Creating Memory and Negotiating Power in the Olmec Heartland

Christopher A. Pool, Michael L. Loughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The creation of political landscapes requires the production of places made significant through acts of social remembering. The Gulf lowlands of Mexico exhibit some of the best known acts of social remembering in Mesoamerican prehistory. In this article, we engage political and practice-based frameworks for understanding the process of collective remembering in an examination of how the Olmecs and their successors inscribed their landscape with buildings, monuments, and rock art in ways that invoked the past while reframing it within the needs of their present. In particular, we explore the Olmecs’ memorialization of individuals and events in sculptures and offerings and their creation of narratives through the juxtaposition of sculptures and architecture. We then examine the creation and erasure of collective memory at the regional center of Tres Zapotes as expressed in the biographies of six monuments. We end with a comparison of “metropolitan” and hinterland carvings recorded in regional survey around Tres Zapotes. These examples situate social memory as an evolving entity molded and stretched by competing interests in an ongoing process of conflict and negotiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-260
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported in this article was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant numbers BCS-0242555 and BCS-1261514) and the University of Kentucky. Permission for fieldwork in Mexico was granted by the Institution Nacional de Antropología e Historia. We thank David Mixter and Edward Henry for inviting us to participate in the 2014 AAA symposium that gave rise to this article as well as their encouragement and advice as we revised the paper. Julia Guernsey and three anonymous reviewers offered recommendations for revision that greatly improved the final version of the article. We, of course, bear responsibility for any errors of fact or interpretation. Finally, we thank the crew of the Proyecto Arqueológico de Tres Zapotes (2003–3004) and the Recorrido Regional Arqueológico de Tres Zapotes (2014–2015), the people of Tres Zapotes, and the municipios of Santiago Tuxtla, Angel R. Cabada, Lerdo de Tejada, and Saltabarranca.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Landscape
  • Memory
  • Monuments
  • Olmec
  • Rock art

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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