Best known for the gargantuan twin stone head carvings, discovered guarding the entrance to the 'Nestepe' Plaza in 1867, the 2000-year old site of Tres Zapotes has since been dubbed Mexico's third key Olmec site - after the settlements of San Lorenzo and La Venta. Nestled upon a lowland plain in the South-Central portion of Veracruz State, Tres Zapotes garners attention for its strategic regional location between the Los Tuxtlas Mountains and Papaloapan River. Initially thought to have been a latter extension for the empire of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, it has since emerged that Tres Zapotes remained underdeveloped until the decline of that great kingdom in 900 B.C.E.
Widespread, with over 150 ruinous mounds and buildings, Tres Zapotes contains the largest quantity of domestic dwellings ever to have been discovered at one Olmec site. The majority lie un-excavated, with just a few sparse foundations or walls exposed to the elements, however, Nestepe Plaza provides visitors with a glimpse of how the site may have looked some 2,000 years ago. Much like Mayan settlements, the site at Tres Zapotes is grid-like in character, featuring long straight promenades and muddy clay roads littered with rubble for drainage. Several Mesoamerican Long Count Calendars have been found at the site, carved onto the facades of cylindrical stela, dotted around the main plaza. Little is known as to who the great stone heads of Tres Zapotes are alleged to represent, however, faces with similar features have been found carved upon Stela D, North of Nestepe Plaza.
Tres Zapotes Museum, located in the diminutive pueblo just 2 km from the site offers a little more insight into the history of the Olmecs, with an interesting array of clay pottery, ceramic utensils and broken murals recovered from several excavated domestic buildings. The two stone heads are also anchored here, along with the top half of Stela C, featuring the detailed Long Count Calendar. Tres Zapotes is a distinct departure from the angular, mathematically planned sites of Mayan origin and, although ruinous, offers up yet another facet of ancient Mesoamerican culture, still relatively unexplored.