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 Location: Near Coatzalcolcos and Acayucan,Mexico.  Grid Reference: 19° 26.60' N, 99° 5.60' W.

 

      San Lorenzo: (Olmec City).

Early Olmec culture had emerged centred around the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. Among other "firsts", there is evidence that the Olmec practiced ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies.

San Lorenzo is best known today for the colossal Olmec stone heads unearthed there, the greatest of which weighs onwards of 40 tons (3) and is 3 metres high.

Not to be confused with the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán

 

 

 

   San Lorenzo: (Tenochtitlán)

The earliest evidence for Olmec culture is found at nearby El Manati, a sacrificial bog with artefacts dating to 1,600 B.C. or earlier. (1)

Until the early 1900's, the Maya civilization was considered to be the parent culture in Mesoamerica from which all other societies sprouted. There have been many Mayan sculptures and carvings found in the region, so all other carvings were also considered to be that of the Maya. One difference in the carving is that some carvings of large heads had faces with more African looking features than many of the other Mayan works. There was also evidence of a half-jaguar half-man beast, which also did not fit in with other Mayan finds. It wasn't until 1929, when Marshall H Saville, the Director of the Museum of American Indian in New York, classified these new works as an entirely new culture not of Mayan heritage. He named this culture Olmec, which means the "rubber people."

San Lorenzo was the largest city in Mesoamerica from roughly 1,200 B.C. to 900 B.C. at which time it had begun to be overtaken by the Olmec centre of La Venta. By 800 BCE, there was little or no population, although there was an important re-colonisation of the San Lorenzo plateau from 600 to 400 BCE and again from c. 800 to 1,000 B.C.

San Lorenzo seems to have been largely a ceremonial site, a town without city walls, centred in the midst of a widespread medium-to-large agricultural population. The ceremonial centre and attendant buildings could have housed 5,500 while the entire area, including hinterlands, could have reached 13,000. A royal processional aligned to the north-south axis of the plateau led the way to the centre. At the centre of the site are two palaces: the San Lorenzo Red Palace and the Stirling Acropolis. The Red Palace was a royal residence with a platform substructure, red floors, basalt roof support, steps and drain. The Stirling Acropolis may have been the sacred residence, and is surrounded by a pyramid, E-group and a ball-court.

San Lorenzo also boasted an elaborate drainage system which used buried, covered, channelled stones as a type of "pipe". Some researchers have inferred that the purpose of this system was not only to provide drinking water for the population but for ritual purposes as well, and that the rule was "intimately linked to the figure of a patron water supernatural". (2)


The Giant Stone Heads: An African Presence?

It has been argued that the presence of the giant Olmec stone heads is proof of an Pre-Columbian African presence in America. The Stone heads at La Venta in particular have been commonly cited as having 'Negroid' features (3), Ten (5) were discovered at San Lorenzo, four at La Venta and others at Tres Zapotes. The largest at San Lorenzo is said to be nine feet, four inches high, and is estimated to weigh around 40 tons. (3)

 Colossal Head 1 now located at Museo de Antropología de Xalapa in Xalapa, Veracruz. This head dates from 1,200 to 900 B.C. and is 2.9 metres high and 2.1 metres wide.

Two more heads from San Lorenzo.

Ten colossal stone heads representing heads of past and present rulers have been found at San Lorenzo. Evidence suggests that these heads were plastered and painted in bright colours. They were arranged in ensembles and set in a plaza paved with red sand and yellow gravel. Sarcophagus-shaped thrones linked living kings with their ancestors. (5)

(More about the  Olmec Stone Heads)

 

Olmec Writing:

In 1939, an excavation of an Olmec site found a stela, which changed all views on the Maya being the oldest civilization. One side had Olmec carvings while the other showed a row of dots and bars, believed to be a dating method. According to the numbers on the stela, the Olmec had recorded a date almost 300 years earlier than that of the earliest Mayan carved monument. (4)

 

(Olmecs Homepage)

(La Venta)   (Tres Zapotes)

(The Olmec Stone Heads)

(Other Prehistoric Mexican Sites)

(Pre-Columbian Americas Homepage)

 

References:

1). J.E. Clark,  "Gulf Lowlands: South Region", in Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: an Encyclopedia, 2000.
2).  A. Cyphers. "From Stone to Symbols: Olmec Art in Social Context at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán", in Social Patterns in Pre-Classic Mesoamerica. 1999. Dumbarton Oaks.
3). Ivan Van Sertima, African presence in Early America, 1992, Transaction Publishers.
4). http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/meso_america/sanlorenzo.html
5). http://archaeology.about.com/od/saterms/qt/san_lorenzo.htm

 

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