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This was like living back in Berkeley, where I went to public lectures at the University almost every day. Nearly all of them were interesting, maybe ten percent were excellent, and a couple of them were fabulous. The lecture by Alvarez about the demise of the dinosaurs was fantastic. There were a few others, like the emergence of the fish onto land, named the Tiktaalik, which is the ancestor of most of the animals including birds, lizards, and humans.

Today’s introductory lecture was in that class of lectures. Why do I rate it so highly? Because it was about perhaps the only civilization that arose absolutely independently of the Old World ones. It gave a view into what humans can create that is wholly human and yet with foundations that are unique.

Carolyn E. Tate opened a window into an alternate form of human being. Her many years studying the early Central American societies brought into sharp focus some very strange behaviors, and yet they are eminently human behaviors. The Olmecs started from a hunting and gathering lifestyle back about 2,000 BC and over a stretch of 1,500 years evolved all the characteristics that we call civilization. Writing, astronomy, agriculture, cities, and wonderfully sophisticated art forms.

I suspect that this course on the Olmecs will expand my understanding of what it means to be a human being. I am a bit strangely expanded but I expect to become stranger.