This summer our expanding field of study, Visual Cultures of the Americas, received a powerful boost in the form of a $280,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant for “Origins of the Mesoamerican City.” FSU faculty (Drs. Mary Pohl and Michael Carrasco) and students will work in collaboration with the Humanities Faculty of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México on a three-year multidisciplinary, international project that will explore the Olmec ceremonial center of La Venta, a prototypical Mesoamerican city of Gulf Coast Mexico.
La Venta’s design for sacred urban living provided the model for all later Mesoamerican states, from the Maya to the Aztecs. Excavations at the nearby community of San Andrés have uncovered some of the earliest writing in Mesoamerican. The La Venta Olmec ceremonial center, situated atop a salt dome, features colossal carved stone monuments, lavish jade offerings, and a pyramid that all point to an early focus on performance, sacrifice, and celebration. Focussing on well-preserved materials below the salt dome and excavations at San Andrés, the research team will explore the underpinnings of early city life: the spheres of social and economic exchange and the development of arts, architecture, and written communication. Using the Department of Art History laboratory facilities, the team will to present their findings through a bilingual digital publication that will provide a cross-cultural perspective on La Venta and the origins of Mesoamerican urbanism. The digital publication will bridge scholarly and lay communities and strengthen international collaborative research and education.