This image is the cover for the book Discovering the Olmecs, The William & Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere

Discovering the Olmecs, The William & Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere

An “eminently readable account” of this ancient Mesoamerican civilization—and the experiences of the archaeologists who have unearthed its history (Choice).

The Olmecs are renowned for their massive carved stone heads and other sculptures, the first stone monuments produced in Mesoamerica. Seven decades of archaeological research have given us many insights into the lifeways of the Olmecs, who inhabited parts of the modern Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco from around 1150 to 400 BC, and there are several good books that summarize the current interpretations of Olmec prehistory. But these formal studies don’t describe the field experiences of the archaeologists who made the discoveries. What was it like to endure the Olmec region’s heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and ticks to bring that ancient society to light? How did unforeseen events and luck alter carefully planned research programs and the conclusions drawn from them? And, importantly, how did local communities and individuals react to the research projects and discoveries in their territories?

In this engaging book, a leading expert on the Olmecs tells those stories from his own experiences and those of his predecessors, colleagues, and students. Beginning with the first modern explorations in the 1920s, David Grove recounts how generations of archaeologists and local residents have uncovered the Olmec past and pieced together a portrait of this ancient civilization that left no written records. The stories are full of fortuitous discoveries and frustrating disappointments, helpful collaborations and deceitful shenanigans. What emerges is an unconventional history of Olmec archaeology, a lively introduction to archaeological fieldwork, and an exceptional overview of all that we currently know about the Olmecs.

David C. Grove

DAVID C. GROVE is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has carried out archaeological research in Mexico for fifty years and is best known for his investigations at the Olmec-related site of Chalcatzingo, Morelos. Grove is a recipient of the American Anthropological Association’s Alfred Vincent Kidder Award for Eminence in the Field of American Archaeology, a past president of the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association, and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he is Courtesy Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida.

University of Texas Press