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The earliest Mesoamerican art and architecture to combine ideological complexity, craft, and permanence was that of the Olmecs, whose civilization flourished between about 1500 B.C. and 100 B.C. The early Olmecs established major ceremonial centers along the rich lowlands of the modern Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. At distant Teopantecuanitlan, the Olmecs established a sacred precinct, the first monumental evidence of the Olmecs in the highlands. But the Olmecs had an advanced social and economic system, with networks for commerce extending far to the west and south. The fertile gulf plain probably allowed for an agricultural surplus, controlled by only a handful of individuals. From the art and architecture of their ceremonial centers (we know too little about Olmec domestic life to call their sites cities), it is clear that for the Olmecs, social stratification was sufficiently advanced for their society to place great importance on the records of specific individuals, particularly in the form of colossal heads (enormous stone sculptures of human heads and faces). Long before modern radiocarbon dating testified to the antiquity of this culture, archaeologists and art historians had become aware of the power of Olmec art through individual objects. Some even identified the Olmec culture as the oldest of Mesoamerican civilizations, perhaps a mother culture from which all others derived, as the art historian Miguel Covarrubias once thought. Eventually the antiquity of Olmec culture was confirmed, and today many important elements of Mesoamerican art and architecture can be seen to have had a probable Olmec origin: ball courts, pyramids, portraiture, and mirrors. Some later Mesoamerican deities probably derive from Olmec gods, and even the famous "Maya" calendar was already in use by peoples in the Olmec area at the dawn of Maya civilization.   One of the first important Olmec objects to come to modern attention was the Kunz axe, acquired in the 1860s in Oaxaca, Mexico. The ceremonial axe puzzled and intrigued investigators for years because on the one hand, it was clearly neither Aztec nor Maya, the best-known ancient Mesoamerican cultures, and in fact it had no features that could be linked with any known civilization, while on the other hand, it had surely been made in Mesoamerica in antiquity. The axe exhibits many qualities of the style we now call Olmec: precious blue-green translucent jade, worked to reveal a figure in both two and three dimensions. More than half the axe is devoted to the creature's face – an open, toothless mouth, and closely set, slanting eyes which has often been likened to the face of a howling human infant. The creature's hands are worked in lower relief, and in them he grasps a miniature version of himself. Feet and toes are indicated only by incision (carved lines), and incision also marks the face, ears, and upper body, perhaps to suggest tattooing, ear ornaments, and a tunic. For over two millennia this large, precious axe was presumably kept as a treasure or heirloom. It was not until 1955, after several seasons of excavation at La Venta had produced many fine jade objects and a convincing series of radiocarbon dates in the first millennium B.C., that objects such as the Kunz axe were at last understood by scholars to embody the principles of the first great art style of Mesoamerica. Early scholars of the Olmec style noticed a pattern of imagery repeated on many of the carved stone objects. Many howling baby faces were found, and other faces seemed to combine the features of humans and jaguars (large cats). Today, while the presence of jaguar imagery is still acknowledged, scholars have discovered that aspects of many other tropical rainforest fauna can be identified in the carvings. The caiman (a kind of alligator), eagle, toad, jaguar, and snake all appear in the Olmec supernatural repertoire. Anthropologist Peter David Joralemon has suggested that most of the motifs and images can be allocated to a few Olmec deities. The paw-wing motif, for example, can be shown to be an element of the winged dragon, itself perhaps derived from the eagle and caiman. This whole intricate symbolic code appears to have been in use from the first appearance of the Olmecs, and to have been employed consistently for a thousand years.