Smithsonian Olmec Legacy

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Matthew Stirling and Tres Zapotes Monument G. Tres Zapotes, 1939. stirling_19. Photograph by Richard H. Stewart, National Anthropological Archives

Eduardo Contreras Sánchez
1914 - 1986

Portrait of Contreras
heizer_086 (detail) R.F. Heizer Collection, National Anthropological Archives

Eduardo Contreras was born on December 6, 1914 in Cuerámaro, Guanajuato. When he was young, his family moved to Mexico City, where he was educated in public schools. As an adolescent he pursued religious studies, in deference to his father's wishes that he become a Catholic priest. Contreras eventually changed his career path and graduated from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional as a topographic engineer.

In the late 1930s Contreras worked on the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He married Lucrecia González Valiente in 1941. In the early 1940s, his career took him to Guanajuato, Jalisco and Durango, where he was involved in the mining of cinnabar.

Contreras once again decided to change career paths, enrolling in the archaeology program at the National School of Anthropology and History in 1946. Graduating in 1958, his thesis topic concerned the site of Casas Grandes in Chihuahua.

He began his archaeological career at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), and continued for the next 37 years in the Office of Prehispanic Monuments (Dirección de Monumentos Prehispánicos).

Eduardo Contreras participated in the excavation and preservation of the site of La Venta in Tabasco over several decades. In the early 1950s, he and Philip Drucker conducted a survey in the area around La Venta, and in 1955 he accompanied Drucker, Robert Heizer and Robert Squier during a field season at La Venta, when Contreras excavated the famous Offering 4. He returned to La Venta for additional fieldwork, including a survey in 1958 to assess the condition of the site following damage inflicted by the petroleum industry, as well as the removal of monuments to the Parque La Venta in Villahermosa, Tabasco. Contreras's involvement in the preservation of La Venta as an archaeological site continued throughout the 1960s and '70s.

In 1972 Contreras was asked to go to La Venta to determine and set the limits of the site for INAH. His involvement in this project ultimately led to a presidential decree in 1988, which made La Venta the best protected Olmec site, covering an area of more than 200 acres.

Eduardo Contreras died in 1986.

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