Standing Figurine, 800/400 B.C.
Green hornfels and cinnabar
H. 30.2 cm (11 7/8 in.)
Ada Turnbull Hertle Fund, 1971.314
In the tropical Gulf Coast lowlands of southern Veracruz and Tabasco, between 900 and 400 B.C., powerful Olmec rulers constructed imposing ceremonial capitals with earthen pyramids, platforms, and open courtyards. These centers commanded surrounding communities and regional resources, and developed far-ranging trade routes for rare and valuable materials. Olmec archaeological sites such as San Lorenzo and La Venta feature monumental basalt sculptures such as tabletop thrones carved with mythological imagery as well as colossal portrait heads of rulers. At La Venta, thousands of serpentine blocks were also deposited beneath the floors of the open courtyards. Other offerings consist of small-scale, beautifully carved figurines, implements, masks, and related ritual paraphernalia made of jadeite, hornfels, or serpentine. These deposits commemorated rulers and their achievements. Because metal tools were unknown in Mexico until approximately A.D. 800 and were not widely used until after the Spanish conquest in 1521, artists employed hard stones, cords and sand, hand pump drills with stone points, and months of patient polishing to create such pieces.
This standing figurine—with its smooth, simplified, and rounded torso, limbs, and facial features—reflects the sophisticated style of the Olmec heartland. The sculpture is thought to have been found by the Coatzacoalcos River in the 1960s, when a major dam flooded the valley. A group of similar figurines excavated in La Venta points to the symbolic purpose for which such sculptures were intended. The group (known as Offering 4, from Complex A) consists of sixteen figurines and six posts. Four figures are arranged in single file, as if walking in line toward a central figure; ten others stand to one side, with a single eroded basalt figure opposite them, his back to the posts. It is not known exactly what this ensemble commemorates, though the scene may depict the very event for which it would have served as an offering. This may well have been a rite of passage for young aristocratic postulants entering an administrative office or a priestly, military, or trade profession. Such rites were of crucial importance and were often celebrated at auspicious times of transition such as equinoxes and solstices, as determined by a divinatory calendar.
– Entry, Ballplayers, Gods, and Rainmaker Kings, 2013), pg. 17
In the Gulf Coast lowlands of Veracruz and Tabasco between 900 and 400 B.C., Olmec rulers built cities with ceremonial earthen pyramids, platforms, and plazas. Monumental sculptures depict rulers and mythological themes, while small-scale figurines and related works commemorate important events. This figurine was found near the Coatzacoalcos River during the 1960s. It is carved in the style of figurines from a ritual offering at the major capital La Venta. These may have marked a rite of passage, when young men were initiated into office as rulers, warriors, priests, or traders in the stratified Olmec society.– Permanent collection label