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       The Olmecs: (The 'Rubber People')

The Olmecs are one of the most fascinating civilisations in the Pre-Columbian Americas. They are easily recognised by their creative, enigmatic, and soulful artwork; They were the first to introduce ball-courts and they are candidates for the first writing and the initiation of the long-count. All of these features are seen in later Meso-American cultures justifying the Olmecs status as one of the forefathers of American civilisation.

(Quick-links)

 

Chronology: The Olmecs existed as a fully-fledged civilisation in Mesoamerica from approx' 1,600 BC - 400 BC, with evidence of 'Pre-Olmec' activity in the region since 2,500 BC, but it wasn't until around 1,500 BC that they became the dominant power in Mesoamerica. The first Olmec centre, San Lorenzo, was more or less abandoned around 900 BC at about the same time that La Venta rose to prominence. A wholesale destruction of many San Lorenzo monuments also occurred c. 950 BC, which may indicate an internal uprising or, less likely, an invasion. The latest thinking, however, is that environmental changes may have been responsible for this shift in Olmec centres, with certain important rivers changing course.

Following the decline of San Lorenzo, La Venta became the most prominent Olmec centre, lasting from 900 BC until its abandonment at around 400 BC. La Venta sustained the Olmec cultural traditions, but with spectacular displays of power and wealth. The Great Pyramid was the largest Mesoamerican structure of its time. Buried deep within La Venta, lay opulent, labour-intensive "offerings" – 1000 tons of smooth serpentine blocks, large mosaic pavements, and at least 48 separate deposits of polished jade celts, pottery, figurines, and hematite mirrors.

(More about La Venta)

(Image Credits:http://www.latinamericanstudies.org)

 

 

 

   The Multi-cultural Olmecs:

A Selection of Facial Types in Olmec Art.

Collossal Stone Head.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Olmecs is their lifelike portrayal of different racial types in their art. From the earliest discoveries of the huge carved-stone 'African' heads, to the extraordinary similarity to the Chinese Shang culture in art and text, the Olmecs appear to have been influenced by several racial types, making them possibly one of the earliest true multi-cultural societies in the Americas. There has been much debate over this issue, although the evidence is in favour of the probability of contact with old-world cultures from both the Pacific and the Atlantic, it is yet to be officially accepted by academia. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Gulf of Mexico is the narrowest continental separation between the two oceans.

The following 'circumstantial' examples illustrate the similarities between the two cultures, and why the theory has gained weight.

 

Evidence to Support an Oriental Connection:

'According to several authors, including Mike Xu, professor of Chinese studies at the University of Central Oklahoma, the Olmecs are descendants of ancient Chinese. The Olmec culture began around 1500 BC, at around the same time as China’s Shang dynasty (c. 1,766 to 1,122 B.C.). According to ancient chronicles of that era, when the Zhou were invading and plundering the Shang, records state that the son of the emperor brought 25,000 adepts toward the “eastern ocean.”

'Ancient Olmec artefacts give the theory further substance. The written language found on the Olmecs’ jars, pottery, and statues reveals what could be the actual influence of Chinese culture. Professor Xu points out that various words found on these decorative objects match exactly with those used in Shang China: Sun, Mountain, Artist, Water, Rain, Sacrifice, Health, Plants, Wealth, and Earth. In fact, the majority of the 146 characters used by the Olmecs are exactly the same as primitive Chinese writing. When Xu showed the Olmec artefacts to university students involved in analyzing primitive Chinese culture, they actually believed it was ancient Chinese script'. (3)

Back in the 1960s, the renowned Smithsonian archaeologist Betty Meggers argued that similarities between the pottery of the contemporaneous Valdivia culture in Ecuador and Japan’s Jomon culture indicated that Japanese fishermen had “discovered” America about 5,000 years ago. Whilst the theory was lambasted by critics, the largest ever genetic study of native South Americans was conducted recently, and the results identified a sub-population in Ecuador with a clear link to eastern Asia. The study, published in PLOS Genetics, concluded that Asian genes had been introduced into South America sometime after 6,000 years ago — the same time the Jomon culture was flourishing in Japan. (9)

(More about Prehistoric Japan)

Taotie's (Gluttonous Ogre Masks).

Left, Jade carving from the Shang Dynasty. China c. 1600 - 1100 BC. (1), Right, Olmec Jaguar-God masks.

 

A Reverence for Jade.

Both Chinese and Olmec cultures are known for their reverence for Jade. In China, Jade has been mined since 6,000 BC (4) Jade is considered to be comparable to gold or diamonds, and was used for the finest carvings, objects d'art,  and royal grave furnishings. In Mesoamerica, Jade was equally valued and was esteemed by both the Olmec and  Mayan elite.

Jade 'Celt' from the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 - 771 BC)

Olmec Jade 'Celt' from Mexico. (c. 1100 - 600 BC)

 

Both the Olmecs and the Chinese had a strong tradition of making jade face masks. They have been found in various settings but are generally considered to be 'funerary' in nature.

This exquisite Jade mask was recently discovered (2012) under the 'Pyramid of the Sun' in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

(Link to Article: http://www.presstv)

 

This 'wrestler' from La Venta has clear Asian characteristics: The beard is not found in the Amerindian genotype.

 

Evidence to Support an African Connection:

The huge stone heads in the Mexican jungles were first officially described in 1938 by a Dr. Stirling, who said of them that they were:

 '...unique amongst aboriginal American sculptures, it is remarkable for its realistic treatment. The features are bold and it is amazingly negroid in character'.

They have since been termed 'negroid' in appearance by various authorities since, but this is in itself, is considered insufficient proof of an African contact. The early suggestions of a Pre-Columbian contact with Africans by Van Sertima and others, have since been confirmed by associated studies in Craniology, Genetics and Linguistics.

Craniology: In 1972, craniologist Andrzej Wiercinski reported that 13.5% of the 76 fragmentary crania from Tlatilco, a site associated with the Olmec civilization, showed "a clear prevalence of the total Negroid pattern" (Jordan 1992). Wiercinski measured the skulls for 48 morphological traits, but focused on the traits he considered best for discriminating between the "three great races of man" (Van Rossum 2004). The remains were dated to the Pre-Classic Period (1,500 BCE-300 CE), well before the arrival of Columbus. (5)

African Skeletal Remains In Mexico: http://bafsudralam.blogspot.com/2009/10/dr.html

The Mali Empire: Perhaps more than coincidentally, North African sources describe what some consider to be visits to the New World by a Mali fleet in 1,311. (15) According to these sources, 400 ships from the Mali Empire discovered a land across the ocean to the West after being swept off course by ocean currents. Only one ship returned, and the captain reported the discovery of a western current to Prince Abubakari II; the off-course Mali fleet of 400 ships is said to have conducted both trade and warfare with the peoples of the western lands. It is claimed that Abubakari II abdicated his throne and set off to explore these western lands. In 1324, the Mali king Mansa Musa is said to have told the Arabic historian, Al-Umari that "his predecessors had launched two expeditions from West Africa to discover the limits of the Atlantic Ocean."

Monument 'Q' From Tres Zapotes.

(Right): The rear of Monument Q showing Ethiopian style braided hair.

Genetics: According to the findings of a Dr. de Garay, the director of the Genetic Program of the National Commission of Nuclear Energy in Mexico. Dr. de Garay identified the malaria resistant mutant gene, that produces sickle cells, in the blood of the Lacandones Indians, one of the oldest and most secluded tribes in Mexico. This tribe, of Mayan stock, who inhabit the forests of the upper waters of the Usumacinta river have not been known to mix with outsiders in post-Columbian times yet they possess a gene that is “usually found only in the blood of black people.” (19)

The following comment by F. Hayes Ph.D. is also very telling. In 1854, at the National Emigration Convention of Coloured People, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a statement was issued to the African inhabitants of the United States of America regarding the necessity for leaving the USA as the only alternative left for them. Within that statement was the following observation:

'And among the earliest and most numerous class, who have found their way to the new world, were those of the African race. And it has been ascertained to our minds beyond a doubt, that when the continent was discovered, there were found in the West Indies and Central America, tribes of the black race, fine looking people, having the usual characteristics of colour and hair, identifying them as being originally of the African race'. (20)

Article: GambiaEcho (2011). 'Africans in Pre Columbian America'. (Quick-link)

(The Carved Olmec Stone-Heads)

(Old-world / New-world Contact)

 

 

 

   The Olmecs and Writing:

There have now been several discoveries of 'glyphs' from authenticated Olmec sites. This evidence leaves no doubt that the Olmecs were the first Mesoamerican people to develop a writing system. There are claims that the text originates both from the Chinese Shang dynasty, and from the African Manding-she tribe, neither have yet to be substantiated. What we do know is that the Olmecs were using glyphs to denote dates or names on small pottery, monuments since around 1,000 BC and the recent discovery of the Cascajal Block (below) suggests that the same text was also used to record important information.

The ancient serpentine tablet (The Cascajal Block) is dated to around 900 B.C. It is the oldest accepted example of writing in the New World, scientists say. The tablet contains 62 symbols in 28 shapes arranged in horizontal patterns (6)

(Photo Credits: National Geographic)

'Monument 13' at La Venta. (Note also the Beard)

 

This cylinder seal was found in an Olmec context. It is suggested to spell the name of a king or a date. (3, Ajaw)

 

Olmecs and the Long-Count.

In 1939, archaeologist Matthew Stirling discovered at Tres Zapotes the bottom half of Stela C. This stela was carved from basalt, with one side showing an Olmec-style engraving that has been variously characterized as an abstract jaguar or a ruler on a throne. On other side was the oldest Mesoamerican Long Count calendar date yet unearthed. This date, 7.16.6.16.18, correlates in our present-day calendar to September 3, 32 BCE, although there was some controversy over the missing baktun, the first digit, which Marion Stirling, Matthew's wife, had contended was a '7'. Her judgment was validated in 1969 when the top half of the stela was found.

Stela C from the Olmec Site of Tres Zapotes which dates to 32 BC. Bottom Half (Left), Top Half (Right)

In a paper by Malmström, 1992, the theory was put forward that the meaning of the inscription on Stela C may well be found in a monumental work of European science first published in 1877. Known as Canon der Finsternisse, or "Table of Eclipses," the volume is the work of Theodor von Oppolzer, an Austrian count, and a team of his assistants, and constitutes a catalogue of over 8,000 solar and 5,200 lunar eclipses ranging in date from 1208 B.C. to A.D. 2,161. Although his 376 pages of calculations and 160 maps charting the central paths of the solar eclipses were all carried out by hand, their accuracy has only recently been reconfirmed by modern researchers using computers (Meeus and Mucke, 1979).

Listed as event no. 2803 in Oppolzer's list of solar eclipses is one whose path of centrality passed right over the Olmec ceremonial centre of Tres Zapotes at dawn on the morning of August 31, 32 B.C. Although today, we understand the science behind eclipses, this particular celestial event may well have had a special significance for the Olmecs, for the sun rose out of the Gulf of Mexico totally black except for a ring of light around its outer edges. Oppolzer described it as an annular, or ring-like, eclipse, and subsequent calculations at the U.S. Naval Observatory have revealed that the disk of the sun was 93 percent obscured, so a "day without a sunrise" is not likely to have been recorded by the Olmecs.

It is worth noting that in association with Stela C are several glyphs associated with epi-olmec script.

 (The Origin of Writing)

 

Gallery of Images: The Olmecs.

Olmec Pot from Jalapa Museum (Now vanished) Make your own mind up...!

Article: 'Depictions of Pre-Columbian Elephants in the America'.   (Quick-link)

One of several Olmec wheeled toys, proving the presence of the wheel in Pre-Columbian America.

(Tuxteco Regional Museum, Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz)

 

(Tres Zapotes)   (La Venta)   (San Lorenzo)   (Monte Alban)   (Cuicuilco)

(Mexico Homepage)

(Pre-Columbian America)

 

 

References:

1). http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/karlins/shang-and-western-zhou-jades4-5-10_detail.asp?picnum=1
2). http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1985.214.96
3). http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/science/the-origins-of-olmec-culture-1164.html
4). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jade
5). Ivan Van Sertima. African presence in Early America. 1992. Transaction Publishers.
6). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/bigphotos/87819815.html
9). http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/science/2013/05/19/studies-examine-clues-of-transoceanic-contact.html
19). Ivan van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus (New York: Random House, 1976), pp. 94–96.
20). http://www.thegambiaecho.com/Homepage/tabid/36/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2240/Default.aspx#_edn34

 

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