Smithsonian Olmec Legacy

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An archaeological site

La Venta

Detail of La Venta Altar 5. stirling_49. M.W. Stirling Collection, National Anthropological Archives
Detail of La Venta Altar 5. stirling_49. M.W. Stirling Collection, National Anthropological Archives

The site of La Venta is very curious from a geographic standpoint as it consists of an island of high sandy ground in the midst of the great coastal plain swamp. Here a family or clan under the leadership of an 80 year old Indian called Sebastian Torres have made a clearing and operate their milpas [corn fields] in the high land nearby. The archaeological site is located within easy walking distance of this clearing
— Matthew Stirling in a letter to Gilbert Grosvenor, editor of National Geographic magazine, March 8, 1940

La Venta is located in the northwestern corner of the State of Tabasco. A great deal of archaeological investigation has taken place at the site since Matthew Stirling first visited it while working at Tres Zapotes in 1940. Stirling led two joint Smithsonian Institution - National Geographic Society expeditions there in 1942 and 1943 with Smithsonian archaeologists Philip Drucker and Waldo Wedel. Drucker returned to La Venta with Robert Heizer and Robert Squier of the University of California in 1955. Heizer and Drucker continued excavations at the site in collaboration with John A. Graham and Eduardo Contreras among others. In 1985, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) initiated the Proyecto Arqueológico La Venta (PALV), for the protection, further investigation and restoration of the site. Since 1984 Rebecca Gonzalez Lauck has been the lead archaeologist at La Venta.

A major Olmec cultural and political center from about 1000 BC to 400 BC, La Venta has provided scholars and students with the largest number of sculptural works and beautifully carved stone objects. Since systematic excavation began in the 1940s, numerous large monuments, stelae, altars and colossal heads have been recovered along with smaller offerings of jade and serpentine objects. One of the best known finds is Offering 4, which consisted of 16 jade, jadeite and basalt figurines and 6 jade celts positioned to depict a ceremony in progress.

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