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19 March 2005
Were Olmecs a 'mother' culture?

On a coastal flood plain etched by rivers flowing through swamps and alongside fields of maize and beans, the people archaeologists call the Olmecs lived in a society of emergent complexity. It was more than 3,000 years ago, along the Gulf of Mexico around Veracruz. The Olmecs moved a veritable mountain of earth to create a plateau above the plain, and there planted a city, the ruins of which are known today as San Lorenzo. The Olmecs are widely regarded as creators of the first civilization in Mesoamerica, the area encompassing much of Mexico and Central America, and a cultural wellspring of later societies, notably the Maya. Some scholars think the Olmec civilization was the first anywhere in America.
     Were Olmecs the 'mother' culture? Or were they one among "sister" cultures? Last month, Dr. Jeffrey P. Blomster, an Olmec archaeologist at George Washington University, reported in the journal Science what he and other researchers described as evidence of widespread export of Olmec ceramics that they said supported "Olmec priority in the creation and spread of the first unified style and iconographic system in Mesoamerica." But proponents of the sister school are not letting things go unchallenged. The mother-culture advocates, said Dr. Susan D. Gillespie, a Mesoamerican archaeologist at the University of Florida, were "flogging a dead horse, the idea that the Olmec invented civilization, carried it to all of Mesoamerica, and it's the basis of the Maya."  

Source: Times Union (15 March 2005)

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