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The Olmec: A Colossal Contribution

The San Lorenzo Olmec Head | photo by: Jason Z. Guest

The Olmec are a fascinating wrinkle in Mesoamerican time. Their major center of culture existed over 3,000 years ago, stemming from the modern-day Mexican State of Veracruz. This Pre-Columbian civilization, preceding both the Mayans and Aztecs, delivered many “firsts” to the world, including competitive sports, art across a variety of media, ritualized bloodletting, the invention of zero, cyclical calendars, human sacrifice and written record.  Scientists even suggest the Olmec may have preceded the Chinese in plotting their travels, having navigated by magnetic minerals, prior to an introduction of the compass.

One of their most noble artistic contributions is the colossal, helmeted head. To date, seventeen are known to exist. Carved from single blocks of volcanic basalt, each stands as a forbidding, massive structure of up to fifty tons in weight. Pictured here is an exact replica of San Lorenzo Monument number 1 found on display at the University of Texas at Austin, just outside of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), an interdisciplinary organization of enormous proportion, whose mission is:

to improve knowledge and understanding of Latin America through education, research, and exchange. LLILAS programs serve UT students enrolled in related courses; UT faculty members specializing in Latin America; UT academic support units with major involvement in the region; civic, nonprofit, and business associations with activities in Latin America; academic leaders and institutions from Latin America with collaborative agreements with LLILAS; governmental and multilateral agencies dedicated to social and economic betterment in Latin America; and the general public in Texas and the United States whose world outlook includes Latin America.

by: Jason Z. Guest