever on the West Coast”—is well served by the new pavilion’s “abundance of natural light,” said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. The 6-foot-tall basalt head that greets visitors to the exhibit “is at once fearsome and mesmerizing, its stare an epic gaze across time.” Astonishingly, this possible tribute to an Olmec ruler was created “without benefit of metal tools.” Instead, Olmec craftsmen used stone, sand, and other abrasives to render the figure’s “furrowed brow, almond eyes, broad nose, and full, slightly parted lips.” Similar methods were used to create other large sculptural figures nearby, including a pair of “monumental stone twins kneeling before a fierce feline.” Yet Olmec artists “also excelled on a smaller scale,” said Kelly Crow in The Wall Street Journal. They “commonly carved white and green jade into pendants or figurines,” and this exhibit also features a cluster of ornate stone ax heads, probably used as offerings to the gods. One 16-inch-tall ax head, nicknamed “El Bebé,” seems to be bawling so furiously that you wish you could soothe it. Look closely and you can also see that the baby is holding a miniature ax against its own chest. Such attention to detail is remarkable, and yet one has to be careful not to focus on surface appearances only. Some Olmec art features imagery “that suggests human sacrifice” was practiced to appease the gods, and El Bebé almost cries out to be interpreted just that way. REVIEW: The show of Olmec works, opening today (February 19) at the De Young presents art works from a people whose civilization is still mysterious. It emerged roughly 3,000 years ago in the eastern lowlands along Mexico's Gulf Coast in what is today the region of Vera Cruz and Tabasco. Arguably, the Olmecs provided the foundation for all Mesoamerican art, much the way ancient Greek art did for subsequent European culture. There are 100 objects on display at the De Young, drawn primarily from Mexican national collections with additional loans from over 25 museums. Included in the exhibition are colossal heads, a large-scale throne, and monumental stelae in addition to precious small-scale vessels, figures, adornments, and masks. The exhibit is divided into five sections, highlighting such topics as the Olmec heartland, the outlying communities and the Olmec legacy. There are videos showing current excavations and well written wall text, important to understand this still-mysterious people. The show is elegantly and simply presented, with none of the visual clutter that has often impeded previous shows in this small space. Small-scale jadeite objects, which embody the symbolism of sacred and secular authority among the Olmec, attest to the long-distance exchange of rare resources that existed as early as 1000 BC. Olmec artists were unsurpassed in their ability to work this extremely hard stone with elementary tools of stone, water and sand. One astonishing piece is a stone hammer with a subtle imprint of a human foot carved into the stone. Along with the colossal heads, the show has several examples of the Olmec “chubby naked babies.” Sitting upright on stubby legs, their outsize baldheads are elongated and flattened, a sign of physical beauty achieved through the practice of binding skulls in infancy. The faces are what we would consider distinctively Olmec: almond-shaped eyes, round, puffy cheeks and full lips, often drawn downward into an angry scowl. They glare at the viewer, daring you to approach any closer. Some have fanged teeth showing through slightly open mouths, further emphasizing both the allure and danger implicit in all figurative Olmec art. The meaning of the figures is a mystery but their features recur everywhere in Olmec art. "It was really all about the human body and human beings and humans with animal attributes," Berrin, curator in charge of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, explains. "Colossal Masterworks" highlights smooth axes and ax fragments made from serpentine and greenstone. There are pendants, earrings, and a human bust in wood, one of only 20 that have survived through being buried in the salty lagoon in the Veracruz town of El Manati. One of the true treasures of the exhibit is small - "Offering 4" (Group of Standing Figures and Celt's), a crowd of flat-headed men carved from precious stone, partially circled by enigmatic, inscribed celts, or ritual tools. Were the Olmecs a people? Or does the term more accurately describe an artistic style? The word Olmec is derived from a word for rubber which was in use at the time of the Spanish conquest, but its application to archeological finds has always been inexact. Archaeologists simply do not know (which does not prevent scholary debate from raging hot and heavy in academic journals). Three millennium separate us from this mysterious, powerful culture. The Olmec made answers hard to come by. They left no written records. Their social and spiritual beliefs, embodied in spectacular ritual implements, are a matter of guesswork. Even the “how did they do that” – without the wheel, animals such as horses or buffalos or machinery - is a matter of guesswork. The vision presented here is both vital and tragic and it’s a pity that the Olmecs left no Sophocles to enlighten us to what it all meant to them. "Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico" is curated by Kathleen Berrin, curator in charge of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Virginia M. Fields, senior curator of art of the ancient Americas at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. READER REVIEWS: REVIEW: This is a beautifully designed book about a difficult subject: the Olmec, considered by many to be the earliest Mesoamerican culture. It is heavily illustrated with maps of archaeological sites, historical photographs, and works of art. It's informative, and you'll learn a lot about ancient ways of life. Or at least what scholars think life may have been like in pre-Columbian civilizations in the second millennium BC. It explores new discoveries, and it's got a huge bibliography for those interested in doing more research. Highly recommended! REVIEW: I have 22 books regarding the Olmec civilization, and this is one of my favorites. I often use this as a reference when studying ancient Pre-Columbian tools and art in museums and personal collections. It is well written and well illustrated. REVIEW: Great exhibit of large Olmec works. By far the best show I've ever seen at the DeYoung! REVIEW: Cool. I mean there's not much better description of this book. Amazing photos, information, and details on the archaeological dig locations. REVIEW: A gorgeous book! The photography is great - sharp, full page images. REVIEW: Five stars! An outstanding book with excellent photography. REVIEW: Illustrates the remarkable art of the Olmec. REVIEW: It is a beautiful book of the art of the Olmec. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND: REVIEW: If you're on the West Coast over the next couple of months, take a trip over to San Francisco. Starting on the 19th of February, the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park will be featuring an exhibit of those colossal stone heads, as well as 100 additional artifacts culled from Mexican national collections and 25 other museums! Some of the large-scale works on display will be: Monument Q (colossal head) from Tres Zapotes––carved from a distinctive porphyritic basalt and weighing over eight tons, this was the second colossal head to be discovered at Tres Zapotes. Colossal Head 5 from San Lorenzo––discovered in 1946, it was created using a combination of polishing and fine and rough hammering. Stela 1 (female figure) from La Venta––standing over eight feet tall, the stela presents a surprisingly naturalistic female figure in a pleated skirt standing in a niche. Monuments 7–9 (twin figures and jaguar) from Loma del Zapote-El Azuzul––a sculptural representation of two young Olmec rulers, twins, paying homage to a feline-jaguar deity. The Kunz Axe (votive axe) depicting a supernatural being whose physical features are drawn from multiple sources in the natural world. REVIEW: It's a drizzly autumn morning in the eastern Mexican city of Xalapa, near the heartland of what many scholars say was Mesoamerica's first civilization. At the city's elegant anthropology museum, amid one of the finest Olmec collections in the world, Yale archaeologist Michael Coe points at the giant squat stone head staring sullenly at us. "Look at this," he says enthusiastically. "When it was made, the Maya area didn't even have pottery, and the biggest sculpture from this time in Oaxaca"--an important valley to the west--"could fit in this guy's eye." The Olmec, Coe insists, "were the Sumerians of the New World." More than 40 wooden busts were found buried at El Manatí, an early Olmec religious site. The faces vary and may represent individual people rather than deities. An energetic man even at 77, he is part of an older generation of scholars who have spent a good part of their professional lives arguing among themselves over whether the Olmec birthed the rudiments of Mesoamerican civilization, or whether they were one among many contemporary peoples who contributed art, technology, and religious beliefs to the Aztec, Maya, and other cultures that Cortes and the Spanish encountered 2,500 years later. But that lingering "mother-sister" debate--often vociferous, occasionally unseemly, and sometimes downright nasty--obscures a quiet revolution in research on early Mesoamerica. While the elders bicker, a younger batch of archaeologists is pursuing other questions, asking, for example, how the ordinary Olmec lived and worked, and what they ate. Such fundamental matters until now were largely neglected amid the academic fracas, which has focused on monumental structures, evidence of kings, and the iconography of the elite. "Everyone is flying a flag from their own valley," sighs Mary Pye, a 40-something archaeologist in Mexico City who is also in Xalapa for a conference on the Olmec. "Forget mother-sister," she says. "It's more complicated." The more nuanced picture emerging of early Mesoamerica does not fit that of either warring camp. Those who back the Olmec as the first civilization traditionally point to the early adoption of maize, the growth of urban centers, and the export of finished goods such as pottery throughout Mesoamerica to clinch their argument. Opponents emphasize the complexity of other cultures in different areas, such as Oaxaca. But the new research shows that during the early critical phase of urbanization the Olmec may have shunned maize, lived mostly as fishermen, and sought luxury items from distant places, while simultaneously expanding their cultural influence throughout the region. [Archaeological Institute of America] REVIEW: The mysterious Olmec civilization prospered in Pre-Classical (Formative) Mesoamerica from circa 1200 B.C. to circa 400 B.C. and is generally considered the forerunner of all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya and Aztecs. Centred in the Gulf of Mexico (now the states of Veracruz and Tabasco) their influence and trade activity spread from 1200 B.C., even reaching as far south as present-day Nicaragua. Monumental sacred complexes, massive stone sculpture, ball games, chocolate drinking and animal gods were features of Olmec culture which would be passed on to all those who followed this first great Mesoamerican civilization. The Olmec civilization presents something of a mystery, indeed, we do not even know what they called themselves, as ‘Olmec’ was their Aztec name and meant ‘rubber people’. Due to a lack of archaeological evidence their ethnic origins and the location and extent of many of their settlements are not known. The Olmecs did, however, codify and record their gods and religious practices using symbols. The precise significance of this record is much debated but, at the very least, its complexity does suggest some sort of organised religion involving a priesthood. The Olmec religious practices of sacrifice, cave rituals, pilgrimages, offerings, ball-courts, pyramids and a seeming awe of mirrors, was also passed on to all subsequent civilizations in Mesoamerica until the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century A.D. Olmec prosperity was initially based on exploiting the fertile and well-watered coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico to grow such crops as corn and beans (often twice-yearly) which allowed for an agricultural surplus. They also, no doubt, gathered the plentiful local supply of plant food, palm nuts and sea-life, including turtles and clams. By circa 1200 B.C. significant urban centres developed at San Lorenzo (the earliest), La Venta, Laguna de los Cerros, Tres Zapotes and Las Limas. San Lorenzo reached its peak of prosperity and influence between 1200 and 900 B.C. when its strategic position safe from flooding allowed it to control local trade. Typical Olmec trade goods included obsidian, jade, serpentine, mica, rubber, pottery, feathers and polished mirrors of ilmenite and magnetite. Evidence of San Lorenzo’s high culture includes the presence of mound structures, possibly an early ball court, carved basalt drains through one of the man-made mounds and the Red Palace structure with painted red floors and workshops. Around 900 B.C. the site of San Lorenzo displays evidence of systematic destruction whilst La Venta, conversely, began to flourish, and becoming the new capital, it eventually supported a population of some 18,000. The three sites of San Lorenzo, La Venta and Laguna de los Cerros all had a bilateral symmetry in their planning and at La Venta the first pyramid in Mesoamerica was constructed. It is the pre-meditated architectural layout of the religious centres of these settlements that is most striking, for example, at La Venta the buildings are placed symmetrically along a north-south axis with four colossal heads facing outwards at key points, seemingly acting as guardians to the complex. A huge ceremonial step pyramid (now a shapeless mound), sunken plaza once lined with 2 metre high basalt columns, and two smaller pyramids/mounds provide features that would be copied time and again at the major sites of later Mesoamerican cultures with whom equal attention was paid to the precise alignment of buildings. La Venta, as with San Lorenzo, suffered systematic and deliberate destruction of its monuments sometime between 400 and 300 B.C. As with other areas of Olmec culture, details of their religion are sketchy. Nevertheless, with an ever-increasing archaeological record it is possible to piece together some of the most important features of Olmec religion. The Olmecs seem to have had a particular reverence for natural places which connected with the important junctions of sky, earth and the underworld. For example, caves could lead to the underworld and mountains which had both springs and caves could offer access to all three planes. Important Olmec mountain sites were El Manatί, Chalcatzingo and Oxtotitlan. The names of the gods of the Olmec are not known other than that they often represented phenomena such as rain, the earth and especially maize. For this reason, identifiable gods from Olmec art have been given numbers instead of names (e.g. God VI). The Olmecs gave special significance to the animals present in their environment, especially those at the top of the food chain such as jaguars, eagles, caimans, snakes and even sharks, identifying them with divine beings and perhaps also believing that powerful rulers could transform themselves at will into such fearsome creatures. The Olmecs also liked to mix animals to create weird and wonderful creatures such as the were-jaguar, a cross between a human and a jaguar, which may have been their supreme deity. We also know that they worshipped a sky-dragon and that they believed four dwarves held up the sky, possibly representing the four cardinal directions which, along with other Olmec gods, became so important in later Mesoamerican religions. The most striking legacy of the Olmec civilization must be the colossal stone heads they produced. These were carved in basalt and all display unique facial features so that they may be considered portraits of actual rulers. The heads can be nearly 3 m high and 8 tons in weight and the stone from which they were worked was, in some cases, transported 80 km or more, presumably using huge balsa river rafts. 17 have been discovered, 10 of which are from San Lorenzo. The ruler often wears a protective helmet (from war or the ballgame) and sometimes show the subject with jaguar paws hanging over the forehead, perhaps representing a jaguar pelt worn as a symbol of political and religious power. The fact that these giant sculptures depict only the head may be explained by the belief in Mesoamerican culture that it was the head alone which bore the soul. Another permanent record of the Olmecs is found in rock carvings and paintings. Often made around cave entrances they most typically depict seated rulers, as for example at Oxtotitlan, where a figure wears a green bird suit and at Chalcatzingo where another ruler sits on her throne surrounded by a maize landscape. At other sites there are also paintings of cave rituals, for example, at Cacahuazqui, Juxtlahuaca and Oxtotlan. Jade and ceramic were other popular materials for sculpture and also wood, some examples of which were remarkably well preserved in the bogs of El Manati. One of the gods most commonly rendered in small sculpture was God IV, sometimes called the Rain Baby, who is a toothless human baby with an open-mouth, cleft head and headband, sometimes with the addition of strips of crinkled paper hanging at the side of his face (another feature seen in the gods of later cultures and representing the paper and rubber sap strips which were burnt during rites as the smoke was thought to propitiate rain). Perhaps the most significant jade carving is the Kunz Axe, a ceremonial axe-head now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The jade has been worked to represent a were-jaguar creature using only jade tools and then polished, perhaps using a jade abrasive. Animals were a popular subject, especially those most powerful ones such as jaguars and eagles. Intriguingly, the Olmecs often buried their sculptures, even larger pieces, perhaps in a ritual act of memory. The Olmecs influenced the civilizations they came into contact with across Mesoamerica, particularly in sculpture in ceramic and jade and objects featuring Olmec imagery have been found at Teopantecuanitlan, 650 km distant from the Olmec heartland. In addition, many deities featured in Olmec art and religion such as the sky-dragon (a sort of caiman creature with flaming eyebrows) and the feathered-snake god, would reappear in similar form in later religions. The snake-god especially, would be transformed into the major gods Kukulcan for the Maya and Quetzalcoatl for the Aztecs. This artistic and religious influence, along with the features of precisely aligned ceremonial precincts, monumental pyramids, sacrificial rituals and ball-courts, meant that all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures would owe a great deal to their mysterious forerunners, the Olmecs. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. The stone head sculptures of the Olmec civilization of the Gulf Coast of Mexico (1200 B.C. - 400 B.C.) are amongst the most mysterious and debated artefacts from the ancient world. The most agreed upon theory is that, because of their unique physical features and the difficulty and cost involved in their creation, they represent Olmec rulers. Seventeen heads have been discovered to date, 10 of which are from San Lorenzo and 4 from La Venta; two of the most important Olmec centres. The heads were each carved from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their final 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 metres (9.8 feet, 14.7 feet) in circumference and average around 8 tons in weight. The heads were sculpted using hard hand-held stones and it is likely that they were originally painted using bright colours. 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-millenium B.C. 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. The subject often wears a protective helmet which was worn by the Olmec in battle and during the Mesoamerican ballgame. These can vary in design and pattern and sometimes the subject also has jaguar paws hanging over the forehead, perhaps representing a jaguar pelt worn as a symbol of political and religious power, a common association in many Mesoamerican cultures. Colossal Head 1 from La Venta, instead, has huge talons carved on the front of the helmet. Many of the stones are difficult to place in their original context as they were not necessarily found in the positions the Olmecs had originally put them. Some heads are also recarvings of other objects. For example, San Lorenzo Colossal Head 7 was originally a throne and has a deep indentation on one side and Altar 5 from La Venta seems to have been abandoned in the middle of such a conversion. Miller suggests that perhaps a specific ruler's throne was converted into a colossal portrait in an act of remembrance following that ruler's death. Many of the stones are difficult to place in their original context as they were not necessarily found in the positions the Olmecs had originally put them. Indeed, Almere Read suggests that even the Olmecs themselves regularly moved the heads around for different ritual purposes. Another theory is that the heads were used as powerful markers of rulership and distributed to declare political dominance in various territories. Interestingly, the four heads from La Venta were perhaps originally positioned with such a purpose in mind so that they stood as guardians to the sacred precinct of the city. Three were positioned at the northern end of the complex and the other one stood at the southern end; but all faced outwards as if protecting the precinct. These heads are very similar to the San Lorenzo heads but display a regional variance in that they are wider and more squat in appearance. That the other heads might have been discovered out of their original setting is suggested by the fact that very often they show signs of deliberate vandalism and most were buried sometime before 900 B.C. in what appears to have been a purposeful ritual distancing with the past. However, it has also been suggested that some of the heads were buried shortly after their production in a process of ancestor worship or that they were defaced and buried by subsequent rulers to legitimize their claim to power and exclude competing lineages. It could also be that they were even damaged in order to neutralize the dead ruler's power. Whatever the reason, the heads were buried and forgotten for nearly three thousand years until the first head was re-discovered, in 1871 A.D., with the last being excavated as recently as 1994 A.D. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. REVIEW: Scientists presented new evidence yesterday that the fabled Olmec, sculptors of ancient Mexico's colossal stone heads, were the region's first dominant civilization, a "mother culture" that served as the hub of lesser settlements. For decades, a debate has raged between scholars favoring the mother-culture hypothesis and those who argue that the Olmec were just one of several "sister" cultures that developed simultaneously. The Olmec are known for sculpted stone figures, such as one from the National Gallery of Art's 1998 exhibit "Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico." George Washington University's Jeffrey P. Blomster, leader of the team that examined pottery samples from Mexico and Central America, said at a news conference that chemical analysis of the clays and potsherds suggested that while other ancient settlements made pottery with symbols and designs in the "Olmec style," only the early Olmec themselves -- at San Lorenzo near Mexico's Gulf Coast -- exported their pottery. Local pottery did not have the prestige, Blomster said: "Higher-status houses [at other sites] had more access to the Olmec pottery. The difference was in having the real thing or a knockoff." The new research appeared in this week's edition of the journal Science and drew cries of foul from sister-culture proponents. Blomster's research team "has demonstrated that pots were traded," said archaeologist David C. Grove, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "They did not demonstrate that trade sent Olmec religious and political ideas" around the region as well. The University of Michigan's Kent V. Flannery, a leading sister-culture proponent, suggested in an e-mail that the Blomster team had sampled only pottery that looked as if it might have come from San Lorenzo. "It is simply not true that nobody else's ceramics show up in San Lorenzo." The Olmec arose more than 3,000 years ago near the present-day Mexican Gulf states of Veracruz and Tabasco. Known for spectacular sculpted basalt stone heads as much as 11 feet tall, the Olmec are regarded as the first Middle Americans to develop the region's monumental architecture. Besides the key Olmec settlements at San Lorenzo and La Venta, evidence of "Olmec-style" imagery and design is reflected in pottery at other contemporary sites. At a famous meeting of Olmec scholars in 1942, Mexican archaeologists suggested the Olmec were a "mother culture" whose ideas, religion and iconography were adopted and imitated by surrounding peoples. Later, however, other scholars described this view as overly simplistic. They said the surrounding cultures were as sophisticated as the Olmec, and as "sister cultures" had developed similar pottery styles and iconography from what Grove described as a regional "root style of unknown origin." Blomster and co-researchers -- Hector Neff of California State University at Long Beach and Michael D. Glascock of the University of Missouri -- did elemental analysis of 725 pottery and clay samples from San Lorenzo and six other sites prominent during the "late formative" Olmec period -- between 1,500 B.C. and 900 B.C. The analysis showed that all seven sites had Olmec-style pottery made from local clays, and all seven also had pottery made at San Lorenzo. But San Lorenzo had nothing from any of the other sites, and the other sites had nothing from one another -- only from themselves and San Lorenzo. Blomster described the results as a "really striking" demonstration that the Olmec in San Lorenzo "had something to offer that was of great interest." "The Gulf Coast Olmec created and synthesized their symbolism and disseminated it," he said. Grove, however, said that the study proved nothing and committed the sin of granting primacy to the Olmec when the evidence does not exist. "If the Olmec were so influential," he said in a telephone interview, "why didn't the sites they allegedly 'influenced' also borrow monument-making?" Precisely, countered Blomster, because only the San Lorenzo Olmec had the sophistication and organization to handle multi-ton building projects: "The elites can control massive amounts of labor. Other sites didn't have that kind of social differentiation." [Washington Post]. REVIEW: Between 1200 and 400 B.C., the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco in Mexico were the setting for a major cultural and artistic florescence among peoples now collectively known as Olmec, named after the Aztec word for the region (Olman, “place of rubber”). Olmec art is best known for colossal sculpture in volcanic stone and intricate works in jade, both media that were imported from faraway regions. Olmec artists were revolutionary for their time, establishing the first major widespread styles in Mesoamerica, laying the foundation for later innovation from the central Mexican metropolis of Teotihuacan south to the Maya area. After the spread of maize agriculture in the Early Formative period (circa 1800–1200 B.C.), people in the river valleys of Olman cooperated to construct monumental earthen platforms and mounds at the site of San Lorenzo, Veracruz. More research is needed to know about the society at San Lorenzo: for example, what they ate, where they lived, what they believed. They shared the common goal to invest in major building projects, engineering structures and creating large gathering spaces that transcended the functional needs of daily life. Evidence from the nearby site of El Manatí demonstrates that people were creating sculptures out of wood and stone early in San Lorenzo’s history. Rubber balls found at El Manatí are also some of the earliest evidence for the importance of a ballgame to Olmec peoples. Potters at San Lorenzo created sophisticated vessels out of white clay, such as globular containers known as tecomates, and black clay, such as incised and gouged bowls and zoomorphic vessels. They also began sculpting ceramic figures known as “babies,” named after their infant characteristics. Ceramic arts at San Lorenzo were exported and imitated in the Valley of Mexico, near modern-day Mexico City, at village centers such as Tlatilco, Tlapacoya, and Las Bocas. Experimentation with paste recipes and surface treatment for ceramic arts is especially evident in Olmec-period Mexico, even as far south as Guatemala and Honduras. Evidence of the earliest dynastic rulers in Mesoamerica comes from San Lorenzo’s famous colossal heads. Sculpted out of basalt imported over long distances, these portray stoic male faces with individualized headgear. The Olmec naturalism achieved in megalithic portraits extended also to portable stone sculptures, such as regalia related to the Mesoamerican ballgame, and ceramic figures, such as depictions of seated individuals and people with nonstandard bodies). No graves were ever excavated at San Lorenzo, and the few examples of Olmec writing remain undeciphered, so the identity of the possible leaders and residents of this important place have yet to be discovered. After about 900 B.C. the residents of San Lorenzo migrated away from the monumental center. To the east, people built a complex of platforms and a large pyramid at the site known as La Venta, Tabasco. La Venta architecture is distinguished by massive offerings composed of pavements made of rectangular greenstone slabs. In fact, the growth of La Venta as a center coincides with the influx of jade, from the Motagua River valley in Guatemala, and other types of greenstone from local sources into the Olmec region. Other offerings of greenstone axes and standing human figures excavated at La Venta are some of the most iconic works of Olmec art. Olmec mythological beliefs were expressed by La Venta–period artists in jade sculpture. They animated large symbolic axes by portraying supernatural figures with downturned mouths, almond eyes, and cleft heads. They also incised large celts with abstract images pertaining to the Olmec Maize God, depicted with L-shaped eyes, fangs, an elaborate headband, and a facial mask. Greenstone celts seemed to have held symbolic power as representations of maize sprouts. Olmec mythology was populated by a variety of characters, expressed as animal creatures that appear in jade sculptures, such as eagles or ducks. Regalia in jade, such as imitations of the claws of felines hint at the elaborate adornments worn by important Olmec leaders. Large stone sculpture at La Venta contains portraits of such leaders, both men and women, who are shown in standing portraits and mythological situations in which they emerge from caves or wrangle infant deities. After 400 B.C., however, the center of La Venta was abandoned and monumental building and sculpting ceased. Peoples at other Olmec centers, such as Tres Zapotes and Cerro de las Mesas, Veracruz, continued monumental sculpture and ceramic production for many more centuries. Later Mesoamerican cultures revered works of art created by the Olmec. Many Classic Maya rulers were buried with Olmec figurines or pendants passed down through many generations. Maya artists even inscribed several objects of Olmec origin with hieroglyphic inscriptions and images of early rulers. Costa Rican peoples in the first millennium A.D. imported Olmec works and Maya-inscribed Olmec objects for use in ritual regalia. Recently, archaeologists uncovered an offering at the Aztec Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan in which the Aztecs deposited an Olmec mask made 2,000 years prior. Olmec art lived on in ancient Mesoamerican aesthetic traditions as well. The sculptors and painters in Olmec-period Mexico were the first to portray many of the iconic features of self-proclaimed divine rulers in Mesoamerica. The Olmec legacy is seen in later Isthmian cultures that continued to sculpt greenstone into figures seated on benches, presumably the elite members of successor communities. Large stone sculptures, such as those featuring predatory felines, also continued to be a hallmark of art in descendent Mesoamerican societies until the arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century. [New York Metropolitan Museum]. REVIEW: The mysterious civilization of the Olmecs. Mexico is perhaps most well-known, archaeologically speaking, as the home of the Aztec civilization. Yet, before the arrival of the Aztecs, another sophisticated civilization, the Olmecs, ruled the region for almost 1000 years. Although pre-Olmec cultures had already existed in the region, the Olmecs have been called the cultura madre, meaning the ‘mother culture’, of Central America. In other words, many of the distinctive features of later Central American civilizations can be traced to the Olmecs. So, who were the Olmecs, and what was their culture like? The Olmec civilization flourished roughly between 1200 BC and 400 BC, an era commonly known as Central America’s Formative Period. Sites containing traces of the Olmec civilization are found mainly on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, specifically in the states of Veracruz and Tabasco. Although the Olmecs did have a system of writing, only few of their inscriptions are available to archaeologists at present. Moreover, there is not enough continuous Olmec script for archaeologist to decipher the language. As a result, much of what we know about the Olmec civilization is dependent on the archaeological evidence. For a start, the Olmecs left behind much of their artwork. The most famous of these are arguably the so-called ‘colossal heads’. These representations of human heads are carved from basalt boulders, and at present, at least seventeen of such objects have been found. The colossal heads measure between one and three metres in height, and seem to represent a common subject, i.e. mature men with fleshy cheeks, flat noses, and slightly crossed eyes. Incidentally, such physical features are still common amongst the people of Veracruz and Tabasco, indicating the colossal heads may be representations of the Olmecs themselves. Given the amount of resources needed to produce such objects, it may be speculated that these heads depict the Olmec elites or rulers, and were used as a symbol of power, perhaps like the colossal heads of Jayavarman VII at Angkor Thom in Cambodia. In addition, the Olmecs also produced miniature versions of these giant heads. One such object is a ‘stone mask’ in the British Museum. In contrast to the colossal heads, this mask, which is made of serpentine, is only 13 cm high. This mask has similar facial features to the colossal heads. Although such features can be seen in the descendants of the Olmecs, some scholars have speculated that the mask represented an African, Chinese or even a Mediterranean face. The mask also has four holes on its front, speculated to represent the four cardinal points of the compass. As the Olmec ruler was believed to be the most important axis in the world centre, it has been suggested that the mask represented an Olmec ruler. Furthermore, there are numerous circular holes on the face, indicating that face piercings and plugs were used by the Olmecs. Due to the lack of Olmec skeletons (they have been dissolved by the acidic soil of the rainforest), this mask may be the closest we can get to seeing what the Olmecs looked like. By 400 B.C., the Olmecs mysteriously vanished, the cause of which is still unknown. Although the Olmecs were only rediscovered by archaeologists relatively recently, i.e. after the Second World War, they were by no means a forgotten civilization. After all, the word Olmec itself (meaning ‘rubber people’) can be found in the Aztec language. It seems that the ‘Mesoamerican ballgame’, which was observed by the Spanish when they encountered the Aztecs, was invented by the Olmecs. As this game involved the use of a rubber ball, this may be the reason why the Olmecs were named as such by the Aztecs. This ballgame and several other features of Olmec civilization may be found in subsequent Central American civilizations. Thus, the Olmecs had a considerable amount of influence on these later cultures. As so little is known about the Olmecs today, it would require much more work and research to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of their importance to succeeding Central American societies. [Ancient Origins]. REVIEW: Hidden in the Glyphs: Deciphering Bilingual Mayan-Olmec Text. In my book, "Olmec Language and Literature", I explain how I deciphered the Olmec language. One of the most important documents used in my research was a Bi-lingual Mayan-Olmec text inscribed on a brick. Support for my decipherment of the Olmec writing comes from a bilingual Mayan-Olmec/Mande inscribed brick from Comalcalco (“in the house of earthenware" in Nahuatl). Comalcalco is a Mayan archaeological site found in Tabasco, Mexico. It was built by the Chontal and is the only ancient Maya city in Mexico entirely built in brick. Archaeologist Neil Steede found over 4000 inscribed bricks at this site. The Comalcalco site encompasses around 360 pyramids. Almost all the structures were built of fired bricks (tabiques). Nine of these pyramids were excavated between 1977-1978. This Mayan site has interesting architecture which served an important purpose. For example, "The Great Acropolis" was probably used for civil and religious practices. In addition to the fine temples, walls, and altars, elaborate “stucco” was used to face the constructions, which resemble images on the sub-pyramids of many Mayan sites and have analogy to Olmec iconography. Neil Steede became interested in the bricks in 1979 and he obtained permission to photograph them from the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Steede published many of the inscribed bricks from the Comalcalco ruins in a bilingual book entitled Preliminary Catalogue of the Comalcalco Bricks. One of the bricks, T1-452 R16, is a particularly fascinating artifact for those interested in Olmec-Mayan connections. This brick has a bilingual Mayan-Olmec inscription, with the Mayan inscription on the left and an Olmec/Malinke inscription on the right-hand side. The Olmec writing used on this brick is in the plain style. The plain Olmec style of writing was usually used to inscribe celts and other Olmec artifacts. There are two additional characters on the far right hand side of the brick which are also written in the plain Olmec style of writing. Dr. Alexander von Wuthenau advised Steede to send me copies of the images of the bricks before his publication of the Comalcalco Catalogue. He did this to determine if I could identify the writing on some of the bricks which Steede thought looked like scripts from the Old World. I immediately recognized that the T1-452 R16 brick appeared to include both Mayan and Olmec inscriptions. To test this hypothesis, I suggested to Steede that he decipher the Mayan inscription, and I would decipher the Olmec passage which had been partially defaced. Steede agreed to this test. He then divided the inscription into three segments we were both to decipher and we began our work. I sent a copy of my decipherment of T1-452 R16 to Steede. I included a translation of the Malinke inscription on the right-hand side of the T1-452 R16 brick, and the Olmec/Mande signs found inside the Mayan glyphs. In English, the Olmec plain signs read: "Thou exist incomplete. He is the manifestation of life, a talisman in this proximity. Give birth to this [funerary] habitation.” In contrast, the Olmec signs inside the Mayan glyphs say: "The person of considerable dignity is void of breath. [He goes to me the] Jaguar God. [He] is no longer alive/ or Powerful Righteousness! [His] Place of rest exist here.” Steede wrote me back on March 28, 1984 to say that his interpretation of the Mayan signs was almost identical to my translation of the Mayan and Olmec/Mande signs. He wrote: "1A shows a face with slashed eyes (blind or non=seeing), nostriless nose (non-breathing) and "clamped shut" mouth (non-speaking). This would indicate death alright, but below the cartouche is added onto by two breath scrolls on each side of an intricate sacrificial blade. These breath (or speak) scrolls indicate that the person in question has expressed that he feels as though he is "dead" spiritually and wishes to make a self-sacrifice." 1B underlines the fact that he is dead, but note the "S" in the ear of the jaguar. This indicates penitence, or repentance. Therefore, though the person is "dead" spiritually he has heard and accepted repentance. Therefore, 1A and 1B together would read extremely similar to your hieroglyphic translation. but almost exactly as your Manding translation. The person in question is considered to be incomplete until he accepts the priesthood. 2 is identical to your Manding translation and similar to your hieroglyphic interpretation. The part to the right is a dorsal fish fin." I don't have any notes in front of me but I believe it is Stela 1 of Izapa which shows that Quetzalcoatl "fishes" for all types of fish (men). This stela also implicates that the dorsal fish fin is associated with priesthood. Here we can see the fish fin "hatching" from an "egg?" or from "inner self?" The person in question is being born again as a priest. 3. I can't understand, but your rendering would seem to be correct. He is now at rest because he is (complete)." The translation of the Mayan side of this bilingual brick from Comalcalco, and other inscribed bricks from the site, indicates that it was probably a Mayan college where scribes learned Mayan writing and possibly pyramid construction. The bilingual text on T1-452 R16 also indicates that the Mayan scribes had to learn how to write Olmec inscriptions and translate them into the Mayan language. The fact that the Olmec inscriptions were defaced suggests that the scribes first wrote a piece in Olmec and then wrote the same inscription in the Mayan language(s) they studied. Reading from top to bottom, one sees the signs Ma yo. The interpretation of Ma yo in Olmec is the following: "It's done well--full of life". These signs appear to indicate a grade or comment on the brick, probably made by the instructor. This supports the view that Comalcalco was a college where Mayan initiates entering the priesthood and scribal classes learned how to write Mayan hieroglyphics. B. Stross (1973) mentions a Mayan belief in the foreign origin of Mayan writing. This idea is confirmed by Mayan oral tradition, Tozzer (1941), and C.H. Brown (1991), who claimed that writing did not exist among the Proto-Maya. Many experts agree that the Olmec people taught the Maya how to write (Schele & Freidel, 1990; Soustelle, 1984). Terrence Kaufman has proposed that the Olmec spoke a Mexe-Zoquean speech, however this view fails to match the epigraphic evidence. The Olmec people spoke a Manding (Malinke-Bambara) language and not Zoquean. There is a clear African substratum for the origin of Maya writing (Wiener, 1922). Mayanists also agree that the Proto-Maya term for writing was *c'ihb' or *c'ib'. The Mayan /c/ is often pronounced like the hard Spanish /c/ and has a /s/ sound. Brown (1991) argues that *c'ihb may be the ancient Mayan term for writing, but it cannot be Proto-Mayan because writing did not exist among the Maya until 600 BC. This was 1500 years after the breakup of the Proto-Maya (Brown, 1991). Landa's claims about the origin of Mayan writing support the linguistic evidence (Tozzer, 1941). Landa noted that the Yucatec Maya said they learned writing from a group of foreigners called Tutul Xiu, from Nonoulco (Tozzer, 1941). The Tutul Xiu were probably Manding-speaking Olmecs. The term Tutul Xiu can be translated with Manding: Tutul, "Very good subjects of the Order" and Xiu, "The Shi (/the race)". Thus, "The Shis (who) are very good Subjects of the cult-Order". The term Shi is also probably related to the Manding term Si, which was used as an ethnonym (name given to an ethnic group). The Mayan term for writing is derived from the Manding term: *se'be. There are various other terms used by the Manding/Mande people for writing. Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from the Cholan and Yucatecan Maya to other Mayan speakers. The term is probably derived from Manding *Se'be which is analogous to *c'ib'. This would explain the identification of the Olmec or Xi/Shi people as Manding speakers. There are also many cognate Mayan and Manding terms (Wiener, 1920-22). It is clear that the Olmecs introduced writing to the Maya. As a result, the Mayan term for writing is of Olmec/Mande origin. This view is confirmed by Steede and Winters’ decipherment of the Comalcalco brick T1-452 R16. [Ancient Origins]. REVIEW: What Makes the Olmec Culture So Unique and Alluring? The Olmecs were the first true Mesoamerican civilization. There were small villages and groups of people in the area in which the Olmec developed but these societies are referred to as Pre-Olmec. The Olmecs were a full-fledged civilization because they were more organized and socially advanced than their predecessors. There are differing opinions regarding the Olmec timeline. Some say the start was around 1500 BC, but the more popular timeline puts the beginning of the Olmec at roughly 1200 BC and the decline of the culture sometime near 400 BC. There are many theories about the downfall of the Olmec civilization such as catastrophic climate change, illness, volcanism, and overpopulation. The most recognizable artifacts created by the Olmecs are 17 colossal basalt heads that have been discovered across four different sites. The Olmec gathered basalt from boulders located in the Sierra de los Tuxtlas. These stones were very large and it is unknown how they moved them to their final resting places. The heads were shaped with percussion, hammerstones, and abrasives. The first archaeological investigations of the Olmecs didn’t begin until more than 75 years after the initial discovery of a colossal head. One of the first (and most famous) researchers to study the Olmec was Matthew Stirling. The Olmecs are unique for many reasons. It appears the Olmec culture developed alone. Most cultures develop with outside influences by engaging in activities such as trade and immigration. Developing independently is rare and when it happens the culture is known as ‘pristine’. The Olmec had several firsts in the Americas. They developed the first monumental architecture and first signs of city planning. They were the first known people to use a writing system in the Americas. Another first was the use of chocolate, which was their preferred drink. The name Olmec means “rubber people”. It’s how the Aztec tribes described the Olmecs and makes sense as they are the best candidates for inventing the first ball games. Evidence is not solely based upon Olmec influence at the oldest known ball courts, but also from several rubber balls discovered at a sacrificial bog called El Manati. Although archaeologists know that these Yugitos were involved in the Mesoamerican ball games, it is uncertain how they were used. The Olmecs are the earliest known civilization in the Americas to have used mathematics and had the concept of zero. The first calendar in long count format was discovered in the Olmec region of Tres Zapotes on the lower half of Stela C. The Olmecs inhabited the area around the Gulf Coast of Mexico, now the modern states of Tabasco and Veracruz. They took advantage of the fertile land. Several large cities have been attributed to them, including San Lorenzo, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, Las Limas, and Laguna de los Cerros. The first major city of the Olmec civilization was San Lorenzo, with a population of at least 15,000. It had a very elaborate drainage system that may have helped its success. The Olmecs achieved this feat by using carved stone pipes with lids. San Lorenzo had vast influence and political power in Mesoamerica. Ten amazing colossal heads were discovered there. The colossal heads represented rulers or elites. They differ from one another in facial characteristics and size. Each was also carefully carved with a distinctive headdress. The largest head at the San Lorenzo is 9.3 ft. (2.8 meters) high, 6.9 ft. (2.1 meters) wide, and weighs about 25.3 tons. The San Lorenzo colossal heads were at the center of the site and formed two lines oriented north-south. La Venta came into prominence around 900 BC. It had thousands of inhabitants and was about 200 hectares; though the power and influence of the city spread much further. Many people there had jobs such in farming, fishing, and moving stone blocks from distant quarries. Traders also ventured into the distant valleys of Mexico and beyond, bringing back cacao, bright feathers, obsidian, and jadeite. Others were members of the priesthood and the elite or ruling class. La Venta was built on top of a ridge along the Palma river. The royal compound existed at the very top. Four colossal heads were found at La Venta and three of the four were oriented in a line east-west. The placement of these monuments at both La Venta and San Lorenzo is very intriguing. La Venta had a Great Pyramid, which is thought to have been an important ceremonial and political center. Building of the pyramid is estimated to have begun around 1200 BC. It was the largest Mesoamerican structure of its time. It is 110 feet (33.5 meters) tall, and contains approximately 100,000 cubic meters of earth fill. It has never been excavated and scans of the area show a few interesting anomalies. There are other structures underneath the city - offerings to the gods. These include more than 1,000 tons of polished serpentine blocks, more than 48 individual deposits of pottery, hematite mirrors, jade celts, and complex mosaics. Tres Zapotes is the third major city. In 1862, Jose Melgar discovered the first Olmec colossal head there. This led to the first archaeological explorations in the area five years later. The city’s unique because it may have been inhabited for more than 2,000 consecutive years. It also shows artistic influences from several other groups. Tres Zapotes became prominent around the time that San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan declined. The decline of Olmec culture at Tres Zapotes occurred during the Middle Formative period, about 400 BC. This “decline” refers to the Olmec people losing unique cultural aspects. The city was not abandoned at this time, but became a mixed culture known today as the Epi-Olmec culture. Many believe that Epi-Olmec art, especially at Tres Zapotes, was less skilled. Less detail was used and lower quality items were produced. La Cobata was not an inhabited city - it was a basalt site located near the Sierra de los Tuxtlas. An offering of an obsidian knife was found buried with the colossal head found there. The knife was pointed North toward Monument Q’s head. The head at La Cobata was discovered in 1970 and is the largest found so far. It is the only Olmec head discovered with closed eyes. Olmec religion spurs the interest and debates of many scholars. Some regard the Olmec religious hierarchy as complex, while others call it simplistic compared to the Maya and Aztec pantheons. I view it as both complex and simplistic. Complex because it showed ingenuity in rituals and beliefs set in place with no major outside influence, but simplistic when compared with the Maya and Aztec pantheons. The Maya worshipped over 250 deities and the Aztec had more than 1,000 gods! Unfortunately, the identities of the Olmec gods have been lost to time. Because the Olmec language has yet to be deciphered, the only way to gain insight regarding their beliefs is by studying the images and symbols left behind on carvings and other artifacts. Information on who they worshiped and how they did so may change drastically in the future. But it appears the Olmec deities did not show gender, unlike the Aztec and Maya cultures that they ‘parented’. Shamanism was a central part of Olmec religion and images of shamans transforming is often depicted in their art. Shamans are shown performing acrobatics, sometimes with were-jaguar attributes. It seems that the Olmec thought very highly of jaguars and admired their strength, stealth, and prowess. One of the highest states of being you could achieve would be the ability to become one with the powerful jaguar. Therefore, shamans were very important people in Olmec religion. God I of the Olmec pantheon was the god of earth, sun, water, and fertility. and was also referred to as Earth Monster. It was sometimes depicted as a dragon with flaming eyebrows and a well-defined nose. This being’s connections suggest that it may have been a creator deity. It may also be the ancestor of the Maya Itazmna, Aztec Xiuhtecuhtli, and Mesoamerican god Huehueteotl. God II was the maize /corn god. It was usually depicted with a maize cob sprouting from a cleft in its head. Sometimes the being was shown as youthful or carved as a toothless infant. It had almond-shaped eyes, thick prominent lips, and a large flat nose. Carvings atop the heads of these statues were common. God II may have been the antecedent of all Mesoamerican corn deities. God III was a cosmological deity sometimes referred to as a bird monster and was associated with the sun, sky, and agricultural fertility. It was usually portrayed in bird-monster form which combined reptilian and avian features. It sometimes had flaming eyebrows. God IV is the Olmec god of rain and was an agricultural fertility deity. It was depicted as a were-jaguar. Usually it was shown wearing a headband, pectoral badges, and ear ornaments. God IV has characteristics that suggest it was the predecessor of the Aztec Tlaloc and the Maya Chac. God V is no longer a designation in the Olmec pantheon, but God VI represented spring and annual renewal. It was most often portrayed as a disembodied cleft head with almond-shaped eyes - one having a stripe across it. The name Banded-eye god is associated with this being. It was usually shown with a toothless, upturned grin. The only known depictions of this deity are in profile, usually carved on earthenware containers. In later years, the worship of this deity became rather hideous as priests would wear flayed human skins of sacrificial victims. God VII is a plumed or feathered serpent. It is the best known from the Olmec pantheon and was one of the earliest to have developed. Its counterparts include the Maya Kukulkan, and the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. God VIII was the Olmec fish god, sometimes called Fish Monster or Shark Monster. This being was associated with all bodies of water, from lakes to oceans. Its portrayed with crescent-shaped eyes, a somewhat human style nose, a small lower jaw, and a fish body. In fish form, it was sometimes depicted with a forked tail and a dorsal fin. God X is the last known god in the Olmec pantheon. It was a were-jaguar type being with the popular cleft head characteristic, a toothless mouth, and almond-shaped eyes. A definable motif of this god was the figure-eight symbol in its nostrils. This being was never shown wearing stripes or bands and was probably a lesser deity compared to the others in the Olmec pantheon. There is much confusion involving the Olmec pantheon. It is very difficult differentiating one deity from the next because their characteristics are so similar and Olmec examples so few. In fact, I have come across several internet sites and articles that have the deities listed incorrectly. More research needs to occur on individual deities in order to classify them accurately. [Ancient Origins]. I always ship books Media Mail in a padded mailer. This book is shipped FOR FREE via USPS INSURED media mail (“book rate”). All domestic shipments and most international shipments will include free USPS Delivery Confirmation (you might be able to update the status of your shipment on-line at the USPS Web Site) and free insurance coverage. A small percentage of international shipments may require an additional fee for tracking and/or delivery confirmation. If you are concerned about a little wear and tear to the book in transit, I would suggest a boxed shipment - it is an extra $1.00. Whether via padded mailer or box, we will give discounts for multiple purchases. International orders are welcome, but shipping costs are substantially higher. Most international orders cost an additional $9.99 to $37.99 for an insured shipment in a heavily padded mailer, and typically includes some form of rudimentary tracking and/or delivery confirmation (though for some countries, this is only available at additional cost). However this book is quite heavy, and it is too large to fit into a flat rate mailer. Therefore the shipping costs are somewhat higher than what is otherwise ordinary. There is a discount program which can cut postage costs by 50% to 75% if you’re buying about half-a-dozen books or more (5 kilos+). Rates and available services vary a bit from country to country. You can email or message me for a shipping cost quote, but I assure you they are as reasonable as USPS rates allow, and if it turns out the rate is too high for your pocketbook, we will cancel the sale at your request. ADDITIONAL PURCHASES do receive a VERY LARGE discount, typically about $5 per book (for each additional book after the first) so as to reward you for the economies of combined shipping/insurance costs. Your purchase will ordinarily be shipped within 48 hours of payment. We package as well as anyone in the business, with lots of protective padding and containers. All of our shipments are sent via insured mail so as to comply with PayPal requirements. We do NOT recommend uninsured shipments, and expressly disclaim any responsibility for the loss of an uninsured shipment. Unfortunately the contents of parcels are easily “lost” or misdelivered by postal employees – even in the USA. That’s why all of our domestic shipments (and most international) shipments include a USPS delivery confirmation tag; or are trackable or traceable, and all shipments (international and domestic) are insured. We do offer U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail, Registered Mail, and Express Mail for both international and domestic shipments, as well United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (Fed-Ex). Please ask for a rate quotation. We will accept whatever payment method you are most comfortable with. If upon receipt of the item you are disappointed for any reason whatever, I offer a no questions asked return policy. Send it back, I will give you a complete refund of the purchase price (less our original shipping costs). Most of the items I offer come from the collection of a family friend who was active in the field of Archaeology for over forty years. However many of the items also come from purchases I make in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) from various institutions and dealers. Though I have always had an interest in archaeology, my own academic background was in sociology and cultural anthropology. After my retirement however, I found myself drawn to archaeology as well. Aside from my own personal collection, I have made extensive and frequent additions of my own via purchases on Ebay (of course), as well as many purchases from both dealers and institutions throughout the world - but especially in the Near East and in Eastern Europe. I spend over half of my year out of the United States, and have spent much of my life either in India or Eastern Europe. In fact much of what we generate on Yahoo, Amazon and Ebay goes to support The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe connected with Anthropology and Archaeology. I acquire some small but interesting collections overseas from time-to-time, and have as well some duplicate items within my own collection which I occasionally decide to part with. Though I have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, my primary interest is in ancient jewelry. My wife also is an active participant in the "business" of antique and ancient jewelry, and is from Russia. I would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from me. There is a $2 fee for mailing under separate cover. Whenever I am overseas I have made arrangements for purchases to be shipped out via domestic mail. If I am in the field, you may have to wait for a week or two for a COA to arrive via international air mail. But you can be sure your purchase will arrive properly packaged and promptly - even if I am absent. And when I am in a remote field location with merely a notebook computer, at times I am not able to access my email for a day or two, so be patient, I will always respond to every email. Please see our "ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SALE." Condition: NEW (albeit faintly "shopworn" dustjacket). See detailed condition description below., Provenance: Olmec (Ancient MesoAmerica Mexico), Material: Paper, Publisher: Yale University (2010), Format: Oversized hardcover, Length: 272 pages, Dimensions: 11¾ x 10½ x 1 inch; 4½ pounds

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