Primary Source Analysis: Week 5 (“Olmec Basalt Head”)
As Carlos Fuentes points out, quoted in the podcast, “To go as far back as the Olmecs is to go as far back as the Egyptians, because the culture of Egypt of the pharaohs and the Olmec culture of Mexico are contemporary.”
More than once in this course we have drawn conclusions about a civilization not from writings (which don’t always exist or survive), but from that civilization’s structures and monuments. (Remember: What can we conclude about the shape of Sumerian society, its levels of power and its values, from the fact that they built canals, or paid for labor with beer? What can we conclude about Egyptian society–how it was structured? who did the labor? what things were important to the elites?–from looking at the pyramids?).
So here’s your question for this week: what are some conclusions you can draw about ancient Olmec civilization, based on studying this giant head of basalt and reading the description? Make at least two observations/hypotheses about what Olmec society must have been like, to be able to produce something like this. Support/defend/illustrate your two observations by comparing them to two similar things we have learned about other ancient civilizations that were “complex” enough to produce grand public works. (For example, if one of your claims is going to be about the inequality necessary to have something like this made and moved around, then support and illustrate that hypothesis about the Olmecs by mentioning and specifically discussing another civilization where inequality and labor produced something we’ve looked at this semester…)
The rubric for this assignment, as always, is: don’t just say a general opinion or vague description; instead defend/support/illustrate that opinion with specific, concrete facts/examples/evidence. Every time you make a claim or an argument or a general description, put a “for example…” after it, and mention a hard historical fact or quotation that proves your point. In this case, there should be at least two of these examples, from other civilizations, that back up your two speculations about what Olmec civilization was like.
Get help if you don’t understand this! TA office hours, my office hours, History Lab appointments…
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