Olmec Heads

Olmec colossal heads are one of the most remarkable icons of the ancient Olmec civilization.

The Olmec civilization existed between 14th century and 4th century B.C. It was a remarkably advanced civilization for its time and countless features of the civilization continued to exist in the later Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

Colossal heads are one of the most prominent extant Olmec monuments. They are huge-sized heads carved in rock which have been dated to the time of the Olmec civilization.

These Olmec colossal heads have been recovered from multiple Olmec sites.

Olmec Heads History

The oldest Olmec colossal heads have been recovered from the site of San Lorenzo, which was the first major center of the Olmec civilization.

Researchers have been unable to accurately date these colossal heads as they have undergone significant physical treatment over the millennia.

The colossal heads recovered from San Lorenzo, for example, were buried in 900 B.C. So researchers estimate that they were originally created sometime between 1500 B.C. and 1000 B.C.

Another problem with detailing the exact history of the colossal heads is that according to the estimates of the researchers, each head took a very long time to be produced.

It has been estimated that some of the largest heads probably took 50 to 200 years to be completed.

Olmec Heads Characteristics

Each colossal head is created out of a single rock of volcanic basalt. This may be one of the reasons why these heads have suffered little damage over thousands of years.

Considering all the colossal heads that have been recovered from multiple Olmec sites, they weight between 6 and 55 tonnes.

In height, they range from 4.8 feet to 11.2 feet.

The faces depicted in all of these colossal heads are those of males with fleshy cheeks and flat noses.

Another common feature in all the colossal heads is the presence of headgears shaped as helmets which, researchers estimate, are depictions of headgears made of animals hide or cloth.

Olmec Heads As Art

Olmec colossal heads are considered a critically important part of the extant Olmec art.

Much like the rest of the Olmec art, the depictions of the faces in these colossal heads are realistic and life-like.

Such realism has been one of the most prominent features of Olmec art. Moreover, the faces depicted in each of the colossal heads are unique and different.

Some of the faces wear amiable expressions, other are carved with a stern countenance. One of the colossal heads contains traces of paint, based on which researchers have surmised that these heads were originally colored.

Olmec Heads Planned Manufacturing

Olmec heads must have required a highly planned manufacturing process.

Researchers believe this because their manufacture required the hauling of huge basalt rocks over large distances to be brought to the Olmec cities and towns, where they were then sculpted by expert artisans.

The number of labors required for the manufacture of each colossal head must have been huge. Some of the rocks used in colossal heads have been traced to their origins 150 miles away from the site of construction.

The sheer amount of resources required to transport such huge rocks and then hire people to work on it has led the researchers to believe that the colossal heads were commissioned by powerful Olmec rulers.

Olmec Heads Symbolic Explanations

It was previously surmised by researchers that these heads represented ball players of Olmec cities. However, this theory has been refuted now.

However, the headgear which is a part of these colossal heads indicates some sort of social distinction. Another theory, which has gained more credence, says that these are the faces of Olmec rulers dressed up for the ballgame.

Olmec Heads and Olmec technology

The construction of the colossal heads was a veritable accomplishment in a time when Olmec had no metal tools nor any beasts of burden to help them carry loads across large distances.

Researchers believe that the Olmec made use of water bodies to transport many of the rocks required in the manufacture of these heads.

However, it was impossible to transport heavier rocks using this method and Olmec probably made use of makeshift roads to move them across land routes.

In shaping the faces on these rocks, Aztecs used hammer-stones and abrasives.

Olmec Heads Occurrences

The Olmec heads occur at a number of Olmec sites and possibly one site outside the historically Olmec regions.

10 of these colossal heads have been recovered from San Lorenzo and the recoveries from this site are considered the oldest specimens of this kind of monumental structures.

Another 4 colossal heads have been recovered from the second major Olmec center, La Venta. 2 colossal heads have been recovered from Tres Zapotes and one head has been found at La Cobata.

Archaeologists have also found a unique monument in the Takalik Abaj region of Guatemala. This monument is a throne but researchers strongly believe that it was originally carved out of a colossal head.

Fragments of colossal heads have also been recovered from a number of Olmec areas.

Olmec Heads Replicas

A number of replicas of the Olmec heads, primarily meant for museums around the world, exist.

These are often used to help spread awareness about the colossal heads and let people get a real-like look at them.

A number of such replicas exist in U.S., many of them donated by Veracruz.

Belgium and Ethiopia each also have one replica of a colossal head which has been donated to them by Mexico.

Olmec Heads Summary

Olmec colossal heads are the iconic face of the Olmec civilization. These monumental structures are the most prominent extant source of ancient Olmec art.

Olmec made these colossal heads by carving them out of huge boulders of volcanic basalt.

These boulders, some of them weighing as much as 50 tonnes, were transported across tens of miles by the Olmec to take them to major Olmec sites where they were then worked on by a huge lab our force.

Although researchers can’t say exactly who are the people depicted in these monuments, significant support exists for the theory that the faces in these colossal heads represent powerful Olmec rulers.