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What the Olmecs Did

You may remember my references to artwork of the Olmec culture in Mesoamerica, from my review of the Aztec show at the Guggenheim (January 30). Anthropologists have been debating about the role of the Olmecs in Mesoamerican prehistory, which is the subject of an article (Mother Culture, or Only a Sister?, March 15) by John Noble Wilford for The New York Times:

Archaeologists have split sharply over how much influence the Olmecs had on contemporary and subsequent Mesoamerican cultures. Were Olmecs the "mother" culture? Or were they one among "sister" cultures whose interactions through the region produced shared attributes of religion, art, political structure and hierarchical society? Last month, the simmering pot of mother-sister controversy was stirred anew by Dr. Jeffrey P. Blomster, an Olmec archaeologist at George Washington University. In a report in the journal Science, he and other researchers described evidence of the widespread export of Olmec ceramics that they said supported "Olmec priority in the creation and spread of the first unified style and iconographic system in Mesoamerica."
Read the whole thing.

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