Day 4 of our Caravan tour took us to the capital city and financial center of Tabasco, Villahermosa, which was founded in 1596. It is a bustling city of 750,000 and is home to Parque Museo La Venta, the Olmec Archaeological Park.
The Olmec were the ancient ancestors to the Maya and this is the place where the 12 foot tall Olmec head statues were found. There are 28 Olmec carvings at this outdoor museum, along with an interesting zoo, lake and indoor museum. The carvings are a stunning example of the sophisticated artistry employed by the ancient Olmec.
There is evidence that the Olmec were on the North American continent more than 10,000 years ago. The first documentation of shamanistic practices occurred during the period of the Olmec, when the shaman was purported to be transformed into the shape of the jaguar. Many believe that the Olmec were the cradle civilization for the gene pool of Mesoamerica and were referred to as the “mother culture of Mesoamerica”.
Beyond the zoo and at the entrance to the outdoor museum is the stately ceiba tree, which is the holy tree of the Maya, a very important source that allowed them access between their nine worlds.
Many fascinating carvings are found throughout the park, the first of which was La Abuela, the Grandmother. She is kneeling and holding a plate as an offering. She corresponds to the period from 700 – 400 BC.
The Quadrangular Altar is probably one of the first stylistic expressions of an Olmec altar in which a character emerging from a cave is seen. The idea of life emerging from a cave and its function as a connection between the exterior world and the interior of the earth is central to the believe of the Olmec culture.
The Altar of the Children was an interesting structure that shows a central figure in headdress, once again emerging from a cave or the entrance to the underworld, carrying a child, possibly dead, in his arms. On the sides of the monument are carvings of four men in unusual headdresses, each carrying a child with a deformed head.
Probably one of the more unusual monuments was entitled Monkey Looking at the Sky, but is actually thought to be a depiction of a woman giving birth.
One of the most preserved altars and having the most illustrative meaning is that of the Triumphal Altar. In the central part of the cornice of this monument is a figure with a human face and jaguar paws, a symbol of power. From the niche, a full-body figure emerges from a cave, richly clothed, with a headdress representing the head of an eagle. He is seated cross-legged, leaning slightly forward and holding onto a rope, which is also being held by another figure depicted on the right side of the altar.
The next monument, entitled Young Goddess, depicts a woman wearing a short skirt and helmet, with medallion and earflaps. She has passed on to the next world and is probably displayed in her coffin.
An inquisitive little mammal, seen throughout the park, was the white-nosed coatimundi. He seemed to be very accustomed to visitors.
From here, we traveled on to magical Palenque.