Dissertation: Investigations at an Olmec Community

Project: Research project

Project Details


Under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Hirth, Mr. Carl Wendt will collect data for his doctoral dissertation. He will conduct archaeological excavation at el Bajio, a small Early Formative Olmec settlement which is located in the San Lorenzo region of Veracruz, Mexico and dates to ca. 1,500-900 BC. The Olmec are well known both to researchers and non-archaeologists because of the monumental art they produced. Basalt boulders many tons in weight were transported to large sites and then carved into stylized heads. Because the Olmec constitute the earliest complex society in Middle America and provide the base from which later Mayan cultures arose, they can shed light on the processes which led to the rise of New World civilizations and thus have been the focus of considerable archaeological attention. However, as Mr. Wendt notes, while major excavation has been conducted at large central Olmec sites, very little is known about the broader social and regional context in which they were situated and only a very limited understanding of Olmec social, political and economic organization has been attained. Mr. Wendt's research will help to remedy this situation.

El Bajio is bisected by an actively eroding stream which cuts across the center of the site. While water cuts away several meters each year and is rapidly leading to El Bajio's destruction, it has also offered a unique opportunity because it is possible to trace features of the settlement in the wall of the river bank and to gain insight into the spatial organization of the village most of which is buried under several meters of sediment. Mr. Wendt will first clean this cut wall and produce a horizontal map. This will provide a guide for future excavation. He will also conduct a remote survey using both auger holes and magnetometer readings to search for buried features. On this basis he will select several houses for extensive horizontal excavation. The data thus collected will allow him to reconstruct the economic and social organization of the village and determine the extent to which it was organized along hierarchical lines. He will determine the degree of status differentiation based on variation among household contents. He will also compare cultural materials excavated at el Bajio to counterparts from a larger regional center and examine the extent to which it was integrated into a larger regional network. These 'bottom up' data will complement those from 'top down' excavations at the more important centers.

This project is important for several reasons. It will provide data of interest to many regional archaeologists. It will shed new light on the rise of Middle American civilizations and contribute to training a promising young archaeologist.

Effective start/end date3/1/002/28/02


  • National Science Foundation: $11,983.00


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