Thursday, November 30, 2017

Strong women did a lot of the heavy lifting in ancient farming societies

Strong women did a lot of the heavy lifting in ancient farming societies
By Michael PriceNov. 29, 2017 , 2:00 PM
Forget about emotional labor. Women living 7000 years ago had to deal with another lopsided workload: farming. Prehistoric women shouldered a major share of the hoeing, digging, and hauling in early agricultural societies, according to a new study. Now, by analyzing the bones of these women, scientists have shown that their upper body strength surpassed even today’s elite female athletes. The findings refute popularly held notions that early agrarian women shunned manual labor in favor of domestic work, and they suggest that then—as now—a woman’s work was never done.

“People haven’t typically focused on females in this society, [but] it’s very important for understanding … the divisions of labor that exist today,” says Hila May, an anthropologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel who studies evolutionary anatomy, but was not involved in the new work. “I wish we could go back and ask people how they lived, but all we have is bone.”

Bones stretch and twist throughout the lifetime in response to repeated stresses like lifting, pulling, and running. When humans switched from a roving hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more sedentary, farming-focused existence some 10,000 years ago, their bones followed suit: The rigid, bent shinbones of men found in central Europe between 5300 B.C.E. and 100 C.E.—shaped by muscles constantly on the run—became progressively straighter and less rigid as people farmed more and roved less. But women’s shinbones didn’t change much during this same period.
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Some have put that down to prehistoric women’s focus on domestic tasks that required comparatively less strength. But Alison Macintosh, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, thought there might be more to the story. “We felt it was likely a huge oversimplification to say [prehistoric women] were simply not doing that much, or not doing as much as the men, or were largely sedentary,” she says.

To find out what was really going on, she and colleagues used a 3D laser imaging system to record models of 89 shinbones and 78 upper arm bones from women who lived during the Neolithic (5300 B.C.E.–4600 B.C.E.), Bronze Age (3200 B.C.E.–1450 B.C.E.), Iron Age (850 B.C.E.–100 C.E.), and Medieval (800 C.E.–850 C.E.) periods in Central Europe. Then they recruited dozens of female Cambridge students—accomplished runners, soccer players, and rowers as well as moderately active nonathletes—and x-rayed their leg and arm bones using a computerized tomography scanner.

Analyzing the bones’ shapes, they looked at the bends and twists that indicated how much muscle was packed on, then compared them with those of their agrarian foremothers. Macintosh found—similar to previous research—that throughout the ages, women’s leg strength has remained largely the same. But when the researchers looked at the upper arm bones, a new pattern emerged: Prehistoric women in the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages would have had about 5%–10% more arm strength than the modern female athletes in the study, the researchers report today in Science Advances.

In fact, the prehistoric women’s bodies most closely resembled those of modern rowers, who specialize in repetitive, unidirectional pulling strength. That’s the same kind of strength needed for digging ditches, heaving around crop baskets and equipment, and grinding cereal grains. Among the prehistoric women, there was also more variation in strength than in modern women. That means that in these early agricultural societies, women likely specialized in various kinds of heavy manual labor, says Macintosh, whereas men split their time between farming and more lower body–intensive tasks like running and hunting.The findings are convincing, says May, and may help explain why bone diseases such as osteoporosis are so common in women today. Evolution may have shaped women’s bone structure to deal with the stresses of life on the move during hunter-gatherer times, and the rapid shift to a more stationary, farming-focused life might have led to weaker bones.

In future studies, though, she would like researchers to look at the nutritional changes that happened after the agricultural revolution. Eating less meat and more grains and vegetables might have also helped shift bone and muscle strength, she notes. Another unanswered question, says Macintosh: precisely how ancient men and women split up the chores.

Posted in: ArchaeologySociology

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Late Classic Industrial Era: ice apocalypse,etc.

Like the Maya and so many post ice age civilizations that collapsed mainly gue to agricultural soil mineral depletion nd soil fertilixzer phosphorous etc. depletion required to sustain burgeoning population growth so our industrial era consuiong mined fertilizers requiring fossil fuels to strip min them or natural gas to produce nitrogen fertilizer from the nitrogen of the atmosphere,etc. we are on a course that can only led to collapse.And sorry Jesus nor Ala nor that scumbag Jewish god really the same one all these idiot bend over and spred their anuses isgoing to save you nor ar the right wing fascist Hindu gods. And you can't et all tht plastic and shit your dumping in oceans and waterways either.And even compters require rare elements and still run on fossil fuel just like our cars which are all chased upon eightennth centurt English coal ltechnolgy of burning fossil fuel to run steam engines to make metal move - i-e. pumps,railroads.steam driven ships,etc.Cars and computers also require
fossil fuel to make metal or autos move down the highway and computers require burning fossil fuels to generate electron flow.
Even when the Maya or Indus Valley or Tigris Euphrates Mesopotamian soil collapses occured abandonment allowed some slow regenertion of soil and their was still wild plant and animal populations to regenerate these biomes.Trees returned and climbed the old Mayan pyramids.Monkeys and jaguars etc. were not made extinct.But the fossil fuel Late Classic Idustrial Era is another beast and plant animal and insect speciesectinction are occuring on a massive acale and genetic diversity is itself becoming extinct.Even ocean ph is chanbing inpart due tofrom burning fossil carbon  CO2 difusing into their waters.

Is the world headed for an ice apocalypse?
Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century.

11.26.2017•4:59 AM
This post originally appeared on Grist.
In a remote region of Antarctica known as Pine Island Bay, 2,500 miles from the tip of South America, two glaciers hold human civilization hostage.
Stretching across a frozen plain more than 150 miles long, these glaciers, named Pine Island and Thwaites, have marched steadily for millennia toward the Amundsen Sea, part of the vast Southern Ocean. Further inland, the glaciers widen into a two-mile-thick reserve of ice covering an area the size of Texas.
There’s no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when.
The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”) Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.
To figure that out, scientists have been looking back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, when global temperatures stood at roughly their current levels. The bad news? There’s growing evidence that the Pine Island Bay glaciers collapsed rapidly back then, flooding the world’s coastlines — partially the result of something called “marine ice-cliff instability.”
The ocean floor gets deeper toward the center of this part of Antarctica, so each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs. Ice gets so heavy that these taller cliffs can’t support their own weight. Once they start to crumble, the destruction would be unstoppable.

La libélula viviente más pequeña tiene una longitud corporal de 15 mm y una envergadura de 20 mm. ¿Tengo la libélula más pequeña en ámbar?

El tamaño promedio de una libélula es de 1 a 4 pulgadas de largo. En épocas prehistóricas, las libélulas eran mucho más grandes, los insectos voladores más grandes de la historia. El miembro más grande de libélulas extintas tenía una envergadura de aproximadamente 70-75 cm o aproximadamente 30 pulgadas.
La libélula: errores beneficiosos

La libélula viviente más pequeña es Nannophya pygmaea (Anisoptera: Libellulidae) del este de Asia, que una longitud corporal de 15 mm y una envergadura de 20 mm, y los diablillos más pequeños (y los odonatos más pequeños de todos los tiempos) son especies del género Agriocnemis ( Zygoptera: Coenagrionidae) con una envergadura de solo 17-18 mm.
Odonata - Wikipedia
Creo que mi libélula en ámbar mexicano es aún más pequeña ...

15 mm equivalen a 19/32 de pulgada
20 mm es igual a 13/16 de pulgada

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Jackson Browne-Saturate Before Using

smallest living dragonfly is body length of 15 mm and a wing span of 20 mm Do I have smallest dragonfly in amber ?

smallest living dragonfly is body length of 15 mm and a wing span of 20 mm Do I have smallest dragonfly  in amber ?

The average size of a dragonfly is from 1 to 4 inches in length. In prehistoric times dragonflies were much larger - the largest flying insects ever. The largest member of extinct dragonflies had a wing span of about 70-75 cm or about 30 inches.

The Dragonfly - Beneficial Bugs

The smallest living dragonfly is Nannophya pygmaea(AnisopteraLibellulidae) from east Asia, which a body length of 15 mm and a wing span of 20 mm, and the smallest damselflies (and smallest odonates of all times) are species of the genus Agriocnemis(ZygopteraCoenagrionidae) with a wing span of only 17–18 mm.

Odonata - Wikipedia
I believe my dragonfly in Mexican amber is smaller still.......

15mm  equals 19/32 of an inch

20mm  equals  13/16 of an inch


15mm  19/32 of an inch
16mm  5/8 of an inch
17mm  11/16 of an inch
18mm  23/32 of an inch
19mm  3/4 of an inch
20mm  13/16 of an inch
22mm  7/8 of a inch

17mm is 11/16 of an inch 18mm  23/32 of an inch


What Was the Biggest Insect That Ever Lived? - Latest Stories

Oct 15, 2016 - The largest insect fossils ever found are griffinflies and giant dragonflies, says Matthew Clapham, a paleobiologist at the University of California ...

Dragonflies of the World - Page 37 - Google Books Result
Jill Silsby - 2001 - ‎Science
SIZE In Palaeozoic times, giant 'dragonflies' with wingspans of over 60 cm flew ... with a wingspan of 72 cm are among the largest fossil dragonflies yet discovered. ... One of the smallest is the libellulid Collection of Allen Davies Nannophya ...

The World's Largest Fossil Wilderness | History | Smithsonian

Etched into ceilings of the mine shafts is the largest intact fossil forest ever seen—at least four ... Monster dragonflies with 2.5-foot wingspans ruled the skies.

Late Classic Industrial Era:Humans Are Blind to Imminent Environmental Collapse

What, Me Worry? Humans Are Blind to Imminent Environmental Collapse

Accelerating biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century.

By William E. Rees 16 Nov 2017 | William E. Rees is professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia.

A curious thing about H. sapiens is that we are clever enough to document — in exquisite detail — various trends that portend the collapse of modern civilization, yet not nearly smart enough to extricate ourselves from our self-induced predicament.
This was underscored once again in October when scientists reported that flying insect populations in Germany have declined by an alarming 75 per cent in the past three decades accompanied, in the past dozen years, by a 15 per cent drop in bird populations. Trends are similar in other parts of Europe where data are available. Even in Canada, everything from casual windshield “surveys” to formal scientific assessments show a drop in insect numbers. Meanwhile, domestic populations of many insect-eating birds are in freefall. Ontario has lost half its whip-poor-wills in the past 20 years; across the nation, such species as nighthawks, swallows, martins and fly-catchers are down by up to 75 per cent; Greater Vancouver’s barn and bank swallows have plummeted by 98 per cent since 1970. Heard much about these things in the mainstream news?
Too bad. Biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century. It is caused by many individual but interacting factors — habitat loss, climate change, intensive pesticide use and various forms of industrial pollution, for example, suppress both insect and bird populations. But the overall driver is what an ecologist might call the “competitive displacement” of non-human life by the inexorable growth of the human enterprise.
On a finite planet where millions of species share the same space and depend on the same finite products of photosynthesis, the continuous expansion of one species necessarily drives the contraction and extinction of others. (Politicians take note — there is always a conflict between human population/economic expansion and “protection of the environment.”)

Remember the 40 to 60 million bison that used to roam the great plains of North America? They — along with the millions of deer, pronghorns, wolves and lesser beasts that once animated prairie ecosystems — have been “competitively displaced,” their habitats taken over by a much greater biomass of humans, cattle, pigs and sheep. And not just North Americans — Great Plains sunshine also supports millions of other people-with-livestock around world who depend, in part on North American grain, oil-seed, pulse and meat exports.
Competitive displacement has been going on for a long time. Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapiens comprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. (There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.) Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent!
One needs look no further to explain why wildlife populations globally have plunged by nearly 60 per cent in the past half century. Wild tigers have been driven from 93 per cent of their historic range and are down to fewer than 4,000 individuals globally; the population of African elephants has imploded by as much as 95 per cent to only 500,000 today; poaching drove black rhino numbers from an already much reduced 70,000 in 1960 to only 2,500 individuals in the early 1990s. (With intense conservation effort, they have since rebounded to about 5,000). And those who still think Canada is still a mostly pristine and under-populated wilderness should think again — half the wildlife species regularly monitored in this country are in decline, with an average population drop of 83 per cent since 1970. Did I mention that B.C.’s southern resident killer whale population is down to only 76 animals? That’s in part because human fishers have displaced the orcas from their favoured food, Chinook salmon, even as we simultaneously displace the salmon from their spawning streams through hydro dams, pollution and urbanization.
The story is similar for familiar species everywhere and likely worse for non-charismatic fauna. Scientists estimate that the “modern” species extinction rate is 1,000 to as much as 10,000 times the natural background rate. The global economy is busily converting living nature into human bodies and domestic livestock largely unnoticed by our increasingly urban populations. Urbanization distances people psychologically as well as spatially from the ecosystems that support them.
The human band-wagon may really have started rolling 10 millennia ago but the past two centuries of exponential growth greatly have accelerated the pace of change. It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years. (See graphs in: Steffen, W et al. 2015. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, Volume: 2 Issue: 1, page(s): 81-98.)
Why does any of this matter, even to those who don’t really give a damn about nature per se? Apart from the moral stain associated with extinguishing thousands of other life-forms, there are purely selfish reasons to be concerned. For example, depending on climate zone, 78 per cent to 94 per cent of flowering plants, including many human food species, are pollinated by insects, birds and even bats. (Bats — also in trouble in many places — are the major or exclusive pollinators of 500 species in at least 67 families of plants.) As much as 35 per cent of the world’s crop production is more or less dependent on animal pollination, which ensures or increases the production of 87 leading food crops worldwide.
But there is a deeper reason to fear the depletion and depopulation of nature. Absent life, planet earth is just an inconsequential wet rock with a poisonous atmosphere revolving pointlessly around an ordinary star on the outer fringes of an undistinguished galaxy. It is life itself, beginning with countless species of microbes, that gradually created the “environment” suitable for life on Earth as we know it. Biological processes are responsible for the life-friendly chemical balance of the oceans; photosynthetic bacteria and green plants have stocked and maintain Earth’s atmosphere with the oxygen necessary for the evolution of animals; the same photosynthesis gradually extracted billions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, storing it in chalk, limestone and fossil fuel deposits, so that Earth’s average temperature (currently about 15 C) has remained for geological ages in the narrow range that makes water-based life possible, even as the sun has been warming (i.e. stable climate is partially a biological phenomenon.); countless species of bacteria, fungi and a veritable menagerie of micro-fauna continuously regenerate the soils that grow our food. (Unfortunately, depletion-by-agriculture is even faster — by some accounts we have only just over a half-century’s worth of arable soils left).
In short, H. sapiens depends utterly on a rich diversity of life-forms to provide various life-support functions essential to the existence and continued survival of human civilization. With an unprecedented human-induced great global die-off well under way, what are the chances the functional integrity of the ecosphere will survive the next doubling of material consumption that everyone expects before mid-century?
Here’s the thing: climate change is not the only shadow darkening humanity’s doorstep. While you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media, biodiversity loss arguably poses an equivalent existential threat to civilized existence. While we’re at it, let’s toss soil/landscape degradation, potential food or energy shortages and other resource limits into the mix. And if you think we’ll probably be able to “handle” four out of five such environmental problems, it doesn’t matter. The relevant version of Liebig’s Law states that any complex system dependent on several essential inputs can be taken down by that single factor in least supply (and we haven’t yet touched upon the additional risks posed by the geopolitical turmoil that would inevitably follow ecological destabilization).
Which raises questions of more than mere academic interest. Why are we not collectively terrified or at least alarmed? If our best science suggests we are en route to systems collapse, why are collapse — and collapse avoidance — not the primary subjects of international political discourse? Why is the world community not engaged in vigorous debate of available initiatives and trans-national institutional mechanisms that could help restore equilibrium to the relationship between humans and the rest of nature?
There are many policy options, from simple full-cost pricing and consumption taxes; through population initiatives and comprehensive planning for a steady-state economy; to general education for voluntary (and beneficial) lifestyle changes, all of which would enhance global society’s prospects for long-term survival. Unique human qualities, from high intelligence (e.g., reasoning from the evidence), through the capacity to plan ahead to moral consciousness, may well be equal to the task but lie dormant — there is little hint of political willingness to acknowledge the problem let alone elaborate genuine solutions (which the Paris climate accord is not).
Bottom line? The world seems in denial of looming disaster; the “C” word remains unvoiced. Governments everywhere dismissed the 1992 scientists’ Warning to Humanity that “...a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided” and will similarly ignore the scientists’ “second notice." (Published on Nov. 13, this warning states that most negative trends identified 25 years earlier “are getting far worse.”) Despite cascading evidence and detailed analysis to the contrary, the world community trumpets “growth-is-us” as its contemporary holy grail. Even the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are fixed on economic expansion as the only hammer for every problematic nail. Meanwhile, greenhouse gases reach to at an all-time high, marine dead-zones proliferate, tropical forests fall and extinctions accelerate.
Just what is going on here? The full explanation of this potentially fatal human enigma is no doubt complicated, but Herman Melville summed it up well enough in Moby Dick: “There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”  [Tyee]
Read more: Environment

Friday, November 24, 2017

Possible sacred maize object found in stream at Olmec site

Possible sacred maize object found in stream at Olmec site

The Olmec Maize God - The University of Chicago Press: Journals

by K Taube - ‎1996 - ‎Cited by 70 - ‎Related articles
The Olmec Maize God. The face of corn in Formative Mesoamerica. KARL TAUBE. In both ancient and contemporary Mesoamerica, no other foodstuff has had a ..

Ancient Olmec Culture - ThoughtCo › ... › Latin American History › Before Columbus

Mar 6, 2017 - Maize was a staple of the Olmec diet, although it is possible that it was introduced late in the development of their culture. Whenever it was ...

Olmec Civilization - Ancient History Encyclopedia

Olmec prosperity was initially based on exploiting the fertile and well-watered coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico to grow such crops as corn and beans (often ...

Possible sacred maize object found in stream at Olmec site

Archaeologists have found an artifact made of jadeite at an Olmec site in Mexico that they think represents a cob of corn and that may have been offered to the gods. Corn was a vitally important crop in ancient Mexican and other parts of the Americas, and ancient natives told stories across its broad range.
Archaeologists found a jadeite object possibly in the shape of a corn cob at an ancient Olmec site in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Archaeologists found a jadeite object possibly in the shape of a corn cob at an ancient Olmec site in the Mexican state of Veracruz. (Photo by Professor Carl Wendt)

Philip Coppens, who writes and speaks on ancient cultures, wrote an article about the importance of maize in pre-Columbian Mexico: “In a 1982 exhibition, the Mexican National Museum of Culture claimed that maize was ‘not domesticated, but created.’ Indeed, maize is accepted as Man’s first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering. So much so, that it is even said to be a gift from the gods. Despite decades of research, there is no known wild ancestor; there is no known way to evolve a non-shattering variant; it is known that maize does not have a method to propagate itself – and thus relies on humans to survive as a species.”
Coppens said people in Mexico were domesticating corn nearly 5,500 years ago as evidenced by archaeological remains of early maize ears found at Guila Naquitz Cave in the Oaxaca Valley, dating back to around 3450 BC.

A diver at the site Arroyo Pesquero in Veracruz State found the jadeite object in a stream. He was working with archaeologists, including Carl Wendt of California State University-Fullerton, who said it may have been the tip of a staff and a symbol of authority. Then, perhaps Olmec people placed it in the stream as an offering to the gods. The time frame would have been 900 to 400 B.C.
An Olmec mask from the same site where the corn cob-like object was found. This mask dates between 900 and 500 BC.
An Olmec mask from the same site where the corn cob-like object was found. This mask dates between 900 and 500 BC. (Adrienlenoir photo/ Wikimedia Commons )
Wendt and other scholars on the team published a paper in the journal Ancient Mesoamericaabout the find. “While having practical importance today as a spot to collect fresh water, in Olmec times, the confluence would also have been important for symbolic and cosmological reasons, and an ideal place for a ritual hoard or votive offerings,” they wrote. “Freshwater, so critical to daily life, was relatively scarce in a region of stagnant swamps. It is no wonder that springs and other freshwater sources were sacred places, and sacrificing [objects] at them was an important part of Olmec ritual.”
From the Great Lakes of the U.S. Upper Midwest and southern Canada to Central America, natives told stories about how the gods gave corn to the people.
The Aztecs, who came later and were farther north in Mexico than the Olmecs, had a story about how the gods bestowed corn on the weak, hungry people they’d created. From the article The Discovery of Corn at the website Aztecs at Mexico Lore, which summarizes the ancient story “The Legend of the Suns”:

In the paradise of Tamoanchan, the gods looked at the newly formed, but weak, humans and said to each other, ‘What shall the humans eat? Everyone must look for food for them.’ The red ant brought forth some corn kernels from within the Mountain of Our Sustenance, also known as Tonacatépetl. It offered the corn to the humans and Quetzalcóatl saw this. He asked ‘Where did you get it?’ The ant did not want to say and refused to do so for a long time. Nevertheless, it eventually succumbed to pressure and told Quetzalcóatl that Tonacatépetl contained the corn. Quetzalcóatl then became a black ant and went inside this hill, Mountain of Our Sustenance. He collected some corn and returned to Tamoanchan where the gods chewed on it immediately.
The paste from the chewed corn was then placed on the lips of the humans and they began to stir and become stronger.
The gods Oxomoco and Cipactonal throw lots with grains of corn, Codex Borbonicus
The gods Oxomoco and Cipactonal throw lots with grains of corn, Codex Borbonicus ( Mexico Lore )
Another type of corn story comes from the Ojibwa people of southern Canada and the northern United States in the Great Lakes Region. From an article at the online Columbia Undergraduate Journal of Art History :
The book Nanabush and the Mandomin presents Ojibwa children with a brave and compassionate hero that they can identify with. In this adventure, Nanabush, after speaking with his grandmother Nokomis, sets out to meet a brave warrior named Mandomin that his grandmother foresaw in a vision. The purpose of his quest was to help his people in a great way. In order to fulfill this task, Nanabush must wrestle with the great warrior spirit for three days. Nanabush finally defeats Mandomin, after which Mandomin instructs Nanabush not to allow weeds to grow on his grave. Nanabush tends the grave and after a few days a wondrous plant began to grow which would come to be known as sweet corn, a substance to feed the Ojibwa people.

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The mysterious civilization of the Olmecs

The mysterious civilization of the Olmecs

Mexico is perhaps most well-known, archaeologically speaking, as the home of the Aztec civilization. Yet, before the arrival of the Aztecs, another sophisticated civilization, the Olmecs, ruled the region for almost 1000 years. Although pre-Olmec cultures had already existed in the region, the Olmecs have been called the cultura madre , meaning the ‘mother culture’, of Central America. In other words, many of the distinctive features of later Central American civilizations can be traced to the Olmecs. So, who were the Olmecs, and what was their culture like?    
The Olmec civilization flourished roughly between 1200 BC and 400 BC, an era commonly known as Central America’s Formative Period. Sites containing traces of the Olmec civilization are found mainly on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, specifically in the states of Veracruz and Tabasco. Although the Olmecs did have a system of writing, only few of their inscriptions are available to archaeologists at present. Moreover, there is not enough continuous Olmec script for archaeologist to decipher the language. As a result, much of what we know about the Olmec civilization is dependent on the archaeological evidence.

The Olmec/Zapotec center, Monte Alban, near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico
The Olmec/Zapotec center, Monte Albán, near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Source: BigStockPhoto
For a start, the Olmecs left behind much of their artwork. The most famous of these are arguably the so-called ‘colossal heads’. These representations of human heads are carved from basalt boulders, and at present, at least seventeen of such objects have been found. The colossal heads measure between one and three metres in height, and seem to represent a common subject, i.e. mature men with fleshy cheeks, flat noses, and slightly crossed eyes. Incidentally, such physical features are still common amongst the people of Veracruz and Tabasco, indicating the colossal heads may be representations of the Olmecs themselves. Given the amount of resources needed to produce such objects, it may be speculated that these heads depict the Olmec elites or rulers, and were used as a symbol of power, perhaps like the colossal heads of Jayavarman VII at Angkor Thom in Cambodia.

Colossal stone head of the Olmecs
Colossal stone head of the Olmecs. Source: BigStockPhoto
In addition, the Olmecs also produced miniature versions of these giant heads. One such object is a ‘stone mask’ in the British Museum. In contrast to the colossal heads, this mask, which is made of serpentine, is only 13 cm high. This mask has similar facial features to the colossal heads.
Although such features can be seen in the descendants of the Olmecs, some scholars have speculated that the mask represented an African, Chinese or even a Mediterranean face. The mask also has four holes on its front, speculated to represent the four cardinal points of the compass. As the Olmec ruler was believed to be the most important axis in the world centre, it has been suggested that the mask represented an Olmec ruler. Furthermore, there are numerous circular holes on the face, indicating that face piercings and plugs were used by the Olmecs. Due to the lack of Olmec skeletons (they have been dissolved by the acidic soil of the rainforest), this mask may be the closest we can get to seeing what the Olmecs looked like.     
Olmec crawling baby sculpture (1200-900 BC), Las Bocas, Mexico
Olmec c rawling baby sculpture (1200-900 BC), Las Bocas, Mexico. ( Wikimedia Commons )
By 400 B.C., the Olmecs mysteriously vanished, the cause of which is still unknown. Although the Olmecs were only rediscovered by archaeologists relatively recently, i.e. after the Second World War, they were by no means a forgotten civilization. After all, the word Olmec itself (meaning ‘rubber people’) can be found in the Aztec language. It seems that the ‘Mesoamerican ballgame’, which was observed by the Spanish when they encountered the Aztecs, was invented by the Olmecs. As this game involved the use of a rubber ball, this may be the reason why the Olmecs were named as such by the Aztecs. This ballgame and several other features of Olmec civilization may be found in subsequent Central American civilizations. Thus, the Olmecs had a considerable amount of influence on these later cultures. As so little is known about the Olmecs today, it would require much more work and research to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of their importance to succeeding Central American societies.
Artist’s depiction of a Mesoamerican ball game
Artist’s depiction of a Mesoamerican ball game ( Image source )
Featured image: An Olmec style face adorns the side of the Mask Temple at the Mayan site of Lamanai in Belize. Source: BigStockPhoto
Cartwright, M., 2013. Olmec Civilization. [Online]
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