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the olmecs




Well, here's another interesting article about that recent Washington
D. C. exhibit. Of course, the specialists will think this is child's
prattle, but the rest of the folks might enjoy it...

Best regards.

Yuri.

p.s. Sorry the article is not formatted well, but I had trouble
downloading it with an unfamiliar browser. 

[begin quote]

>             Electronic Telegraph
>             International News
>             Monday July 8 1996                               Issue 422
>-----------------------
> 
>  [Image]          The roar that once ruled the jungle
>                   By Adrian Berry, Science Correspondent
> 
>  ---------------
>  
>                   IN A glass case in Washington's National Gallery
>                   of Art is a group of figures, each of the same
>                   man taking a drug from the gland of a giant toad
>                   that gradually transforms him into a jaguar.
>         
>                   It is part of an exhibition - running until
>                   October - of the arts and artifacts of the
>                   Olmecs, the earliest civilisation in the
>                   Americas, the ancestors of the Mayas and the
>  ---------------  Aztecs, who appeared in about 1200 BC (making
>                   them as old as the Pharaohs) and who then, in
>                   about 300 AD, mysteriously vanished.
> 
>                   That these dwellers in Central America were the
>                   cultural as well as the lineal forebears of the
>                   cruel and barbarous Aztecs, with their hecatombs
>                   of human sacrifices, is shown by the figure of a
>                   priest wearing - apparently as a casual garment
>                   - the flayed skin of his sacrificial victim.
> 
>                   The nine-ton sculpture of an Olmec chieftain
>                   with a glare of authority and a face the size of
>                   a doubledecker bus shows the extraordinary
>                   abilities of these people. It took 12 hours to
>                   move it 800 feet into the Washington gallery,
>                   and another 12 to lift it into place on to a bed
>                   of six steel girders. Yet the Olmecs themselves,
>                   so many thousands of years ago, routinely
>                   transported these giant stones hundreds of miles
>                   without the use of wheels or horses.
> 
>                   The Olmecs were terrified of jaguars; not of the
>                   actual animals, but of were-jaguars, the Gods of
>                   Darkness - the beasts into which their shamans,
>                   or medicine men, imagined they had transformed
>                   themselves when they wished to impress or
>                   intimidate the population.
> 
>                   The were-jaguars always roamed the countryside
>                   at night. They almost became the animals that
>                   they impersonated. They roared and ate raw meat
>                   and clambered up trees. A hallucogenic drug gave
>                   this half-animal a clearer sense of smell and an
>                   enhanced vision of all that was happening.
> 
>                   The mental effects on ordinary people produced
>                   by this insane maurauder can be imagined. As one
>                   anthropologist put it: "His nocturnal chesty
>                   roar causes men to edge toward the fire and draw
>                   their hoods tighter. It silences the yapping
>                   dogs and startles the cattle. In announcing its
>                   mere presence in the blackness of the night, the
>                   'jaguar' puts the animate world on edge."
> 
>                   The were-jaguar, regarded as a single being no
>                   matter how many priests were transformed into
>                   animals at any one time, was the principal god
>                   of the Olmecs. His powers were absolute and
>                   irresistable. He could slay any man or carry off
>                   any woman. And instead of resenting these
>                   outrages, the people timidly prayed to him to
>                   bring them rain.
> 
>                   The face of the Olmec chieftain in the
>                   exhibition shows mixed oriental and negroid
>                   features, indicating his descent from the
>                   ancestors of Europeans, showing how his
>                   ancestors probably crossed the Bering Strait
>                   between Russia and Alaska some 20,000 years ago
>                   when the present sea was dry land.
> 
>                   Apart from their sufferance of animalistic
>                   priests, there is every hint in the exhibition
>                   that the Olmecs were an accomplished trading
>                   civilisation. Their empire extended 1,000 miles,
>                   from Mexico to Nicaragua. Their jade and
>                   serpentine jewellery reveals the existence of an
>                   aristocracy. They were finely skilled in
>                   producing stone artifacts of every sort, from
>                   axes, to altars to figurines, and of course
>                   giant heads of jaguars. They even perfected the
>                   lost art of polishing a stone so finely that it
>                   acted as a mirror.
> 
>                   Modern explorers in South America frequently
>                   encounter the legacy of the Olmecs' divine
>                   jaguar. The Tucano Indians of the Amazon equate
>                   its distant roar with that of thunder that
>                   brings life-giving rains. Other Indian tribes
>                   howl during a solar eclipse to scare off the
>                   jaguar which has eaten the Sun. The Arawak
>                   Indians have an all-embracing saying that
>                   "everything is jaguar."
> 
>                   And like the contemporary Egyptians, the Olmecs
>                   were master-engineers. The mounds that remain of
>                   their pyramids were all oriented eight degrees
>                   towards the north, with uncanny precision.
> 
>                   * Adrian Berry's book The Next 500 Years is
>                   published in paperback this weeek by Headline at
>                   7.99.
> 
>                   This report appeared in the last edition of the
>                   Sunday Telegraph


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-- 
Yuri Kuchinsky          | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
------------------------| is always Paradise: so say the most ancient 
Toronto ... the Earth   | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
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