2a. Sophisticated art in an early age (2/3)

One of the earliest Olmec objects to be excavated, a colossal stone head discovered at Tres Zapotes (Veracruz) in 1862 ignited a debate as to whether an early civilization could produce such large-scale and realistic-looking sculpture. Into the 1940s leading specialists in the art of the Maya, such as J. Eric S. Thompson and Sylvanus Morley, argued that most Olmec finds must date to a more recent period based on their advanced style. However, as the number of archaeological sites expanded and scientific forms of testing came into use, including carbon-14 dating, specialists came to agree that the Olmec created their monuments between 1500 - 400 B.C.E., well before the Classic phase of the Maya (250 - 900 A.D.).

Image: Tres Zapotes Colossal Head #1 being measured by Matthew Stirling, from "Discovering the New World's Oldest Dated Work of Man," August 1939, National Geographic magazine Photograph by Richard H. Stewart

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