Interesting Facts About Olmec Heads: The Most Recognized Symbol Of The Olmec Civilization



The Olmec civilization, which thrived along Mexico’s Gulf Coast from about 1200 to 400 B.C., was the first major Mesoamerican culture. The Olmec colossal heads are at least seventeen monumental stone representations of human heads sculpted from large basalt boulders.
The Olmec were a people who lived about 3000 years ago in what is today south-central Mexico. The Olmec were the first civilization in the ancient area known as Mesoamerica. Because they were the first civilization, many later Mesoamerican civilizations used and repeated Olmec features and characteristics.
The Olmec people discovered and made use of many natural resources in the area, including rubber and corn. Dozens of mysterious stone heads were discovered in the Olmec territory as well; archaeologists are still not sure what their purposes were.
The Olmec were extremely talented artists, and their most lasting artistic contribution is without a doubt the enormous sculpted heads they created.
These sculptures have been found at a handful of archaeological sites, including La Venta and San Lorenzo. Originally thought to depict gods or ballplayers, most archaeologists now say they believe they are likenesses of long-dead Olmec rulers.
Let’s now explore some interesting facts about Olmec Heads:
1. The Olmec colossal heads are the most recognized symbol of the Olmec civilization. The height and weights of the heads vary, but the largest head is about twice the height of an average human male. They include seventeen heads found in the southern Mexican cities of La Venta, San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, Tres Zapotes, and Rancho la Cobata
2. The discovery of a colossal head at Tres Zapotes in the nineteenth century spurred the first archaeological investigations of Olmec culture by Matthew Stirling in 1938. Seventeen confirmed examples are known from four sites within the Olmec heartland on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
3. Perhaps the most notable features of the sculptures–and a clue as to their meaning–are the helmets worn by all the Olmec heads. These helmets, together with rubber balls found near the sculptures, may be evidence that the Mesoamerican ballgame originated with the Olmec civilization.
The Mesoamerican ballgame was a team sport with profound religious and cultural significance for the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America. The Olmec heads were once thought to have represented Mesoamerican ballplayers who were sacrificed after losing a match.
The current theory, however, is that the heads honor Olmec rulers. It is unknown whether these rulers are meant to be dressed as ballplayers.
4. The Olmec colossal heads are important historically and culturally to modern Mexicans. The heads have taught researchers much about the culture of the ancient Olmec. Their greatest value today, however, is probably artistic. The sculptures are truly amazing and inspirational and a popular attraction at the museums where they are housed. Most of them are in regional museums close to where they were found, while two are in Mexico City. Their beauty is such that several replicas have been made and can be seen around the world.
5. Dating the monuments remains difficult because of the movement of many from their original contexts prior to archaeological investigation. Most have been dated to the Early Preclassic period (1500–1000 BC) with some to the Middle Preclassic (1000–400 BC) period.
The smallest weighs 6 tons, while the largest is variously estimated to weigh 40 to 50 tons, although it was abandoned and left unfinished close to the source of its stone.
6. Several colossal heads have been loaned to temporary exhibitions abroad; San Lorenzo Colossal Head 6 was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1970.
San Lorenzo colossal heads 4 and 8 were lent to the Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico exhibition in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., which ran from 30th June to 20th October 1996.
San Lorenzo Head 4 was again loaned in 2005, this time to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The de Young Museum was loaned San Lorenzo colossal heads 5 and 9 for its Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico exhibition, which ran from 19th February to 8 May 2011.

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