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MYSTERIOUS MONUMENTS – The Olmec Heads, Mexico

Olmec heads

The Olmec heads, a collection of seventeen colossal heads of the Gulf Coast of Mexico, are amongst the most mysterious and debated artifacts from the ancient world. These enormous heads, weighing between 20 to 40 tons and reaching up to three meters in height, were carved from basalt rocks. All portray mature men with fleshy cheeks, flat noses, and slightly crossed eyes. Their physical characteristics resemble a type that is still common among the inhabitants of Tabasco and Veracruz. The first colossal head was found by a Mexican farmer in 1850 and the world became aware of it in 1869. However, almost after a century, at least not before 1942,  it was publicly asserted that the Olmec was the Mother Culture of Mesoamerica (Mexico plus Central America). Seventeen heads (c. 1400-1000 B.C.) have been discovered so far, in four significant Olmec sites in Mexico, viz, La Venta, San Lorenzo, Tres Zapotez and Laguna de Los Cerros.

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Olmec heads

The heads were carved from boulders, which were brought from the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas Mountains of Veracruz. This means, the huge stone slabs were transported over 150 kilometres from the source of the stone to the corresponding  sites. However, the exact method of transportation of such large masses of rock is unknown, especially since the Olmec people lacked beasts of burden and conception of wheels.

Each head is carved with a distinctive headdress, leading people to believe that they were meant to be leaders or representations of the powerful Olmec rulers.  Others claim that the face structure featured on the heads correspond to that of an African male, suggesting that this might be indicative of an advanced African Civilization visiting the America in prehistoric times.

Interested persons may note here that, between 1500 and 400 BC,the Olmec civilization developed in the lowlands of southeastern Mexico   The Olmec heartland  lies on the Gulf Coast of Mexico within the states of  Veracruz and Tabasco, covering an area of about 275 kilometres (171 mi) east to west and extending about 100 kilometres (62 mi) inland from the coast. The Olmec is regarded as the first civilization to develop in Mesoamerica and the Olmec heartland is one of the six cradles of civilization worldwide, the others being the Norte Chico culture of South America, the Indus Valley Civilization of the Indian Subcontinent, the Erlitou culture of China’s Yellow River, the Sumerian Civilization of ancient Iraq, and  the civilization of ancient Egypt. Of these, only the Olmec civilization developed in a lowland tropical forest setting.

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Olmec heads

Dominating Central America over a millennium before the Mayans and over two millennia before the Aztecs appeared in Central America, the Olmec reigned supreme. Their civilization reigned over Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and their influence extended throughout Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. They had a rich and vibrant culture, establishing many of the traditions found in the latter Mayan and Aztec cultures.

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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