The Olmecs, a civilization of colossi


These ancient inhabitants of Mexico have carved strange giant heads, the meaning of which is only just beginning to be understood. Archaeologist Ann Cyphers is about to publish a sum on these people of which Mayas and Aztecs are the heirs.

Cyclopean head in basalt or babyfaces – figurines of adults like chubby children – these creations of the Olmec civilization are recognizable among all. They captivate specialists who have been trying to understand their meaning for decades.

World reference on this society which reigned on the Gulf of Mexico from the 13th to the 15th century BCE, the American Ann Cyphers dedicated her life to them. Crowned in December 2019 by the prestigious research prize of the 4th Archaeological Forum of Shanghai (China), the archaeologist of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Unam), is about to publish the sum of her discoveries. Works that have renewed the approach of this society, considered as the „mother“ of all Mesoamerican civilizations, and whose heirs were the Mayans and the Aztecs.

Ruling over the thick forests of the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the Olmecs extended their territory to the northwest of Costa Rica and reached a very high level of development. The name they gave themselves did not reach us, they were nicknamed Olmeca, the „people of the rubber country“ in Nahuatl language, an appellation supported by the discovery, in the 20th century, of rubber balls in the sites where they had lived. Proof that these people have long used the sticky and milky sap of the Castilla elastica tree.

But the Olmecs are best known for having shaped gigantic heads out of monoliths weighing several tons, which „are neither of extraterrestrial origin nor African!“, Hastens to specify Ann Cyphers.

Because since their exhumation, a tenacious myth surrounds these strange faces, born from the comments of a Mexican antique dealer, José Maria Melgar y Serrano, who had been able to observe the first unearthed in 1862 by a peasant in Veracruz.

„Ethiopic’ look,“ says the archaeologist, who recalls that no scientist at the time envisaged the existence of advanced societies in America. Since Bonaparte’s campaigns in Egypt and the discovery of Nineveh in Iraq, all attention was indeed focused on the Middle East.

„The presence of Phoenicians and Africans in America was a popular theory then,“ says Ann Cyphers. „It was a way of denying the American populations the ability to be at the origin of powerful civilizations, specifies Caterina Magni, a specialist in the Olmecs. However, no relationship has ever been established between the African continent and Mesoamerica.

“ What genetics has recently confirmed, adds anthropologist Enrique Villamar Bercerit of Unam: „A pioneering study of mitochondrial DNA taken from human remains concluded that the Olmecs were undoubtedly American in origin. These people shared the most frequent of the five mitochondrial groups characteristic of the indigenous populations of the continent.