The Olmec Toad

Monument 68 at Tak’alik Ab’aj, Retalhuleu, Guatemala, Middle Preclassic

Starting things off slowly here for Guatemala Travelogue Part II… The Olmec Toad, yet another alternate title for this blog. Who knows but someday the Skull will go away and the Toad will take its place.

The Olmec were the original advanced civilization of the Americas, formerly considered semi-mythic, identified with Atlantis, the Easter Island civilization and the like. Many wonderful art works and sacred offerings survive, but no written language, so the question of how this particular toad figures in their mythology is up for debate.

Tak’alik Ab’aj is K’iche for “standing stones”; it’s a sprawling archaeological site occupied continuously from 1000 BCE or so through 1000 AD, first by Olmecs, then Maya, situated on a set of ridges between two rivers on Guatemala’s Pacific slope. It’s only partly excavated; half the ruins have coffee and rubber trees planted on top of them. The site is relatively little-known and hard to get to, the monuments much-worn and less epic in stature than places like Tikal and Palenque, so I guess the land turns more profit more used for farming than trying to lure money from archaeologists and archaeo-nerd-tourists (me). Nobody on staff spoke English, and the day I visited I was the only white guy there.

The cicadas were deafening.


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