Mesoamerica originated from the people who first crossed the land bridge connecting Alaska and Siberia. They traveled down to the areas near what is now Guatemala and Belize. These earliest known American settlers, the Olmecs, were the first permanent residents of America and predate the Mayans. The Olmecs existed as farmers just as the later Mayans did.
The Olmecs lived in the area, initially settling along the coast's fertile shores and later moved into the mountains as well. They are recorded to have existed from about 1200BC to 450BC. Aside from farming they were well known for their sculptures of huge heads. Other elements of life the Olmecs introduced that later appear in the Mayan and later the Aztec cultures are the concept of a calendar, centralized buildings for worship and spectator sports. The religion of the Olmecs appears to have included animal gods. Firm, factual knowledge about their disappearance from the area does not exist. Some say a natural disaster such as a volcano wiped them out while others say they relocated due to the weather changes or harsh geography.
The legacy of the Olmec lived on with later cultures in the form of art sculptures and animal gods.