Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Olmec" burial found in Puebla

One of the great problems of Mesoamerican archaeology is the lack of osteological remains from the Olmec civilization. The environment of the Olmec heartland, the steamy and wet Gulf Coastal plains of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco states in Mexico, has destroyed almost all traces of bone from the archaeological sites in this region. This week Mexican authorities have reported on the discovery of a burial that was found underneath the Casa del Mendrugo and that dates apparently to the Early Preclassic period, roughly 1500 - 1200 B.C. The burial included the remains of two individuals, one a woman and the second possibly a man. The woman's remains were better preserved and indicate she was around 55 years old at the time of her death. Archaeologist Arnulfo Allende found 35 objects with these bodies, including 26 ceramic vessels as well as at least 3 mirrors (two essentially complete) and figurines and pectoral jewelry made of greenstone. (Images of some of these objects, as well some of the skeletal material, can be seen HERE.) A DNA study from one of the teeth in this burial is planned, to test the ethnicity of the individual, although the fact that osteological remains from the Olmec heartland are so few would make any test of these bones as being of immigrant Olmecs exceedingly difficult. Furthermore, determining ethnicity from remains more than 3000 years ago is questionable, given the intervening cultural changes and genetic transmission between groups over that span of time.

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