1. Introduction

In this research, we focus on one of the most important kinds of precious goods and raw materials exchanged during the Olmec Formative of Mesoamerica: serpentinite. The Olmecs made stone axes, stelae, monuments, and massive offerings with weights of 1,000 tons of mosaic serpentinite (Drucker 1952; Drucker et al. 1959).

A better understanding of the productive sequence and consumption of this rock in Ancient Mexico is very important in order to study the degree of labour invested, ancient religious practices and symbolism of these goods, which were deposited in offerings and caches (Jaime-Riverón 2003). One of the most amazing facts is that the Olmecs did not have rocks in their environment (Pool 2007; Diehl 2006; Coe 1965). They developed their civilisation in the tropical jungles of Southern Veracruz and Tabasco, Gulf of Mexico (Fig. 1). In that environment, everything is perishable. However, the Olmecs wrote their history in monuments and artefacts made of stone. The systematic study of the rocks used by the Olmecs is one of the most logical, but underemployed, ways to understand that civilisation. The Olmecs developed in Mesoamerica from 1,500 to 400 BC in Southern Mexico, before the rise of Teotihuacan.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Map of the Olmec sites located in Southern Mexico

In this research, we use a multiple dataset of information in order to study the provenance and ancient use of serpentinite. The techniques used were petrography, XRD, NAA, and PIXE to identify ancient quarries and their final products. We also took into consideration ethnohistorical accounts and ethnoarchaeology for the study of the chaîne opératoire.


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