Olmec Settlement Data from La Venta, Tabasco, Mexico

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Science  07 Oct 1988:
Vol. 242, Issue 4875, pp. 102-104
DOI: 10.1126/science.242.4875.102


Research at La Venta, a major Olmec center on a low salt dome 12 kilometers from the Gulf Coast has revealed evidence of initial occupation (about 1750 to 1400 B.C.) along levees of the silted-in Río Barí, north of the site core in a transitional estuarine-riverine environment. Between 1400 and 1150 B.C. settlement expanded to nearby La Venta itself, which between 1150 and 800 B.C. developed into a major temple-town complex. Local development peaked at La Venta and along the river levees between 800 and 500 B.C. In this span La Venta headed a local three-tiered site hierarchy as social distinctions expanded to the peripheral Río Barí sites. New excavations show that growth in population size and density at La Venta preceded the development of sociopolitical complexity. These data contradict the traditional organizational reconstruction of Olmec society, the "vacant ceremonial center" model, and provide qualified support for a model that presents riverine resource concentration as a significant factor in the evolution of Olmec civilization.