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WHAT AND WHERE IS OLMEC STYLE? Regional perspectives on hollow figurines in Early Formative Mesoamerica

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 January 2003

Jeffrey P. Blomster
Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University, Mail Stop 006, PO Box 549110, Waltham, MA 02454-9110, USA


To understand better the significance of the Olmec style and its implications for Early Formative interregional interaction within Mesoamerica, one particular type of artifact—the hollow figurine—is examined. A definition of the Olmec style is provided based on Gulf Coast monumental art. One of several contemporaneous hollow-figurine types—“hollow babies” (Group 1)—is consistent with a Gulf Coast–based definition of the Olmec style. Fragments of Group 1 hollow figurines from across Mesoamerica are examined, revealing concentrations at a Gulf Coast center and, to a lesser extent, sites in southern Mexico. Rather than the primarily funerary function previously suggested for these objects, contextual data suggest multivalent meanings and functions. Group 2 figurines are related but different; variation appears in both the distribution of Group 2 fragments across Mesoamerica and their use. Available evidence suggests limited access to hollow figurines of both groups compared with contemporaneous solid figurines. A previous assertion that “hollow babies” were primarily produced and consumed in Central Mexico is rejected, and the significance of the differences among these hollow-figurine types is considered.

Research Article
© 2002 Cambridge University Press

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