Smithsonian Olmec Legacy

Website Search Box
An archaeological site

San Lorenzo Monument 1. stirling_95. Photograph by Richard H. Stewart, R.H. Heizer Collection, National Anthropological Archives

1945 Letter to Wetmore

Hotel Guardiola
Mexico, D.F.
June 4, 1945

Dr. Alexander Wetmore, Secretary
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.

Dear Dr. Wetmore:

Marion and I got back to Mexico City on June 2 after a slight delay caused by a last minute change of plans. About a week before we were due to break camp at Piedra Parada, we got a letter from a friend of ours in Coatzacoalcos mentioning a heretofore unknown site where several worked stones that seemed to be quite similar to some at La Venta had been seen. Realizing the importance of this, we went to Coatzacoalcos and after a rather strenuous and hectic trip reached the site which proved to be equal to and possibly more important than La Venta.

Curiously enough, the first stones had only been found by the natives less than 8 months ago, and apart from the Mexican who called them to our attention, no one else has yet seen them. The monuments include two colossal heads, which are larger than the largest at La Venta. The biggest of these is 9'10” in height and is the largest, most skillfully carved and best preserved of all the colossal heads. The other head also is in an excellent state of preservation and is 8' 10” in height.

Other monuments include a handsome and almost perfect seated figure representing the Olmec jaguar god; a seated figure representing a woman holding a child in her arms (the child having a human body and a jaguar head). Another represents a seated woman with a large cylindrical bar in her hands. There is a stone fount excellently carved in the form of a duck with a … basin on top and a place for the ingress and egress of water. The sides of this are decorated with water glyphs. Another large rectangular monument with a carved surface underneath we were unable to turn over in the time at our disposal. There is also the realistically carved figure of a snarling crouching jaguar, a double figure showing an anthropomorphic jaguar seated on a recumbent human form. There is a large table top altar quite similar to the biggest altar at La Venta, only larger with a seated human figure in front carved in full relief emerging from an arched niche. The two ends of this altar are decorated with beautifully carved figures in low relief, the best one showing an elaborately costumed individual wearing a headdress in the form of a clutching eagle's talon.

One of the most interesting features of the site is the remains of a stone aqueduct made of hollowed out stones each 3' in length, U-shaped in cross-section and joined together like a series of troughs. These were covered over with fitted flat stones. The mound area is very extensive, being considerably larger than La Venta.

At least half of these stones appear to have been exposed through the erosion of small ravines so that it is probable that there are many more at the site. The quality of the sculpture on all of the monuments is of the highest order, and it represents the best Olmec art.

We have hardly grown accustomed as yet to the luxuries of civilization and have talked more than once of the good time we all had on breaking camp at Tres Zapotes.

All of our Express materials have no safely reached Mexico City. I hope that our collection of reptiles and amphibians turns out to be interesting.

I saw Dr. Caso this morning and had a very nice session with him but owing to the arrival of a visiting delegation did not have the opportunity of bringing up the matter of the collections. However, there is plenty of time for that.

Marion saw Mrs. Foshag this morning but we have not had a chance to see the Stewarts.

We were fortunate in securing railroad reservations all the way through and expect to arrive in Washington on June 16.

We both congratulate you on the award given you by George Washington University. It is always a great satisfaction to receive this kind of public recognition.

Looking forward to seeing you soon –

Sincerely,

[signed, Stirling]

PS Just before leaving Coatzacoalcos, I sent a note to Dr. Grosvenor informing him of our new discovery.

[ TOP ]