La Democracia, a town in the Pacific coastal department of Escuintla, Guatemala, notable for its central park, which is adorned with sculptures from the site of Monte Alto and contains an archaeological museum.
The site of Monte Alto, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, has about fifty earthern mounds and is notable for its colossal stone heads, full-figure boulder sculptures, and full-round potbelly sculptures, which most likely date between 500 and 200 bce. The boulder heads, which are bald, have closed eyes and closed mouths, indicating that they represent deceased individuals. These heads appear to depict severed trophy heads of elites. Full-figure boulders have expansive bodies, their limbs are wrapped around them, and their faces are similar to the boulder heads. The full-round potbelly sculptures are smaller and squatter than the boulder sculptures, but otherwise have similar stylistic features.
Excavations at Monte Alto revealed that sculptures had specific placements. One sculpture was located on the central north-south axis of the site. Colossal stone heads and human-effigy boulder sculptures were found in irregular rows on the east and west sides of the mound group; these may not have been their original placements.
Stylistic affinities of these sculptures with those of the Olmecs, combined with their comparative crudity, suggest that they might predate the Olmec (1200–500 bce). They were considered evidence that the beginning of Mesoamerican civilization was in the Pacific lowlands of Guatemala. Secure dating of potbellied figures in El Salvador shows that they postdate the Olmec, thus suggesting that they are a regional development outside of the Olmec heartland.
Jeffrey Parsons, "Excavation at Monte Alto, Escuintla, Guatemala," in National Geographic Society Research Reports (1976), pp. 325-332, and "Post-Olmec Stone Sculpture: The Olmec-Izapan Transition on the Southern Pacific Coast and Highlands," in The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson (1979), pp. 257-288; Arthur Demarest, The Archaeology of Santa Leticia and the Rise of Maya Civilization, Middle American Research Institute (Tulane University) Publication 52 (1986).
Chévez Van Dorne, Rubén. Cultura Monte Alto: Explicación de las piezas: Description of the pieces. Guatemala: Division de Educacion y Cultura, 1987.
Evans, Susan Toby. Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Culture History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Orellana, Sandra L. Ethnohistory of the Pacific Coast. Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos, 1995.
Eugenia J. Robinson