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Charles R. Hale, Director SRH 1.310, 2300 Red River Street D0800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512.471.5551

Olmec Head Sculpture Donated to LLILAS

Posted: December 19, 2008

In November 2008, LLILAS celebrated the arrival of a special work of art on campus. The Universidad Veracruzana, one of Mexico’s most prominent universities, presented the institute with a colossal Olmec head, a replica of the iconic sculpture known as San Lorenzo Monument 1, or El Rey.

The original, now housed in the Museo de Antropología in Xalapa, Veracruz, is considered a signature piece of pre-Columbian Olmec culture and a world-class art object that represents New World civilization as emblematically as the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán or the ruins of Machu Picchu. One of seventeen colossal heads still in existence, San Lorenzo Monument 1 was found by noted archaeologist Matthew Stirling in the 1940s. His discoveries, and those of other archaeologists in Mexico during this time, unearthed for the world the culture of the Olmec, an ancient civilization that flourished in southern Mexico 1500-400 BCE and significantly influenced later cultures such as the Maya and Aztec.

The replica that now sits at the entry to LLILAS and the Benson Latin American Collection is made of solid stone and weighs 36,000 pounds. It was sculpted by Ignacio Pérez Solano, a Xalapa-based artist, who has spent his career exploring the history of the Gulf Coast and Mesoamerica. Pérez Solano meticulously reproduced San Lorenzo Monument 1 inch by inch, recreating the powerful lines and imposing features of the original work.

Pérez Solano began creating replicas of Olmec heads under the initiative of Miguel Alemán Velasco, who as governor of Veracruz from 1998 to 2004 endeavored to make Olmec culture better known beyond the borders of Mexico. Reproductions of other colossal heads can be found at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Field Museum in Chicago, among other locations. Miguel Alemán Velasco was present for the dedication ceremony at LLILAS on November 19, 2008, which also featured remarks by UT President William Powers and his counterpart, Raul Arias Lovillo of the Universidad Veracruzana. Fidel Herrera Beltrán, current Governor of Veracruz, also spoke, as did Olmec scholars from the U.S. and Mexico.

In its permanent site at UT, El Rey will serve as a focal point for students, members of the Austin community, and other visitors to learn more about the Olmec, one of Mexico’s most distinctive cultural legacies. For more information, contact Gail Sanders at the Mexican Center of LLILAS.

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