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Imagining the FetusThe Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture$
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Jane Marie Law and Vanessa R. Sasson

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195380040

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195380040.001.0001

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The Colossal Fetuses of La Venta and Mesoamerica’s Earliest Creation Story

The Colossal Fetuses of La Venta and Mesoamerica’s Earliest Creation Story

(p.223) The Colossal Fetuses of La Venta and Mesoamerica’s Earliest Creation Story
Imagining the Fetus

Carolyn E. Tate

Oxford University Press

Among the earliest monumental sculptures of the Americas were depictions of the human fetus. Along with representations of the human embryo, sculptures of the fetus were important subjects in the art of the Olmec of Mexico, 1400–400 BCE. This chapter explores the crucial roles of these images in the earliest known narrative—a visual one—of the creation of the world and the origins of human beings in Mesoamerica. The monumental fetus sculptures of La Venta, an archaeological site in the State of Tabasco, Mexico, were players in a underworld ball game. In this context, the fetuses, as metaphors for “life force,” battle the chthonic forces that would usurp that precious vitality. Images of fetuses and embryos in ancient Mexico emerge as metaphors for the ineluctable processes of metamorphosis that life entails.

Keywords:   fetus, embryo, La Venta Tabasco, Olmec, creation myth, sculpture, ball game, colossal heads, sacrifice, birth, womb

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