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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: 19.5333, -96.9167
The bus took nearly 2 hours to complete the 85 kilometres from Veracruz to Xalapa. We wanted to come to the Museum of Anthropology, (the 2nd most important in Mexico because it houses the best collection of Olmec heads). Who are the Olmecs you may ask? I will try and give a very brief answer, partly because I have a limited knowledge, and partly because I don't want to bore you too much!
The story starts between 40,000 and 30,000 B.C. when it is believed that people from Asia made their way across the frozen Bering Strait into what is now Alaska, and gradually (over hundreds, if not thousands of years) down the west coast of the Americas and into Mexico, (and even further south into Central and South America). Over time people settled in groups in different areas, and as this happened their language changed and developed and their lifestyles changed as they adapted to the range of geographic and climatic features of their area.
The Olmecs are one of the earliest ethnic groups identified, and it is believed that they had settlements as early as 2,000 to 1,500 B.C. Obviously it is so long ago that most evidence
of their society has long since disappeared but some of the stone heads they created have survived together with other stone artefacts.
The different ethnic groups moved over time and societies flourished and declined as a result of climate change, wars, natural disasters, conquest etc. I had no idea when I started looking into the history of Mexico just how complex it is, how many different ethnic groups there are and have been, how many languages developed, and how many are still in use. It made me aware of how little information we were given at school and certainly how ignorant I am about these complex and sophisticated societies. Anyway, I won't go into more detail as I am sure if you want more, you could find it, but I am just going to put in a selection of pictures to give a idea of the range of artefacts and an insight into some groups. I was especially fascinated by the importance of maize to the development of most of these indigenous groups. The cycle of maize production meant that there were times of the year when people were free to undertake other activities such hunting, fishing, growing other crops,
and even mining. This was fundamental to the provision of surplus foods which then enabled people to specialise, leading to more complex societies and eventually the growth of governing elites.
We enjoyed seeing the contents of the Museum but appreciated it even more because of the beauty of the building. It is part of the University of Veracruz, consisting of a one storey building which is on a gentle slope, and there are no separate rooms to the main body of the museum, but where walls might normally be found there are a few steps down. The effect is of one long hallway which disappears down into the distance. All the floors and walls are of light marble and running parallel to the main hall are side “rooms” which are entered through openings in the wall and are actually out into the open air. These areas contain many stone displays amongst jungle plants so replicating the original settings.
There were only a handful of people around so we felt privileged to be able to wander past such amazing displays.
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