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18 February 2011
Ancient sculpture discovered in southern Mexico

A recently discovered 3000-year-old Olmec-style carved stone monument from Ojo de Agua - the site of an early planned settlement along the Pacific coast in what is now the southern Mexican state of Chiapas - provides information about Olmec culture in the area, and includes symbols of maize, deities or other important figures, and possible features of the natural world.
     "It's beautiful and was obviously very important," says University of Wisconsin-Madison archaeologist John 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 authors 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 60 kilos. It stands nearly 90 centimetres tall, about 36 centimetres wide, and ranges from 10 to 18 centimetres thick. The use of local materials shows it was made in or near Ojo de Agua, Hodgson says, but style similarities to pieces found in larger Olmec centres near the Gulf of Mexico and the Valley of Mexico indicate pan-regional influences as well. Its age and style correspond to the Early Formative period, when the Olmec culture dominated the area.
     Ojo de Agua is the earliest known site in Mesoamerica with formal pyramids built around plazas. It covers about 200 hectares and is the largest site in the area from the time period 1200-1000 BCE. The site appears to have been occupied for 150 to 200 years before being abandoned for unknown reasons.
   
Edited from Science Daily (15 February 2011)

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