La Venta Park, Tabasco--page 2 (of four pages)

flourished 900-400 BCE

Altars (Thrones)

These large basalt blocks, weighing many tons, have been called altars, although many experts now believe they were thrones. Characteristically they have flat tops with figures in the front.

Altar 6 with person emerging from a cave

According to Nick Rider, the recurrent image of a figure, emerging from a cave, represents "Olmec priests or priest-lords emerging from the Underworld, the origin of gods and kings" (419).

Altar 5, front: Altar of the children

The figure in the front, wearing a jaguar-skull headdress, holds a child, possibly dead. It has also been called a jaguar-baby, because the face, like many works by the Olmecs, has snarling, jaguar-like features. It has been suggested that Olmecs believed that in the mythic past, a woman had mated with a jaguar, thus creating a race of were-jaguars.

Altar 5, other views: Altar of the children

On the sides four additional figures hold children, identified by some scholars as were-children because their heads are cleft and mouths are snarling. (The head of a jaguar is naturally indented.)

Triumphal Altar

Here again a priest-lord is depicted at the entrance to the Underworld. This powerful figure holds ropes which are attached to the hands of prisoners, who he appears to be dragging toward the underworld. An outline of the jaguar head is on the cornice above the enclosed figure.

Triumphal Altar--detail of captured prisoner


Dialog Altar

This badly eroded altar repeats the usual theme--an important figure emerging from a cave or Underworld. Two bearded figures stand to the side.

Altar of the Owls

A figure rises from a cave. The owls' heads must have some symbolic meaning.

An eroded altar

Continue to page 3.

Work Cited:
Nick Rider. Yucatan and Mayan Mexico. UK: Cadogan, 2002.

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© 2004 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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