Everybody's Olmec: diffusionist lit

Greg Finnegan (finnegan@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 12:18:27 -0500

In the 'Olmec/China' thread, Mike Cahill mentioned an article in the
AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST by Harold K. Schneider; the citation is:

Schneider, Harold K.
1977 "Prehistoric Transpacific Contact and the Theory of Culture
Change." AA 79: 9-25.

Checking our local online catalog turned up one recent thesis (held at
Dumbarton Oaks library in a UMI copy) discussing trans-Pacific influences
on Olmec:

AUTHOR: Orr, Heather Susan.
TITLE: Olmec jade : a cross-cultural perspective / by Heather Susan
PUB. INFO: [1991], c1990.
DESCRIPTION: xiv, 258 leaves : col. ill.
NOTES: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Victoria, 1991.
Bibliography: leaves 233-252.

SUBJECTS: *S1 Olmecs--Material culture.
*S2 Olmecs--Implements.
*S3 Olmecs--Transpacific influences.
*S4 Olmecs--Asian influences.
*S5 Olmec art.
*S6 Jade--Mexico.

Several sources debating overseas influences or origins are cited in CORPUS
BIBLIOGRAFICO DE LA CULTURA OLMECA, by Nelly Gutierrez Solana and Daniel G.
Schavelzon, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, 1980, and
in Francisco Beverido Pereau's BILIOGRAFIA OLMECA, published by the library
of the Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa, 1986. I haven't bothered to list
the articles which discuss Andean and other South American sources or
influences to or from Olmec.

Bosch Gimpera, Pedro
1972 "L'Asie et les contacts transpacifiques avec les hautes

civilisations americaines. COMPTES RENDUS DES SCIENCES,
Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres. Paris.

Johnson, Marion
1976 "The Nature of Theory and its Validation: Transpacific
AA 78(1): 106-110.

Meggers, Betty Jane, and Clifford Evans
1972 The Transpacific Origins of Mesoamerican Civilization."
AA 77(1): 1-27.

Philips, Philip
1966 "The Role of Transpacific Contacts in the Development of New
World Precolumbian Civilization."

And not only Asia is invoked:

Jairazbhoy, R.A.
1972 "The Egyptian Origin of the Olmec."
NEW DIFFUSIONIST OFFPRINTS, no. 1. Great Gransden, England.

1979 "Olmec Origins--Lixus versus Egypt."

Jeffries, D.W.
1953 "Precolumbian Negroes in America." Brooklyn NY:
SCIENTIA 88 (nos. 495-496): 212-217.

Finally, and not listed in the Olmec bibliographies, the CURRENT
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF AFRICAN AFFAIRS [new series] published a series of articles
by Legrand H. Clegg II. The first of these discusses physical
anthropological evidence, but the others focus heavily on Olmec, including
many anthropological sources:

1969 "The Beginning of the Africa Diaspora: Black Men in
Ancient and
Medieval America. Pt. I: 2(11): 13-32; pt. II: 2(12):13-34.

1972 "Ancient America: A Missing Link in Black History."
5(3):286-319. [Olmec pp. 294-297]

1976 "The Black Origin of 'American' Civilisation: A Bicentennial
Revelation." 9(1):2-24. [Olmec pp. 8-20]

Quotations to earlier sources in Legrand, for example, make it clear that
people have been reading overseas influences into Olmec sculpture almost as
long as it's been known. In anthropology we've done a pretty solid job of
showing how random correspondences need to be grounded in further analysis
before arguing for cultural diffusion to explain objects, designs, traits,
or themes. And in so doing we've discounted the bulk of diffusionist
argument. But it's clearly a longstanding and ongoing notion in the
popular and ideological mind.

Gregory A. Finnegan, PhD
Associate Librarian for Public Services
and Head of Reference
Tozzer Library
Harvard University
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138-2089
617-495-2253 fax 617-496-2741