‘Earth Monster’ sculpture points to ancient beliefs in Mexico

A colossal stone statue carved by Olmec artists more than 2,000 years ago that evokes ancient religious beliefs has returned to Mexico in a homecoming cheered by officials and scholars after decades in the United States.

Known today as the “Earth Monster”, the sculpture was probably derived from central mexico During the 1960s, it spent time on public display alongside private collectors before being confiscated by antiquities smuggling agents working with New York prosecutors.

symbolic artwork It weighs roughly a ton (2,200 lb) and was probably found several decades ago at the Chalcatzingo archeological site in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City.

US officials earlier this week coordinated with their Mexican counterparts to bring the sculpture back.

it was carved out of volcanic rock 800-400 BC during the heyday of the Olmec civilization. One of Mexico’s earliest complex societies, where most were located around the country’s Gulf Coast. The Olmecs are famous for their advanced artistic tradition, including giant head sculptures.

Workers opening the Olmec bas-relief Monument 9 of Chalcatzingo in this undated handout image at the ”Museo Regional de los Pueblos de Morelos” museum in Cuernavaca, Mexico after being repatriated from the city of Denver, Colorado, US . Distributed to Reuters on May 23, 2023.

According to Mario Cordova, an Olmec archaeologist who traveled to the United States as part of the recovery mission, the artifacts depict a mythical mountain and its stylized cave entrance in the form of a cross.

The mountain was designed to resemble the head of a jaguar, ancient Mexico’s most feared predator, with the cave’s open jaws and doubling as an entrance to the underworld.

Some have speculated that the statue may have been used in ritual functions as a sacred passage.

Officials commenting on the importance of the piece and its return

“It’s a very important piece,” said archaeologist Sara Ladron de Guevara, a scholar of Mexico’s Huastec culture, pointing in particular to the cross-shaped open mouth.

He said, “I don’t remember any other sculptures that include such an opening.”

Other scholars note how the worldview of the Olmecs as seen in the “Earth Monster” sculpture is a recurring theme in ancient Mexico, extending as far back as the Aztecs, who began their rise to power about 1,700 years later and whose main temple was also a doubled in size. Holy mountains.

According to a book written by the father-son scholar duo Alfredo López Austin, “the mountain-cave-mouth symbolic complex acquired a high symbolic value from very early times in Mesoamerica, giving rise to increasingly complex sets of images over the millennia.” Gave.” Leonardo López Lujan.

López Luján currently leads the excavations at the most sacred temple of the Aztecs in downtown Mexico City.

The return of the Olmec sculpture to Mexico was welcomed by Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who spoke just before being carefully hauled onto a plane to fly back home.

“It gives us something that tells where we came from,” Ebrard said.