Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibits artifacts from one of the Mesoamerican people called the Olmecs. One of these artifacts is a mask of a face showing a young human-like being. This mask which was called the Olmec Mask is carved from jade which was one of the most valued stones in the Olmec’s time period. Jade was a very effective crafting material in Mesoamerica and was mostly used for special works like this one. The artist had to carve into the surface very carefully to make the perfect details so it would become three-dimensional. This was not a mask for wearing because there were no holes in it for the eyes or nose. That means it was used as a decorative piece of art, mostly as clothing art. It was used on a mummy to symbolize the progress of the person’s future life and also the progress of growth and transformation. The face is not completely human; it represents a jag-were which was a god in their culture that was half human and half animal and was a powerful mythic creature. Below the bottom lip is a cleft. This cleft shows the Olmec symbol for corn referring to the maize god. The eyebrows are in flames showing that this figure is above the ordinary people. The color in the greenstone was used to link the idea of fertility and abundance. The Olmecs also thought it was capable of releasing vapor that boosted the growth of their crops.
The tool that the artist probably used was a celt, a long thin prehistoric stone or bronze tool with a sharp cutting edge. This jadeite stone that the Olmecs used was a type of greenstone that is only in a few places around the whole world. The material used for this mask was possibly from the Motagua River Valley which is now Guatemala. It was the only place that jadeite existed in Mesoamerica in this time period. This might be one of the reasons why this type of stone was so valuable to the Olmecs, because it was very rare to find.
The Olmecs were an ancient civilization living from 1200 BCE to 400 BCE. They lived at the coast of Mexico (now called Veracruz). They made beautiful pieces of art and were known for incorporating jade into their art. They invented the figures named the Maize God, the dragon, the hollow baby, the jaguar, the feathered serpent, the wrestler. The Olmecs were also known for their creation of the Colossal heads which represented a king and were 6-8 feet tall. They used this greenish stone in much of their art. It is not known who the artist of the mask was but the Olmec culture can be seen in his or her piece of art. It shows that their main god is the Maize god. He was the god of corn and fertility. Corn was the Olmecs main crop in Mesoamerica. It could be grown in the wetlands and some mountainous places. This artwork like the Olmec Mask show that corn was a high importance in of the food of their society.
The Olmecs were the largest culture in Mesoamerica at that time and their main sites were Las Venta, Las Tres Zapotes, Villahermosa, and San Lorenzo. The city that had the most influence was La Venta. This was the main trading site and was where the Great Pyramid was located. This was an ancient Olmec pyramid that was built by the Olmecs and was where the king sat on an altar that he used for a throne.
The most important thing that the Olmecs were known for was their bloodletting sacrifices to satisfy their gods. They would cut off a piece of the body from themselves or another person. It was generally the tongue or cheek for the women and the genitals for the men. The piercing was done by a sharp pointed stone called an obsidian or by using the spines of a stingray. There were also pictures that have been found of the Olmecs that show a rope being pulled through the tongue. This was done to maintain balance with the mythical world between the Gods and the humans.
I really enjoyed the visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Mesoamerican Art exhibit. I learned a lot about the people, time period, and place of the Olmecs, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations. Each piece of art showed many important facts about the people and their culture. The Olmec Mask was the most interesting piece of Olmec art to me. It was beautifully made and probably took the artist a long time to carve into the jade. This one mask gave me many facts about an ancient civilization that lasted thousands of years.