DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL CENTRAL AMERICA

 
     
  THE OLMECS AND ZAPOTECS  

 

The Olmecs are considered to have founded the first major civilization in Meso-America, flourishing roughly from 1500 up to 400 BC.  Their territory was the Caribbean lowlands, now encompassing the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco, although their influence extended far beyond both their location and their time.  They seem to have been the first to construct pyramids and ball courts, and perhaps developed the first writing.

The examples of Olmec art shown here were photographed from the Parque Museo La Venta at Villahermosa.

 

Olmec art is distinctive and before its time in refinements.  One of the most characteristic subjects are the Colossal Heads, which are thought to commemorate rulers.  Their form tends to be round, with thick lips. Click to see big picture (338x480 pixels; 77 KB)
Compare that with this head found in the ruins of Cholula, which flourished at later periods. Click to see big picture (523x480 pixels; 116 KB)
This appears to be a statue used for small offerings, perhaps of blood, another concept introduced by the Olmecs. Click to see big picture (309x480 pixels; 73 KB)
A priest comes from below an alter with a child.  This might relate to child sacrifice, but it is a were-jaguar child, a mythical being, and the significance is not clear. Click to see big picture (640x421 pixels; 91 KB)
Other statues, showing the full and rounded forms typical of Olmec art.  The pock-marked stone is due to bubbles known as vesicles in the basalt lavas used. Click to see big picture (628x480 pixels; 101 KB)
The Olmecs also did reliefs, this one appears to be a priest. Click to see big picture (321x480 pixels; 66 KB)
And Olmec artisans did more than monumental statues.  This Olmec jade bead necklace and stylized hummingbird pendant are possessions of the writer's wife.  They are thought to predate 1000 BC, and the bird beak may have been a ritual blood-drawer.

 

The Zapotec civilization also had an early beginning, in the 700-500 BC range, but it continued more or less until the time of European arrival.  They were centered on the valley surrounding Oaxaca, Mexico, and developed a not-well-decyphered writing, in which glyphs stood for syllables.

 

 
A ball-court a the Dainzu excavation.  This site was active from about 600 BC to 1200 AD. Click to see big picture (640x343 pixels; 100 KB)
A passage way in the excavated part of Dainzu, claustrophobic by modern standards.  After about 200 AD the settlement seems to have declined in importance as Monte Alban rose. Click to see big picture (316x480 pixels; 74 KB)
And this is one of the ball courts at Monte Alban, which was the dominant center through most of Zapotec history. Click to see big picture (640x350 pixels; 96 KB)
Sometime around 400 BC, the Zapotec groups in the region seem to have come together to create Monte Alban, which up until roughly 700 AD, dominated the region. Click to see big picture (640x433 pixels; 117 KB)
An unusual form of stonework at Monte Alban. Click to see big picture (573x480 pixels; 140 KB)
Some enigmatic reliefs from Monte Alban.  To modern western eyes the one on the left looks like the Hindu elephant god, and on the right might be a saluting neo-nazi.  Presumably there are more scholastic interpretations. Click to see big picture (520x480 pixels; 138 KB)
The Dancers, reliefs of castrated men, are likely the most famous.  So named as they were originally thought of in terms of dancing eunuchs, they are now interpreted more as tortured prisoners of war. Click to see big picture (640x460 pixels; 162 KB)
While Monte Alban was the main Zapotec administrative center, the nearby Mitla was their religious one.  This is the Hall of Columns from that excavation. Click to see big picture (640x425 pixels; 102 KB)
Mitla may be best know for the great variety of mosaic patterns worked in to decorate its architecture. Click to see big picture (640x419 pixels; 141 KB)
Although the Zapotec settlement of Yagul goes back to late BC, most of the remains being excavated were built after 1250 AD. Click to see big picture (640x388 pixels; 107 KB)
All groups of this era seem to have played the meso-american ball game, and here is the court at Yagul. Click to see big picture (640x396 pixels; 116 KB)
And this carving from Yagul has been interpreted as a frog. Click to see big picture (640x433 pixels; 136 KB)