All seventeen of the confirmed heads in the Olmec heartland were sculpted from basalt mined in the Sierra de los Tuxtlas mountains of Veracruz. Most were formed from coarse grained dark grey basalt known as Cerro Cintepec basalt after a volcano in the range.
How did Olmecs shape their colossal heads?
The heads were each carved from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their final destination, presumably using huge balsa river rafts wherever possible and log rollers on land. The principal source of this heavy stone was Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains.
The Olmec Used Primitive Carving Tools The heads were carved with stone tools because the ancient Olmec people had not developed metallurgy. Archaeologists believe that the hand-held stone tools were made of a harder material like jade or obsidian.
Olmec Heads of Mexico (1200-400 B.C.?) The Olmec heads of Mexico are a collection of 17 giant stone head sculptures believed to have been carved by the Olmecs.
The Olmec were gifted artists who produced stone carvings, woodcarvings and cave paintings. They made carvings of all sizes, from tiny celts and figurines to massive stone heads. The stonework is made of many different types of stone, including basalt and jadeite.
Given that the extremely large slabs of stone used in their production were transported over large distances (over 150 kilometres (93 mi)), requiring a great deal of human effort and resources, it is thought that the monuments represent portraits of powerful individual Olmec rulers.
The Mystery of the Olmec Heads Another key bone of contention surrounding the colossal Olmec heads comes from their distinctive facial features. Some theories suggest that the Olmecs were heavily influenced by early black civilisations, as a result of the supposedly African features the basalt heads possess.
Olmec art lived on in ancient Mesoamerican aesthetic traditions as well. The sculptors and painters in Olmec-period Mexico were the first to portray many of the iconic features of self-proclaimed divine rulers in Mesoamerica.
The Olmecs practiced basic agriculture using the “slash-and-burn” technique, in which overgrown plots of land are burned: this clears them for planting and the ashes act as fertilizer. They planted many of the same crops seen in the region today, such as squash, beans, manioc, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
Olmec writing It was also long thought that many of the glyphs present on Olmec monumental sculpture, such as those on the so-called ” Ambassador Monument” (La Venta Monument 13), represented an early Olmec script.
The Olmec were American Indians, not Negroes (as Melgar had thought) or Nordic supermen.”
Olmec, the first elaborate pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica ( c. 1200–400 bce ) and one that is thought to have set many of the fundamental patterns evinced by later American Indian cultures of Mexico and Central America, notably the Maya and the Aztec.
What did the plantation workers think the Olmec head was? “In 1862 plantation workers in Huaypan, Veracruz, thought that they had found a large overturned iron kettle buried in the ground. Believing that it might hide a cache of gold, they dug — and dug — and dug, eventually revealing a colossal stone portrait head. 6
Overview: The Olmec society lasted from about 1600 BCE to around 350 BCE, when environmental factors made their villages unlivable. The Olmec are probably best known for the statues they carved: 20 ton stone heads, quarried and carved to commemorate their rulers.
Contributions. The Olmecs were apparently the first Mesoamerican people to fathom the concept of zero, develop a calendar, and create a hieroglyphic writing system. Also, they are credited for the discovery of the first conduit drainage system known in the Americas.
The Olmec created massive monuments, including colossal stone heads, thrones, stela (upright slabs), and statues. They may have been the originators of the Mesoamerican ball game, a ceremonial team sport played throughout the region for centuries.