Archaeologists unearth ancient Olmec reliefs

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have unearthed two ancient reliefs depicting Olmec rulers.

The Olmec are the earliest known Mesoamerican civilisation (also referred to as the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica). The name ‘Olmec’ comes from the Nahuatl word: Ōlmēcatl or Ōlmēcah, meaning ‘rubber people’.

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The discovery was made in Tenosique, a municipality in the state of Tabasco, Mexico, and dates from the late Olmec horizon (900-400 BC) during the Formative period.

The reliefs are made of limestone and have an approximate diameter of 1.4 metres. Both have a similar iconography, showing a large square-shaped face with a diadem, and glyphs associated with the figure of the jaguar. Beneath the face are a pair of crossed arms, while footprints can be seen on the sides.

Archaeologists have determined that the reliefs originate from the Middle Usumacinta region, located between the mouth of the Chacamax River to the Usumacinta and the mouth of the San Pedro River.

Based on similar reliefs found in Balancán and Villahermosa, the researchers believe that they depict local rulers performing ritual contortionism. This is done by adopting a stance that reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain to achieve a trance-like state.

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The team suggests that the Maya adopted this type of Olmec stylism for altars in sites such as Caracol in Belsize, especially the circular reliefs of contortionists after the coastal plains of Tabasco underwent a process of ‘Mayanisation’ around 500-300 BC.

The reliefs are to be transferred to the Pomoná Site Museum which houses a similar Olmec relief from Ejido Emiliano Zapata.


Header Image Credit : NAH Tabasco Centre


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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