March 14, 2017

New Research at the Olmec Site of Tres Zapotes

Research at the Olmec site of Tres Zapotes shows that the city lasted for some 1,500 years, while other Olmec cities only lasted 300-500 years. Archaeologist Christopher Pool posits that its success was due to a form of cooperative rule. Between 1000-400 BCE, Tres Zapotes was a major site with centralized rulers represented by huge stone heads carved in the rulers likeness. It had a central plaza and elite burials. At 400 BCE, La Venta, the most important Olmec site, collapsed. Traders no longer brought in luxury goods, and the city was abandoned. Many of the inhabitants may have moved to Tres Zapotes, 60 miles away. Tres Zapotes expanded quickly in size at 400 BCE. Now, Tres Zapotes had four separate plazas evenly spaced apart. Each has a temple pyramid on the west side, a long platform on the north, and a low platform in the center on an east-west line. All of the sites were oocupied at the same time, 400 BCE-1 CE. No one group dominated. It appears to be a shared power structure. All the inhabitants had the same types of goods, exotic goods were not imported. Ceramics and obsidian tools were made locally. This is the key to Tres Zapotes lasting so long. But between 1 CE-300 CE, there was a resurgence of centralized rulers. Tres Zapotes declined and was eventually abandoned.

Archaeology Magazine has the story of the research here;

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