Is the Cascajal Tablet the Key to Understanding Giant Olmec Heads?
Bryan Hilliard’s “Does the Cascajal Block provide evidence of a written language of the Olmecs?” published by Ancient Origins, discussed the finding by many Mexican researchers that the symbols on the Cascajal tablet probably represent Olmec Writing. The Cascajal tablet was made of serpentinite, weighs 26 pounds (11.79 kg) and measures 14x8x5 inches (35.56 x 20.32 x 12.70 cm). Hilliard acknowledged that some archaeologists believe that the Olmec culture is the “Mother Culture,” of Mexican civilizations. The Olmec referred to themselves as Xi.
Discovery of the Cascajal Tablet
In September 2006, researchers announced the discovery of the Cascajal tablet. This tablet, originally found in 1999, came from a gravel quarry in the village of Cascajal, municipality of Lomas de Tacamichapa, in Veracruz, Mexico. The Cascajal tablet has been dated to the Olmec San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan period at around 950 BC.
The Cascajal block and glyphs. ( Taringa!)
There are 62 glyphs on the Cascajal tablet. Researchers have determined that the symbols on the Cascajal tablet are arranged in rows and indicate word order and syntax. They feel that the signs represent animals, insects, plants, and other objects. Although this is their opinion, in reality the symbols on the Cascajal tablet represent Hieroglyphic Olmec signs.
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In Olmec Language and Literature , I explain that the Olmec writing has two forms: a syllabic script, and a hieroglyphic script. The Hieroglyphic Olmec signs are made up of two or more syllabic Olmec symbols.
Frequency of Cascajal Glyphs. (Author provided)
What is Written on the Cascajal Tablet?
The Olmec writing on the Cascajal tablet is an obituary for King Bi Po. This tablet is written in Hieroglyphic Olmec. Hieroglyphic Olmec includes multiple linear syllabic Olmec signs which are joined together to make pictures of animals, faces, and other objects.
The Cascajal tablet provides valuable historical information. It gives us keen insight into the Olmec royals. It also allows us to positively associate one of the Olmec heads to an Olmec tablet.
Translation of the Cascajal tablet makes it clear that the tablet was written for a local ruler at San Lorenzo called Bi Po. This tablet indicates that Bi Po’s tomb was recognized as a sacred site. It also indicates that the Xi believed that if they offered libations at the tombs of their rulers they would gain blessings.
Olmec Colossal Head 3 from San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, Veracruz, Mexico. (Maribel Ponce Ixba/ CC BY 2.0 )
According to the road builders at the village, the Cascajal tablet was found in a mound. The fact that a mound existed where the tablet was found offers considerable support to the idea that the mound where the tablet was found was the tomb of King Bi PoPo.
Some researchers have recognized insects and other objects in the signs. In reality, these signs are made up several different Olmec linear glyphs.
The Olmec writing on the Cascajal tablet is an obituary for King Bi Po. This writing is written in Hieroglyphic Olmec. Hieroglyphic Olmec includes multiple linear Olmec signs which are joined together to make pictures of animals, faces, and other objects. (Author provided)
Reading the Script on the Cascajal Tablet
The Olmec writing is read right to left top to bottom. Each segment of the Olmec sign has to be broken down into its individual syllabic sign. In most cases the Olmec signs includes two or more syllabic characters. The Olmec signs can be interpreted as follows:
1. La fe ta gyo
2. Bi yu
3. Pa po yu
4. Se ta I su
5. Ta kye
6. Beb be
7. Bi Po Yu to
8. Tu fa ku
9. Tu pa pot u
10. Ta gbe pa
12. Bi Yu yo po
13. Kye gyo
14. Po lu
15. Fe ta yo i
16. Be kye
17. Fe gina
18. Po bi po tu
19. Lu kye gyo to
20. Kye tu a pa
21. Yu gyo i
22. Pa ku pa
23. Po yu
24. Day u kye da
25. Po ta kye tap o
26. Ta gbe
27. Bi Fa yu
28. Bi Yu / Paw
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Deciphering the script on the tablet. (Author provided)
Reading the Cascajal tablet from right to left we have the following:
(8) Bi Po lays in state in the tomb, (7) desiring to be endowed with mysterious faculties.
(6) This abode is possessed by the Governor. (5)…. (4) Bi Po Po.
(3) Bi (was), (2) an Artisan desires to be consecrated to the divinity. (1) (and He) merits thou offer of libations.
(14). Admiration (for) the cult specialist’s hemisphere tomb.
(13) The inheritance of thou vital spirit is consecration to the divinity.
(12) In a place of righteous admiration, (11) Pure Bi (in a) pure abode
(10) A pure mark of admiration (is) this hemispheric tomb.
(9) [Here] lays low (the celebrity) [he] is gone.
(22) The place of righteousness, [is] (21) the pure hemispheric tomb
(19) Thou (art) obedient to the Order. (18) Hold upright the Order (and) the divinity of the sacred cult.
(17) Pure Admiration this place of, (16) Bi the Vital Spirit. (15) [Truly this is] a place consecrated to the divinity and propriety.
(27) Lay low (the celebrity) to go to, (26) love the mystic order—thou vivid image of the race,
(25) The pure Governor and (24) Devotee [of the Order lies in this] hemispheric tomb, desires [to be] a talisman effective in providing one with virtue, (23) [He] merits thou offer of Libations.
(34) Command Respect. (33)….this place of admiration. (32) Thou sacred inheritance is propriety. (31) The Governor commands existence in a unique state, (31) [in] this ruler’s hemispheric tomb. (29) The Royal (28) [was] a vigorous man.
(36) The pure habitation (35) [of a ]Ruler obedient to the Order.
(37) This abode is possessed by the governor.
(38) Admiration to you [who art] obedient to the Order.
(49) Pure admiration [for this] tomb.
(48) Thou hold upright the pure law.
(47). Pure admiration [for this tomb].
(46) [It] acts [as] a talisman effective in providing one with virtue.
(45) Bi Po, (44) a pure man, (43) of wonder, (42) [whose] inheritance is consecration to the Divinity.
(41) Bi Po lays in state in the tomb, (40) desiring to be endowed with mysterious faculties.
(62) Bi Po lays in state in the tomb.
(61) [This] tomb [is a] sacred object, (60) a place of righteous wonder.
(59) Bi’s tomb (58) [is in] accord [with] the law (57) Bi exist in a unique (and) pure state the abode of the Governor is pure..
(56) The inheritance of [this] Ruler is joy.
(55) [In] this tomb of King Bi (54) lays low a celebrity, [he] is gone.
(53) The tomb of Bi (52) is a dormitory [of] love. A place consecrated to the divinity.
(51) Thou the vivid image of the race love(d) the mystic order.
(50) [He] merits [your] offer of Libations.
Representational image of an Olmec authority figure from a cave painting in the Oxtotitlan Cave, Chilapa de Alvarez, Guerrero, Mexico. ( latinamericanstudies.org)
Linking an Olmec Head to the Cascajal Tablet
Today there are 17 Olmec heads discovered so far in Mexico. These heads have been found at various sites in the Olmec heartland: 10 San Lorenzo, 4 La Venta, 2 Tres Zapotes, and 1 La Cobata.
Many researchers have assumed that the Olmec heads were stand alone portraits of individual Olmec rulers. Given this hypothesis I decided that the names of these rulers was probably engraved on the Olmec heads. I wanted to test the hypothesis so I began to examine the Olmec heads to determine if I could find any Olmec symbols on the giant heads.
I assumed that because the obituary on the Cascajal tablet was found at San Lorenzo, it might be written about one of the royals among the Olmec heads. The only possible symbols on the Olmec heads are the headdresses. The headdresses on the colossal heads are the characteristic ‘football helmet’ with a head band. Detailed analysis of the headdress or headband indicated that the head gear on each Olmec head has an insignia unique to each ruler.
A review of the San Lorenzo Olmec heads suggested that The Cascajal Tablet may relate to the personage depicted in San Lorenzo monument 3. San Lorenzo Monument 3, is 1.78 meters (5.84 ft.) tall.
Front and side views of Head 3, San Lorenzo. (Author provided)
We have found that the names of these rulers are probably found among the symbols associated with the individual Olmec heads. The headband on monument 3 is made up of four parallel ropes encircling the head. In the parallel ropes, there are two serrated figures that cross the ropes diagonally.
There is also a plaited diadem or four braids on the back of the figure covered with serrated elements. On the side of the head of monument 3, two serrated elements hang on four parallel lines. This element ends with a three-tiered hanging element.
Side headgear of Bi Po. (Author provided)
In Olmec writing, the serrated elements mean Bi, while the boxes under the serrated element within the four parallel lines would represent the words PoPo. This suggests that the name for the personage represented in Lorenzo monument 3 was probably BiPoPo. The Bi glyph is found throughout the headband of San Lorenzo monument 3.
Glyphs for Bi PoPo. (Top) San Lorenzo Monument 3 Headband. (Bottom) (Author provided)
This indicates that the given name for this personage was Bi. As illustrated in the reading of the Cascajal tablet, Bi was the name for the deceased personage.
The hanging element on monument 3 is similar to one of the signs on the Cascajal tablet. Although Cascajal glyphs 4 and 57 on the Cascajal monument are hard to recognize, it appears to include the Bi sign on the top of the symbol and the box sign which means Po. This finding indicates that Bi PoPo of Lorenzo monument 3, is most likely the Bi Po(Po) mentioned in the Cascajal tablet.
Completed drawings of Cascajal tablet glyphs 4 and 57. ( CC BY 3.0 )
San Lorenzo monument 3 was found by Mathew Stirling. Stirling said that monument 3 was found at the bottom of a deep ravine half-a-mile southwest of the principal mound of San Lorenzo, along with ceramic potsherds. This is interesting because the village of Cascajal is situated southwest of San Lorenzo.
According to reports of the discovery of the Cascajal tablet, the road builders who found it said it came from a mound at Cascajal which was located about a mile from San Lorenzo. The coincidence of finding San Lorenzo Monument 3 in the proximity of the Cascajal mound where the Cascajal tablet was found suggests that these artifacts concern the same personage. This leads to the inference that the Cascajal mound was the tomb of Bi PoPo.
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In conclusion, the Cascajal tablet is an obituary for an Olmec ruler named Bi PoPo. Given the presence of similar signs on the Olmec head called San Lorenzo monument 3, which also read Bi PoPo, suggests that the Cascajal tablet was written for the personage depicted in San Lorenzo Olmec head 3.
Because the Cascajal tablet corresponds to one of the Olmec heads suggest that Cascajal may have been a royal burial site. There is evidence for at least four additional mounds at Cascajal. If this is the case, it is conceivable that other tablets relating to Olmec rulers may also be found at this locale, since some of these other mounds may be the “hemispheric” tombs of other Olmec rulers.
Top Image: Famous stone head of the Olmec civilization. Source: BigStockPhoto
Clyde Winters, Olmec Language and Literature . Createspace,2015. https://www.amazon.com/Olmec-Language-Literature-Clyde-Winters/dp/1507587244
Clyde Winters (2011). Olmec (Mande) Loan Words in the Mayan, Mixe-Zoque and Taino Languages, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences 3(3): 152-179. http://maxwellsci.com/print/crjss/v3-152-179.pdf
Youtube Video: Dr. Clyde Winters at the 1997 Central States Anthropological Society Meeting explains his Decipherment of the Olmec Writing System. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6TuODS64AY