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La Venta (Mexico)

Olmec Capital City in Tabasco


Mosaic Platform, La Venta (Mexico)

Mosaic Platform, La Venta (Mexico)

Ruben Charles

The important Olmec capital of La Venta is located in the city of Huimanguillo, in the state of Tabasco, Mexico. Founded on a natural elevation above the floodplain of the Tonala River, near an ancient riverbed. Occupations at La Venta began as early as 1750 BC, although the Olmec culture ruled between 1200 and 400 BC.

At its heyday, La Venta probably extended for a distance of some 200 hectares. Most of the structures were earthen or adobe mudbrick platforms and mounds, probably capped by wattle- and daub structures with thatched roofs. Little natural stone was available, and the only stone in the public architecture is a few basalt, andesite and limestone blocks used for foundation support or internal buttresses.

Architecture at La Venta

One remarkable stone structure is an abstract mosaic of more than 400 shaped serpentine blocks. This mosaic was buried within a platform mound. Monumental architecture at La Venta is visible at La Venta, in the shape of colossal stone heads and stela.

A ceremonial precinct was in place at La Venta, including a 30 meter tall pyramidal structure and a basalt column fence, surrounded by an earthen barrier. The remainder of the city shows evidence of some planning, with a layout of avenue-like areas and shared plazas.

La Venta was excavated first by Matthew Stirling for the Smithsonian Institution in the 1940s. Recent studies have been undertaken by Rebecca González Lauck at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to the Olmec Civilization, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

González Lauck, Rebecca. 2001. La Venta (Tabasco, Mexico). Pp 798-801 in Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America, edited by Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster. Garland Publishing, Inc. New York.

Examples: Archaeological sites within the La Venta zone include San Andres, Isla Alor, and Plan Chontalpa

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