La Venta Park, Tabasco--page 1 (of four pages)

flourished 900-400 BCE

La Venta is now assumed to have been the first culture in Mesoamerica which at its height had a population of nearly 20,000 with agricultural terraces built along the banks of the river, Rio Tonalá. Many elements of Mesoamerican art and architecture had their origins in Olmec culture: the building of cities with ball courts and pyramids, the depiction of their rulers or heroes, the incorporation of mythology/religion in their art. In addition, the central symbolic system and the calendar derive from Olmec foundations. Like the earlier Olmec site at San Lorenzo, La Venta appears to have been deliberately destroyed, perhaps around 400-300 BCE.

Colossal Heads

Head of a Warrior

Nick Rider explains that "some experts think these heads were 'portraits' of Olmec rulers, filtered to appear more jaguar-like, and shown wearing a kind of helmet believed to have been worn for the ball game" (419). They were arranged like guardian figures, facing outward from a central precinct. They may have been "portraits" of living rulers or striking memorials to deceased rulers. The style has often been commented on; these broad, squat heads, with flat faces and thick lips have been described as more African than Mesoamerican.

Old Warrior

Note the detail showing his teeth on the far right.

Young Warrior

Several of these heads appear to be wearing earplugs in addition to their head gear (worn either for war or in the ball games).

Left: Monumental head; center: Tattooed head; right: unfinished head

The last was apparently abandoned because of fractures in the work

Continue to page 2.

Work Cited:
Nick Rider. Yucatan and Mayan Mexico. UK: Cadogan, 2002.

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© 2004 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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