Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Ivan Van Sertima and the Olmec World: A Photo Essay

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Ivan Van Sertima and the Olmec World: A Photo Essay

Article excerpt

The following is an excerpt from Uncovering the African Past: The Ivan Van Sertima Papers by Runoko Rashidi (London: Books of Africa, 2015).

The first civilization of the Americas is called the Olmec. The Olmec were an early people of Mesoamerica who settled the Mexican Gulf Coast. This ancient American culture been labeled the first civilization of the western hemisphere, as they surpassed their neighbors in an attempt to settle certain problems of living together - of government, defense, religion, family, property, science and art. In this endeavor, the Olmec laid the foundations of classical Mesoamerican civilization.

We cannot say with certainty where the Olmec came from or whether they were direct descendants of the indigenous population; but that much of their sculpture, especially the colossal heads, reveals an ancient Africoid presence in the Americas seems to me should be beyond clear and sane rebuttal.

While asserting that there was an African presence in ancient America, Van Sertima did not believe that the land of the Olmec was an African settler colony. Nor did he speak of the African origins of Olmec civilization. Van Sertima held that the African presence among the Olmec consisted of a small but elite and highly-influential community.

No scholar in history did more to contribute to our knowledge of the contribution of the African to the civilization of the Olmec than Ivan Van Sertima. And while this book is not focused on the Olmec I find it in impossible to write a book on the Ivan Van Sertima Papers without at least providing a synopsis, an overview, an appreciation and a glimpse of the world through the lens that he provided. So we do it in the form of a brief photo essay-the kind of photos that I think he would have that greatly appreciated.

What today we are calling the Olmec civilization flourished in the present Mexican states of Vera Cruz and Tabasco. The highpoint of Olmec civilization was the eight-hundred year period from about 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE.

The great centers of the Olmec world were San Lorenzo, La Venta and Tres Zapotes. …

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