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 Scattershots: The Stone Art of Mesoamerica
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  05:35:13  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote


At this point, the beginning, I really don't know if I want to do this one. The topic is huge and a Scattershot by it's very nature, must be as short as possible and still maintain some semblance of coherence. On the other hand, as we have already seen, stone art is fascinating, and on the gripping hand I've already done some research. It is an excellent topic, but, if I feel like it, I can always quit the damned thing at any time. What the hell, you'll never know it if I do....

Ok, enough with the waffling; let's do this thing.

In this screed, we will be dealing with three advanced cultures, all related. In order to grasp the art of another culture, one must have at least a basic understanding of that culture. Fortunately, the ancient Mesoamericans left enough artifacts behind them that they are quite well known. As we are going to begin with the Olmecs, we'll look at them first.

The Olmecs are the eldest of these peoples and the first actual civilization in Mesoamerica. They began as an amalgam of several tribes and made alliances through trade with many more. In due course, all became Olmec. They built pyramids of earth and stone, and respectable cities, and had agriculture with irrigation systems where necessary. They made dyed textiles. In their day, they were the most powerful culture on the continent.

The Olmecs flourished from about 1200 BCE to 400 BCE and there is evidence that they played, if indeed not invented, the famous Ball Game. They also practiced ritual blood-letting, but it is still a bit speculative that they instituted human sacrifice. There is little evidence in support of this last. There is evidence that they did cranial deformation on young children. They are the first Mesoamerican cultures to invent a form of hieroglyphic writing. They invented the Long Count calendar and they are thought to have invented the Zero Concept well before Ptolemy.
.


Olmec Long Count Calender. It was often used as a decoration on buildings and columns, as was this one on a stela.

They were polytheistic as well as shamanic and believed that each individual had an animal spirit. The jaguar, as the most powerful animal in the area, was the animal spirit of the most powerful individuals of the society: the shamans. And thus the Cult of the Jaguar ascended supreme, and much of their art concerns a sort of were-jaguar. It is thought that their most important deity was half-jaguar/half-serpent.


An Olmec statue holding a half-jaguar infant.


Their art was quite sophisticated and heavily borrowed from by the succeeding cultures of Maya and Aztec. The best known Olmec art is the Colossal Heads.

The following were all carved from blocks of volcanic basalt transported, probably by sledge and balsa raft, from the Tuxla Mountains. There are some 17 known and the largest of them is estimated to weigh 40 tons. Like the Moai statues of Easter Island, the purpose of these pieces is unknown.


Museo Nacional de Antropologia de Mexico, Mexico City.


This Colossal Head is from the La Venta Archaeological Site in the state of Tabasco, Mexico.


Location unknown.

As a side note, all of the Colossal Heads wear helmets and have negroid features. That has given rise to the hypothesis that the Olmec originated in Africa and immigrated to Mexico. This is not taken seriously by Mesoamerican scholars and while I have a thought on the matter, I shall refrain from speculation.

Of course the Heads were not all the Olmec carved nor even show the finest of their skills. There are many more examples of their expertise with stone.


This statue, known as “The Grandmother,” is thought to represent a dwarf. It too, is from the La Venta site.


An alter, La Venta site. Alters are thought to actually be thrones for the local rulers. The space beneath represents a passage to the underworld


Another alter held up by dwarfs. Dwarfs are often associated with the Jaguar Cult.


The Wrestler, found at Uxpanapa River, Vera Cruz


A mystic scene at Euyuk


A granite funerary mask. Private collection


The earliest known representation of the feathered serpent, La Venta.


Stone “reptile” head. Private collection. I do not think this represents a reptile at all. The snout is much too short and the forehead too high. The teeth are all wrong as well. I think it represents a stylized jaguar.


Life-sized female head in green stone showing apparent cranial deformation, Tenango del Valle, Mexico State

The Olmec also worked in ceramics and jade, crafting remarkable and beautiful vessels and figurines. The ceramic vessels were usually painted after firing and the then the patterns graved in.


A ceramic statue of Chalchiuchihuatl, goddess of nourishment and fertility. Private collection


Ceramic fish vessel about 6.5” tall. La Venta.


A ceramic bottle, Las Bocas.


Bird effigy vessel. The base as well as the body is hollow.

Jade is not an easy substance to work with the tools the Olmecs had. It is hard and quite brittle, but they worked it with great expertise.


Jade sculpture aprox. 2.5” high. Private collection.

/center]
The Kunz Axe, named after a former owner, is one of the largest jade objects yet found in Mesoamerica. It is some 11” long. It was likely used only ritually, as it's carving is representative of the Jaguar Cult. Found in Oaxaca.

[center]

Jade mask showing Jaguar Cult influence. Private collection.

[center]

A jade ear spool, private collection.

[center]

A jade perforator like those used in ritual blood-letting. This one is a bit large for that purpose and was possibly a funerary offering. Private collection.

Obsidian was very important and was universally used for knives, scrapers, projectile points and anything else that might require an edge. One hypothesis has it that obsidian was so useful and easy to come by that the Olmec never developed much metallurgy.

That's it, no more! I quit!

It is not possible to put forth even the most rudimentary coverage of Mesoamerican stone carving in a single Scattershot, and this wretched attempt at it is already too long by half, yet it is but a third done. And I have learned to hate the Olmec. But as I've gone this far, I might as well finish the bitch. So, I'll break it up into two or three 'shots. Return to this thread next week, when I will have learned to hate the Maya. Better still, make that a couple of weeks or so.... Or a month. Or a year, Or the lopped-off, writhing & bloody stump of friggin' eternity......
Reference

Reference

Reference




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  05:52:34   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message  Reply with Quote
RE: The African Connection, it may be that they were visited by West Africans as opposed to being African themselves. (total speculation of course)

Nice work Filthy.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
Edited by - BigPapaSmurf on 09/14/2009 05:53:44
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  06:25:38   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by BigPapaSmurf

RE: The African Connection, it may be that they were visited by West Africans as opposed to being African themselves. (total speculation of course)

Nice work Filthy.
Thanks! I speculate that the Colossal Heads actually represented dwarfs. Dwarfs were always shown in their art as very plump, and were important to the Jaguar Cult, which makes the heads religious icons. The negroid features might be merely stylizing.

There are some other tenuous African connections in the References, but nothing definitive, and that is not to say that visitation was not possible. Indeed, it is somewhat supportive. But the immigration theory reeks of lack of sound evidence.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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The Rat
SFN Regular

Canada
1342 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  06:26:04   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit The Rat's Homepage Send The Rat a Private Message  Reply with Quote
What, no Ica Stones?

Scurries for cover...

Bailey's second law; There is no relationship between the three virtues of intelligence, education, and wisdom.

You fiend! Never have I encountered such corrupt and foul-minded perversity! Have you ever considered a career in the Church? - The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Blackadder II

Baculum's page: http://www.bebo.com/Profile.jsp?MemberId=3947338590
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  06:41:59   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by The Rat

What, no Ica Stones?

Scurries for cover...

SWAT!!

Actually, I considered doing a little on them, and might yet. Some of the art is fascinating, but alas, they have no place in this one.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  09:40:39   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Seems to me the biggest strike against the non-mesoamerican origins idea is seeming lack of horrible old-wolrd diseases. The Chinese (not surprisingly)seem to think they were the ancestors.

Edit: also the lack of plant and animal transfer, you would think that they would have brought some grains/animals with them or taken some of those things back with them...

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
Edited by - BigPapaSmurf on 09/14/2009 09:47:21
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 09/14/2009 :  12:10:08   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by BigPapaSmurf

Seems to me the biggest strike against the non-mesoamerican origins idea is seeming lack of horrible old-wolrd diseases. The Chinese (not surprisingly)seem to think they were the ancestors.

Edit: also the lack of plant and animal transfer, you would think that they would have brought some grains/animals with them or taken some of those things back with them...
Indeed. When viewing almost any early Mesoamerican art, it must be remembered that virtually all of it is stylized. That's what I love about it, really; it lends itself to interpretation more than any other. It is a mystery to stir the mind as well as substance for the eye. The Chinese are wrong. The slant eye is a sign of the Jaguar Cult. Throughout human history, religion has had a very heavy influence upon any and all art.

The question of origins could be solved simply enough, I think, and perhaps already has. The ancestors of these peoples could DNA tested.

I'm taking a break from this one -- it really was a bitch-kitty to write in good time. Every illustration had to be researched and I discarded not a few that didn't match up. And as I am far from an expert in Mesoamerican history, I had to dive into that as well. I also screwed up the format and spent some hours trying, and failing, to straighten it out, and finally gave it up in disgust -- fucking computer code!

Anyhow, I ain't looking forward writin' up the The Maya art. It promises to be exciting and I'm not sure my ulcer and whiskey inventory is up to the job.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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