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Archaeologists Find Ancient Olmec Reliefs Dating Back 2500 Years

A collage showing the Olmec Reliefs. Image Credits: INAH.

Archeologists have discovered two ancient Olmec Reliefs believed to date back around 2,500 years.

Archaeologists have discovered ancient Olmec heads, believed to date back 2,500 years. The artifacts are thought to represent the rulers of the Usumacinta region in present-day Tabasco. As well as sculpting them in three dimensions, the Olmec civilization also created “contortionist” reliefs on circular stones in its late phase (900-400 BC). Two of these monuments, which are portraits of local rulers, are thought to originate from the municipality of Tenosique and were discovered in a house in Villahermosa, Tabasco, by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which is part of the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Mexico.

Beautiful limestone reliefs

The director of the INAH Tabasco Center, Carlos Arturo Giordano Sánchez Verín, emphasized that the discovery of these sculptures was the result of a report made by a researcher from the Center for Mayan Studies, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Tomás Pérez Suárez, who was informed of their existence in June 2019. The limestone reliefs, with an approximate diameter of 1.40 meters, feature the same iconography: an upper part with four corncobs forming a diadem. In the center is the so-called “Olmec cross,” often associated with the jaguar. The Olmec Cross marks the attire of the elite.

Grumpy mouth statues

On the sides of the scene are footprints, in front are crossed arms, and in the middle is a face from which a “grumpy mouth” protrudes, alluding to the jaguar’s roar. The INAH Tabasco Center received an anonymous tip that these reliefs were located in Tabasco’s capital city. The location was then visited by Carlos Giordano Vern and José Luis Romero Rivera, who confirmed the authenticity of the reliefs. According to the person who held the documents before turning them over to the authorities, the artifacts were discovered on a ranch in Tenosique. This was after its owners were working on agricultural land.

An estimated weight of around 700 kilograms,

Hence, researchers will explore the exact location where the artifacts were uncovered to date them with greater precision and look for more similar objects. Experts will now work on transporting the objects, each of which has an estimated weight of around 700 kilograms, from Villahermosa to the Site Museum of the Archaeological Zone of Pomoná, in Tenosique, which houses the largest collection of this type of relief. For his part, archaeologist Tomás Pérez Suárez explained that these monuments come from the Middle Usumacinta region, located between the mouth of the Chacamax River to the Usumacinta and the mouth of the San Pedro River.

Late Olmec horizon

Among the reliefs known from the late Olmec horizon, when La Venta emerged as the guiding center of the central area of ​​this civilization, five of them represent figures of “contortionists.” One figurine comes from Balancán and is on display at the Regional Museum of Anthropology in Villahermosa; another one is from Ejido Emiliano Zapata and is in the Pomoná Site Museum; and three from Tenosique, a collection that features one artifact discovered in 2000, and the recently found two. So, what do these ancient artifacts have in common? According to experts, they feature the same iconography displaying large faces, possibly of local rulers, who also practiced contortionism, not in a playful sense but ritually.

Divine ceremonies

During divine ceremonies, the characters achieve trance states by adopting the position in which they are depicted, which reduces blood flow to the brain. The people could reach trans states through divinatory ceremonies that confer great powers. The evolution of these faces into Mayan ajaw altars, such as those at the Caracol site in Belize, should tell us about the permanence of this theme for more than three centuries, already for the Early Classic and Late Classic periods (495 to 790 AD).

Portraits of local chiefs

The word ajaw means “the one who shouts,” “the one who commands,” “the one who orders,” and in these Mayan monuments, the mouth stands out, a feature that must come from Olmec times, especially from these circular “contortionist” reliefs that are portraits of local chiefs. This stylistic transition is understandable because the coastal plains of Tabasco underwent a process of “Mayanization,” around 500-300 BC, which accelerated sometime later with the dominance of Palenque, Chiapas, over the area,” concluded experts.

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