Olmecs and the Civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico

Left and right : © D.R. Secretaría de Cultura-INAH-MEX. Archivo Digital de las Colecciones del Museo Nacional de Antropología. INAH-CANON - Center : © D.R. Secretaría de Cultura-INAH-MEX. Catálogo Digital Museo de Antropología de Xalapa / Graphic design : Dominique Boudrias

Download the press kit / Download images of the exhibition

For immediate release


April 18 to September 15, 2024

A fascinating exhibition, presented in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, lifting the veil on Mesoamerica’s earliest known civilization

(Montréal, April 17, 2024) – For the first time in Canada, an exhibition dedicated to the Olmec civilization and the abundant heritage it left behind is being presented at Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal’s archaeology and history complex. From April 18 to September 15, 2024, visitors will have an exceptional opportunity to delve into the cultural riches and mysteries surrounding Mesoamerica’s earliest known civilization. The exhibition features close to 300 objects, including certain masterworks that have never before been on public display! It offers an unforgettable immersion, through a journey across almost 4,000 years of history, exchanges, and traditions.

The Olmecs left behind a monumental cultural legacy that would not be discovered until the 19th century. Considered to be the founding people of the Mesoamerican civilizations (1600 BCE to 200 CE), traces of their heritage can be found among the Mayas (1100 BCE to the 16th century) and the Aztecs (13th century to the 16th century), among others. The temporary exhibition Olmecs and the Civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico lifts the veil on this civilization that remains largely unknown to the general public, opening the doors to a fascinating world.

A Captivating Exploration of Olmec History

From the city of San Lorenzo (the cradle of Olmec civilization 3,500 years ago) to the capital of La Venta (the seat of power at its apogee) to the final city of Tres Zapotes, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through time and across the civilization’s iconic sites. A colossal stone head, jaguar-men, jade figurines, and monumental stelae and sculptures are on display throughout the exhibition, providing an understanding of the Olmecs’ social organization and beliefs. These archaeological treasures also reveal aspects of their way of life, their ingenuity, and their deep connection to their generous but hostile natural environment illustrated in their architecture, their calendar system, and their writing. Their cultural, artistic, and ideological influence persisted in the civilizations that came after them. The exhibition continues across the Mesoamerican landscape with an exploration of objects from various cultures inspired by this heritage, which has spanned the eras down to the present day.

An Exceptional International Collaboration

The magnificent objects on display in this exhibition are the result of a renewed partnership with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). They include masterpieces from a dozen Mexican institutions, with most of the objects on loan from the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. A colossal head weighing several tons, along with hundreds of other artifacts, have made the journey from various Mexican archaeological sites and museums all the way to Montréal.

“It is with great emotion that we have received these priceless objects, witnesses to the grandeur of the Olmec civilization. We are proud to present this exhibition, showcasing these treasures and giving the public an opportunity for an authentic encounter with this fascinating culture. The collaboration between our two institutions bears witness to our shared commitment to promoting intercultural understanding, and we extend our thanks to all partners involved. Their contribution has made this enriching and unforgettable experience possible for our co-citizens and visitors.” Anne Elisabeth Thibault, Executive Director of Pointe-à-Callière.

Olmec Facts and Figures

  • The Olmec civilization’s era extends from 1600 BCE to 200 CE.
  • The Olmecs once occupied a territory that today corresponds to the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico to the south of the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.
  • The first discovery attributed to the Olmec civilization was a colossal stone head unearthed by a peasant on the site of Tres Zapotes in 1858. In all, 17 of these heads have been discovered.
  • Archaeological digs have revealed various sculptures decorated with symbols and patterns that have made it possible to prove the Olmec’s invention of writing and the measurement of time.
  • The Olmecs originated a sport that all major Mesoamerican civilizations would go on to practice: the Mesoamerican ballgame.
  • Olmec traditions that persist in Mexico today: offerings, festive traditions, patron saint days, etc.


In collaboration with Beaux-Arts magazine, a special issue dedicated to the exhibition Olmecs and the Civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico has been published, offering a deep dive into the heart of Olmec art and culture through articles written by specialists in the field. This wonderfully illustrated publication serves to complete the exhibition experience. It is available for $21.95 at the Museum Shop.

Guided Tours
The Museum is giving guided tours during which you can explore the exhibition and ask any questions you may have:
- Guided tours (20 min.) / Daily (schedules at the welcome desk)
- Family Activity Booklet (available at the welcome desk)

Cultural Activities
All summer long, the Museum is encouraging people to come explore the exhibition and celebrate Mexican culture and traditions at several events held in collaboration with Mexican artists and cultural organizations:
- Cinco de Mayo / Sunday, May 5, from noon to 4 pm
- Block Party on the Pointe / Saturday, June 15, from 2 pm to 10 pm
- Family Sundays / Sundays, from July 7 through August 18, from 1 pm to 4 pm

To delve further into the topic of the temporary exhibition Olmecs and the Civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico, Pointe-à-Callière is presenting a series of three lectures exploring various aspects and themes addressed in the exhibition:
- Discovering the Olmecs / Thursday, May 16 at 7 pm
- The Evolution of Corn and its Importance in America / Thursday, August 15 at 7 pm
- Ancient Mesoamerica / Thursday, September 12 at 7 pm
Explore the program on Pointe-à-Callière’s website.


The exhibition Olmecs and the Civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico is produced by Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal’s Archaeology and History Complex, in collaboration with the Secretaría de Cultura – Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico.

The exhibition is presented by Desjardins, and through a partnership with Air Canada Cargo, Tourisme Montréal, Hôtel InterContinental Montréal, and La Presse. The Museum sincerely thanks its lenders, sponsors, and partners.


Inaugurated in 1992, on the city’s 350th anniversary, Pointe-à-Callière is today the largest archaeology museum in Canada and the busiest history museum in Montréal. Rising above a concentrated number of historic and archaeological sites of national significance—including the birthplace of Montréal—, the Museum has a mission to preserve its collections and to further knowledge, while showcasing and fostering an appreciation for Montréal’s archaeological and historical heritage. This mission is carried out through various activities focused on conservation, research, presentation, education, and inclusion, along with community initiatives benefiting both Montrealers and visitors to the city.
Pointe-à-Callière, proud partner of the City of Montréal.

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Katia Bouchard, Communications and Marketing Director
T: 514 872-9124 / [email protected]

Clémence Rampillon, Communications Project Manager
T: 514 872-2687 / [email protected]


Geneviève Harvey / 514-927-1525 / [email protected]