Olmec Culture 1200-400 B.C.
Aztec legends, recorded in the 16th century, described the inhabitants of Mexico's southern Gulf Coast as Olmeca, "people of the Rubber country". The real name by which these ancient people knew themselves is now long forgotten.
Among the first and most distinctive of the early complex societies to
rise in Mesoamerica, the Olmec began as a dispersed society of hunters,
fishers, and planters, but eventually established a sophisticated society
that included rulers, warriors, long-distance traders, inspired stone carvers
and craftsmen, and master town planners in addition to common folk.
Their impressive carved monuments and fine art and craft work in jade,
pottery and wood express the natural elements of water, earth and sky which
inspired the later civilizations of Mesoamerica. Their
complex religious iconography and rituals, including ceremonial ball
games, blood-letting, and human sacrifice were likewise adapted by future
The Olmec are recognized for their massive carved basalt images of their
rulers and supernaturals. Numerous colossal basalt heads, altars, and
other carved monuments have been uncovered at the three principal Olmec
centers of San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes; located in southern
Veracruz and eastern Tabasco. Seventeen of the heads, some weighing
than 20 tons, have been excavated at these sights, located up to 90
miles (approximately 150km) away from their original basalt sources on the
flanks of the Tuxtlas Mountains.
The Olmec center of La Venta grew to be a large town with a population of
as many as 20,000 persons. This center was centered on an enormous pyramid
that may have been the largest structure of its time in all
Olmec influence spread as far as modern Guatemala, Honduras, Belize ,
Costa Rica, and El Salvador.
Written by Indio