Identifying the Quintessence of Olmec Centers in Formative Olman

Author(s): Jillian Mollenhauer

Year: 2017


In the early 20th century, the discovery of the Olmec colossal heads associated with San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes led to the early designation of these three sites as the triadic centers of Olmec civilization, implying a level of cultural uniformity. Subsequent archaeological investigation has shown that the three centers, each with a distinct but overlapping chronology, share few commonalities in layout, artifact assemblage, or sculpture style. Indeed, the heads themselves demonstrate distinctive regional styles and configurations of display, underlining the many differences between the primary centers of the Olmec heartland. Given these disparities, is it possible to speak of the quintessential Olmec site? What clues might remain to signal those aspects of Olmec places considered most cherished or significant by their ancient inhabitants? This paper will explore the construction of Olmec landscapes in relation to regional geographies—specifically places of convergence, emergence, and hierophany. Rather than a single site serving as a model for other Olmec centers, the Olmec quintessential place is suggested by the way all three Olmec centers engaged with regional topography through practices of gathering, rituals of pilgrimage and deposition, tensions between the seen and unseen, and manifestations of the animate landscape.

Cite this Record

Identifying the Quintessence of Olmec Centers in Formative Olman. Jillian Mollenhauer. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430904)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16903