Olmec, the first elaborate pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica (c. 1200–400 bce) and one that is thought to have set many of the fundamental patterns evinced by later American Indian cultures of Mexico and Central America, notably the Maya and the Aztec.
What time period did the Olmec live in?
The End of the Olmec Civilization Around 400 B.C. La Venta went into decline and was eventually abandoned altogether. With the fall of La Venta came the end of classic Olmec culture. Although the descendants of the Olmecs still lived in the region, the culture itself vanished.
Scientists are typically split between two theories on the subject: Either the Maya developed directly from an older “mother culture” known as the Olmec, or they sprang into existence independently.
While historians have speculated that the facial features of some monumental carved heads indicate an African origin of these people, most scholars believe that the Olmec, like other native Americans, descended from Asian ancestors who entered North America during the Great Ice Age.
The end of the Olmecs The Olmec population declined sharply between 400 and 350 BCE, though it is unclear why. Archaeologists speculate that the depopulation was caused by environmental changes, specifically by the silting-up of rivers, which choked off the water supply.
Some historians assert that the Mayans were the descendants of the Olmecs.
The Olmec colossal heads are stone representations of human heads sculpted from large basalt boulders. They range in height from 1.17 to 3.4 metres (3.8 to 11.2 ft). The heads date from at least 900 BC and are a distinctive feature of the Olmec civilization of ancient Mesoamerica.
Olmec Food, Crops, and Diet They planted many of the same crops seen in the region today, such as squash, beans, manioc, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Maize was a staple of the Olmec diet, although it is possible that it was introduced late in the development of their culture.
San Lorenzo, about 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of the Gulf of Mexico in the modern Mexican state of Veracruz, was at its height around 1150 to 900 C.E. La Venta, east of San Lorenzo and closer to the Gulf Coast (15 kilometers/9 miles) in the modern Mexican state of Tabasco, reached its height in about 900–500 C.E.
The Olmec were American Indians, not Negroes (as Melgar had thought) or Nordic supermen.”
The Maya were native people of Mexico and Central America, while the Aztec covered most of northern Mesoamerica between c. 1345 and 1521 CE, whereas Inca flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1533 CE and extended across western South America.
Civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Aztec and Inca all built pyramids to house their deities, as well as to bury their kings. In many of their great city-states, temple-pyramids formed the center of public life and were the site of holy rituals, including human sacrifice.
With more than 5 thousand years old, Caral is considered the oldest civilization in the American continent. Between the years 3000 and 2500 B. C., the people from Caral began to form small settlements in what is now the province of Barranca, that interacted with each other to exchanged products and merchandise.
Linguistic evidence has contributed to the ethnic identity of the archaeological Olmecs: they spoke a Mixe-Zoquean language. The Olmecs produced the earliest complex civilization in Mesoamerica (c. 1200–400 bce), and it was located mainly in the same area where Mixe-Zoquean languages are found.
Like many early Mesoamerican cultures, the Olmec believed in three tiers of existence: the physical realm they inhabited, an underworld and a sky realm, home of most of the gods. Their world was bound together by the four cardinal points and natural boundaries such as rivers, the ocean and mountains.