Olmec (American Indians Ready Reference)
The Olmecs flourished between 1200 and 400 b.c.e. in the humid tropical lowlands of what is now the state of Veracruz in southeastern Mexico. The name “Olmec” was given arbitrarily to these ancient people by twentieth century archaeologists. It means “the people of rubber” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The Olmecs were probably the first true civilization of ancient Mexico. Olmec culture spread throughout Mesoamerica, a region that includes southern Mexico and parts of Central America, and had great influence on later civilizations. Unrecognized before the middle of the twentieth century, the first evidence of Olmec culture was uncovered by José María Melgar in 1862. He found a gigantic carved stone head with features similar to those of Africans. It took nearly one hundred years, however, and many more discoveries of large and small artifacts, to convince archaeologists that this was a distinct and original culture.
While the large stone heads, measuring as much as 10 feet in height and weighing up to 20 tons, have sparked theories of African contact with prehistoric America, there is no consensus on their purpose or their meaning. Other, smaller statues depict individuals with different features, and the image most often found is that of a creature half jaguar and half human.
Although the land was fertile (the staple of the Olmec diet was maize), evidence suggests that the population was relatively small and not clustered...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
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Olmec Civilization (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: One of the earliest advanced civilizations on the North American continent
Olmec civilization is considered to be one of the oldest civilizations of native North America. Recognition and identification of Olmec culture are based exclusively on archaeological evidence, since no direct descendants of Olmec civilization have ever been identified. The Olmec heartland included the present Mexican states of Veracruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas, along the southern and western edge of the Gulf of Mexico, but Olmec influence extended across most of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The term “Olmec” is drawn from the Aztec language Nahuatl and loosely translates as “the rubber people,” in reference to the production of rubber in the Olmec heartland.
Evidence of Olmec culture first appears about 1500 b.c.e. in the state of Tabasco. The area consists of flat, swampy coastal floodplains crossed by rivers draining from highland mountains to the south into the Gulf of Mexico to the north. Seasonal flooding and the lush tropical environment permitted the development of agriculture and the exploitation of domesticated plants, particularly corn, which led to the development of sedentary societies and advanced forms of social and political organization.
At sites such as San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, the Olmec constructed large earthen platforms more than 3,000 feet long, 1,000 feet wide, and 150 feet...
(The entire section is 1567 words.)