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 Location: Tabasco, Mexico.  Grid Reference: 18 06' 12" N, 94 02' 25" W.

 

      La Venta: (Ceremonial Olmec Centre).

 

La Venta was inhabited by people of the Olmec Culture from 1200 BC until 400 BC after which the site appears to have been abandoned. It is believed to have been an important civic and ceremonial centre.

Today, the entire southern end of the site is covered by a petroleum refinery and has been largely demolished, making further excavations difficult or impossible.

(Click here for a Map of the Site)

 

 

   La Venta:

Although the earliest layer of occupation at La Venta dates to 1200 BCE, La Venta did not reach its apogee until the decline of San Lorenzo, after 900 BCE. After 500 years of pre-eminence, La Venta was all but abandoned by the beginning of the fourth century BCE. (2)

The La Venta pyramid complex.

Beneath the mounds and plazas were found a vast array of offerings and other buried objects, more than 50 separate caches by one count, including buried Jade celts, polished mirrors made of iron-ores, and five large "Massive Offerings" of Serpentine blocks. It is estimated that 'Massive Offering 3' contains 50 tons of carefully finished serpentine blocks, covered by 4,000 tons of clay fill. (4)

 

The Great Pyramid: One of the earliest pyramids known in Mesoamerica, the Great Pyramid is 110 ft (33 m) high and contains an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of earth fill. The current conical shape of the pyramid was once thought to represent nearby volcanoes or mountains, but recent work by Rebecca Gonzalez-Lauck has shown that the pyramid was originally a rectangular pyramid with stepped sides and inset corners, and the current shape is most likely due to 2500 years of erosion. The pyramid itself has never been excavated, but a magnetometer survey in 1967 found an anomaly high on the south side of the pyramid. Speculation ranges from a section of burned clay to a cache of buried offerings to a tomb.

(Other Pre-Columbian pyramids)    

 

 

What were once assumed to be seven basalt "altars" were found at La Venta. These altars, roughly 2 meters high and twice as wide, feature an elaborately dressed and sculpted figure on the centre front. 

Photo: Altar 4.

It is now believed that these altars are the record of a dynasty, with each figure representing a ruler.

 

The La Venta Stone Heads: (An African presence in Mexico..?)

Four heads were found at La Venta, all of them faced the Atlantic, and the largest at 9ft high had its domed top flattened so that it could function as an altar. The La Venta heads show several similarities to the Tres Zapotes heads, which were discovered before them. It emerged that they dominated the ceremonial plaza, a feature which suggests that they were in some way 'revered'. A speaking tube was found going in at the ear and out at the mouth; a possible oracle or talking god. Radio carbon dates from the site were published in 1957 and they give an average reading of 814 BC +/- 134 yrs.  These figures were among the oldest at the La Venta site.

La Venta was not alone in its depiction of Negroid faces in stone. Apart from the four found there, two were excavated in Tres Zapotes and a further five at San Lorenzo in Vera Cruz, one of which, the largest known, is nine feet, four inches high, and is estimated to weigh around 40 tons. (3)

The La Venta heads are thought to have been carved by 700 BCE, but possibly as early as 850 BCE, while the San Lorenzo heads are credited to an earlier period. The colossal heads can measure up to 9 ft 4 in. in height and weigh several tons. The sheer size of the stones causes a great deal of speculation on how the Olmecs were able to move them. The major basalt quarry for the colossal heads at La Venta was found at Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains, over 80 km away. (1)

This Guatemalan Stone-head was once a part of the great Monte Alto culture, which is believed by some to have preceded the Olmec culture. It was unfortunately destroyed in the process of removing it. The Monte Alto region has also produced several stone heads, many of which have been found to be naturally magnetic.

Of the collection of "fat boy" sculptures from Monte Alto on display in the town park of La Democracia, Guatemala and in front of its local museum, four of the heads and three of the bodies were found to have magnetic properties. All four of the heads have a north magnetic pole located in their right temples, while three of them have south magnetic poles below the right ear and the fourth (that in front of the museum) has a south magnetic pole in its left temple, Such a pattern of occurrence is unlikely to be a matter of chance, even in a sample size as small as four. (5)

(More about the Olmec Stone Heads)

(More about the Magnetic 'Fat-boys')

(Other Guatemalan Sites)

 

 "La Venta Offering No. 4."

What appears to be a ceremony was modelled and buried below the surface of a temple courtyard at some 3,000 years ago. Some unknown time after the initial burial, the site was opened again through the courtyard floor (clearly, someone knew exactly where the burial was located) and excavated to the level of the heads of the buried figurines. After this "inspection", the offering was covered up again and never opened again until recent time. Note the elongated skulls, a feature which became common in several pre-Columbian cultures, noticeably in the Paracas, Maya and Inca's.

(More about Cranial Deformation)

 

Monument 19: The earliest known example of a feathered serpent in the Americas.

This beautifully carved stone shows what appears to be a person sitting on a feathered serpent. The ceremonial nature of the site makes it likely that this representation held an importance to the Olmecs, presumably symbolising an event or a person. It is interesting to note that there have been suggestions that La Venta was inhabited by people with old-world connections such as representations of bearded people (which is a genetic trail absent from native Americans), the large life-like stone heads with clearly Negriod features (above), but it is interesting to note also the object being held out by the hand...

In consideration the of the theory forwarded by Van Sertima (3) and others, that the 'Olmec' site of La Venta was governed by Negroid Africans and Middle-eastern Caucasians (between 800-600 BC), there is a strong case for the re-appraise the symbolism behind this particular sculpture.

 

This same symbols appears together in several Mesopotamian reliefs.

These 'Griffins' are from Nimrud, from the time of  Ashurnasirpal II,  who opened his great city in 879BC.

(In this frieze it appears that 'cobs' are being 'harvested' from what is often referred to as the 'tree of life'). It should be remembered that corn was a specifically new-world plant.

 

Another representation of a winged figure, this time presenting the 'cob' to someone of importance in this Mesopotamian frieze...

(More about Pre-Columbian contact between the Old-world and New-world cultures)

 

 

 

(Left): Statue of a bearded man from La Venta.

 

 

 

 

Archaeo-astronomy - On the archaeological site plan for La Venta it is easy to see how the site is aligned slightly west, 8 west of north. Several other Mesoamerican sites have this alignment, including San Jose Magote

 

(Olmecs Homepage)

(San Lorenzo)   (Tres Zapotes)

(The Olmec Stone Heads)

(Mexico Homepage)

(Pre-Columbian Americas Homepage)

 

References:

1). Coe, Michael; Snow, Dean; Benson, Elizabeth; (1986) Atlas of Ancient America; Facts on File, New York.
2). Diehl, Richard A. (2004) The Olmecs: America's First Civilization, Thames & Hudson, London.
3). Ivan Van Sertima, African presence in Early America, 1992, Transaction Publishers.
4). Heizer, Robert F. (1967) "New Observations on La Venta", in Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
5). http://www.authenticmaya.com/monte_alto.htm
 

 

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