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Examination of Olmec offering from La Venta

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Lisa Wolfe
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« on: February 01, 2014, 10:30:10 pm »

Examination of Olmec offering from La Venta

Article created on Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The present-day Mexican State of Tabasco houses the great Olmec city of La Venta which existed from around 1000 to 400 B.C. Archaeologists have found many fabulous offerings buried within the site – such La Venta 4 – which is composed of 16 different figurines carved out of various stones, representing male individuals accompanied by six celts.

The offering was located on the north platform of La Venta in 1955 by Eduardo Contreras (INAH), and for half a century the group was housed at the Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution and returned to Mexico in 2011. Since then it has been exhibited at the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA).
The offering was located on the North platform of La Venta in 1955. Image: INAH

The offering was located on the North platform of La Venta in 1955. Image: INAH
Layers of clay

The offering was carefully buried under layers of  various coloured clay. The first layer was a coffee colour, followed by orange, pink, yellow and white, and possibly may refer to different levels of the cosmos. The figurines themselves all exhibit elongated skulls and slanted eyes without pupils. This is in contrast to the famous colossal Olmec heads which show no cranial deformation and have eyes with pupils.

Recent mineral analysis, as part of a more detailed study of La Venta 4, confirmed that the ancient Olmec civilization had a wide territorial and commercial reach, maintaining contact with Guatemala, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

Examining the physical evidence

The analysis was carried out ​​in conjunction with the Institute of Physics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM ), with support from Dr. Jose Luis Ruvalcaba. As a result it was possible to identify the type and varous sources of the green stones that the figurines were carved from.
The Offering 4 at La Venta was found in 1955. Image: INAH

The Offering 4 at La Venta was found in 1955. Image: INAH
Mineral deposit map

The 22 elements were analyzed with stereoscopic microscopy, Raman spectrometry and Infrared, with X-ray diffraction, so that the  various types could be established: jadeitita, pyroxenite, plagiogranito, serpentinite and rock zoisite, chlorite, cordierite and chromite. These studies were matched to a mineral deposit map of Mesoamerica to identify probable locatons. It is the first time that the physical evidence of the Olmec territorial expanse has been examined and it was found that the green stones came from the Motagua River in Guatemala, and streams in Guerrero and Oaxaca and may be evidence of trading alliances with these locations.

Source: INAH
More Information

    La Venta – Smithsonian

Cite this article

INAH. Examination of Olmec offering from La Venta. Past Horizons. January 28, 2014, from

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Posted by Past Horizons on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 · Leave a Comment

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