3,000-yr-old Mesoamerican sculpture discovered in southern Mexico

February 15th, 2011 - 6:47 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 15 (ANI): A 3,000-year-old Mesoamerican sculpture, discovered in 2009 in southern Mexico along the Pacific coast, looks ready to march into the history books.

But the only problem is archaeologists are unaware of its identity - whether he was a corn god, a tribal chief or a sacred priest.

“It’s beautiful and was obviously very important. But we will probably never know who he was or what the sculpture means in its entirety,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison archaeologist John Hodgson.

He has described about the new monument discovered from Ojo de Agua site, Chiapas, in the cover article of the December issue of Mexicon.

Called Monument 3, it is just the second carved monument uncovered in the process of digging an irrigation ditch in Ojo de Agua.

Hodgson, who was working in the area, saw the monument’s impression in the trench wall and studied the soil layers where it had been buried, gaining a wealth of information that is usually lost long before any archaeologist lays eyes on a piece.

“Usually sculptures are first seen by archaeologists in private art collections. The depictions of figures and the motifs change in form through time so you can get an approximate date by comparing styles,” he said.

“But we were able to date the new monument by where it was found to a narrow 100-year window, which is very rare,” he added.

The archaeological context and radiocarbon dating of ceramic shreds associated with the stone monument showed that it dates to 1,100 to 1,000 B.C., making it approximately 3,000 years old.

Its age and style correspond to the Early Formative period, when an early culture known as the Olmec dominated the area.

Its purpose and meaning, however, will be harder to ascertain, according Hodgson.

The main figure on the tablet is depicted wearing an elaborate headdress, loincloth and ornate accessories, including a pair of large, comb-like ear ornaments, a rope-like necklace and a thick belt with a jaguar-head buckle.

A face on the headdress includes features such as sprouting plants that identify it as a corn god.

The tablet also includes a smaller secondary figure and a series of asymmetric zigzag designs that the archaeologists suggest could represent lightning, local mountain ranges, or other features of the natural world.

The monument is a carved flat slab of a relatively soft, local volcanic stone that weighs about 130 pounds. It stands nearly three feet tall, about 14 inches wide, and ranges from four to seven inches thick.

The use of local materials shows it was made in or near Ojo de Agua, Hodgson said, but style similarities to pieces found in larger Olmec centers near the Gulf of Mexico and the Valley of Mexico indicate pan-regional influences as well.

The depiction of corn is particularly notable. Corn cultivation is generally associated with a settled lifestyle rather than a nomadic existence, indicating that Ojo de Agua was almost certainly a farming community.

Hodgson said that ‘the early date of the monument supports the idea that there was an early association between corn and religion’. (ANI)

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