The land where the god where born

  • Giulio Magli

The date on which the Americas were first populated by humans is still the subject of heated debate. Once it was not put any earlier than 12000 BC, but today the date is increasingly being pushed back in time. Whatever the truth, agriculture seems to have been firmly established in the valley of central Mexico around 5000 BC, and the production of pottery maybe dated to around 2000 BC. Immediately afterward, around 1500 BC, civilization “exploded” with the Olmec culture (c. 1500–200 BC).

The appearance of the Olmecs has often been considered something of an embarrassment, an “undoubtedly gradual process of which some details are missing,“ as one author stated. Their very existence was, for some authors, including the famous Maya scholar Eric Thompson (this name will be cropping up a great deal later), quite unthinkable, an idea to be rejected until such time as we have overwhelming evidence in its favor. In fact, however, as I have already said, it is extremely doubtful whether human history always (or indeed ever) evolves in a slow, uniform, systematic way. Besides, as far as we know, the Olmecs were a sudden, one-off phenomenon, without any formative antecedents (Soustelle 1996).

The main known Olmec sites—La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and San Lorenzo — are to be found in the modern state of Veracruz. These sites, like the megalithic sites in Europe, are “silent.” Indeed, though the introduction of writing into Mesoamerica can undoubtedly be attributed to the Olmecs, or at least to the period of transition that linked the Olmecs with the central Mexican civilization of the final centuries before Christ, evidence of Olmec script is extremely limited and it has remained idecidpherable to this day. In any case, unlike what happened in the east, where it would appear that economics and the need to record merchants' transactions led to creation of the written world, all known inscriptions in Mesoamerica are definitely of the ceremonial kind.


Mexico City Summer Solstice Cardinal Point Human Sacrifice Sacred Landscape 
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© Springer-Verlag New York 2009

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  • Giulio Magli

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