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Olmec writing


Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


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Originally the name of a historical people, the Huixtotin Olmecs living in Caoutchouc at the Gulf of Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the term ‘Olmec’ has been used variously to refer both to the most ancient period of civilization in the New World which flourished in southern Mexico from the twelfth to the fifth centuries bce , and to the period immediately preceding the ‘golden age’ of Mesoamerican culture, i.e. from about 150 bce to 250 ce . The early Olmec culture had massive stone monuments and pyramids, and most scholars agree that the Maya calendar as well as Maya hieroglyphic writing have their origin in this period. The latter Olmec period is characterized by a distinctive literary tradition, called epi-Olmec because it seems to descend from that of the earlier Olmecs, although the scarcity of epigraphic material does not yet allow a reconstruction of the exact nature of the relationship between the two. A better understanding of epi-Olmec writing became possible through the discovery in 1986 of a stele with a long inscription at La Mojarra, Veracruz, Mexico ( Figure 4 ). The script was found to be closely related to Mayan hieroglyphic writing, as had been suspected for some time. It is basically syllabic with individual graphemes representing CV syllables, and in addition makes use of logograms. Grammatical endings are mostly spelled by syllabograms. The ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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