Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2000:
Brett Methner

Neutron Activation Analysis on Olmec Pottery: A View From La Venta
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Figure 1: Map of Olmec Sites.

Research Year:  1997
Culture:  Olmec
Chronology:  Early Pre-Classic to Late Pre-Classic
Location:  Gulf Coast, México
Sites:  La Venta and San Lorenzo

Table of Contents

The Problem
Future Research
List of Figures
Sources Cited


Olmec La Venta (ca. 1000-400 B.C.) has received significant archaeological attention in the last 50 years of research (Grove, 1997). However, during that time the study of pottery has seemed to lag behind leaving many unanswered questions concerning chronology and interaction. Despite a modest ceramic bibliography for that site (Drucker, 1947; 1952; Drucker et al., 1955; Hallinan et al., 1968), one dilemma that has persisted is the nature of interaction between the earliest occupation of La Venta and the Early Formative San Lorenzo phase at San Lorenzo.

The spatial patterning across the Olmec landscape of these two sites as well as the other two principal sites, Laguna de los Cerros and Tres Zapotes, occur at nearly equal distances from one another (Figure 1). Earle (1976) recognized this phenomenon to be a non-random occurrence and explained the separation as a result of inter-site competition and mutual antagonism. Later, Grove (1994) argued that because each Olmec site was situated in a unique ecological zone bearing certain resources, that a cooperative exchange model, or zonal complementarity, could also be a valid explanation. As Grove proposes, each Olmec site had abundant resources dictated by their local environment. For La Venta, the zone was characterized by resources unique to a coastal estuary. Also present were salt, cacao, and tar. For San Lorenzo, the zone was characterized by resources unique to a floodplain environment. Also present were hematite, limestone, and finer qualities of clays. According to Grove then, the spatial patterning of Olmec sites could also be explained by their alignment in distinct ecological niches that in turn promoted a cooperative exchange of abundant resources for deficient resources.

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Submitted 02/01/2000 by:

University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas

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