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WHO WERE THE OLMECS?

By: Jarely Fausto


America’s First Civilization and Mesoamerica’s “Mother Culture”   

Earliest society in Mesoamerica (1200 BC to 400 BC) The Olmec culture flourished in south central area of modern day Mexico Laid the foundation for many of the Mesoamerican cultures that later developed all across the region.

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Associated with gigantic stone heads Most familiar aspect of the Olmecs:

“Colossal Heads”


LOCATION   

southeastern Mexico’s Gulf lowlands Tropical forest environment The centers of Olmec civilization were located in what is today the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.


BEST KNOWN FOR……. 

Accomplishments in the sculptural arts: master artisans  

Large stone monuments Small objects carved from jadeite and other semi-precious stones.

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20 tons, 9 ft tall Carved from boulders of volcanic basalt Dragged or floated, 1, 500 people, 3 to 4 months Portraits of rulers Flat faced, thick-lipped: African resemblance

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* The jade Kunz Axe (11 in.) Largest jade objects in Mesoamerica Ritual settings


IN ADDITION TO BEING MASTER ARTISANS….. Large architectural complexes  Live in nucleated towns and cities  Olmec “villages” similar to rural villages 

 House 

lots elevated to avoid annual floods

Modest mound for senior family villages or for small temple dedicated to villager’s deity 

(Triumphal Altar )- worshiped the jaguar


Prosperity : The rich soil and the tropical climate of the region made it possible for the Olmecs to develop a highly structured society that was based on the production of maize, or corn. - “nixtamalization�

Maize = core element of the diet


TECHNOLOGY 

Olmec potters: transformed the incipient ceramic technology  Produced

finely made pottery vessels  Served both ritual and utilitarian functions  Info. on Olmec ceramics comes from San Lorenzo

Good engineers: First form of water control


OLMEC LANGUAGE AND WRITING 

Mesoamerican society - spoke a language ancestral to Mixe-Zoquean. Olmecs of San Lorenzo spoke proto-Mixe  Olmecs of La Venta spoke proto-Zoque 

Earliest New World writing revealed • • •

fist-sized ceramic cylinder and fragments of engraved plaques symbols indicating allegiance to a king Contrary to Old World writing


OLMEC RELIGION Techniques:

comparing it with pre-Columbian cultures analyzing the art and iconography of the Olmec comparison with cultures of the Native Americans

Priests, Shamans, and Rulers

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Deities: characteristics from a number of animals  

1st- based around a jaguar god Later- supernatural beings/ no gender


*Olmec Dragon

Gods

*Maize Deity

*Fish or Shark Monster

*Bird Monster

*Banded-eye God *Feathered Serpent

*Rain Spirit and Were-jaguar


THE ORIGINAL CENTER OF CULTURE 

San Lorenzo: population of less than 1,000 people  Inhabitants: farmers and fishers, small amount of hunting  began to decline and was more or less abandoned sometime around 900 BC 

La Venta:  site

that flourished (900 to 400 B.C.)  Where they moved to  Similar sculptures found


STRONG CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED   

Competition from other Mesoamerican cultures A growing dependence on imported merchandise No one knows the exact cause

*But one thing is clear. The Olmec artisans left their mark by influencing all other Mesoamerican cultures, starting with the Maya.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ďƒ’ More

information on the Olmecs and its civilization can be found on the textbook, Art Across Time on pages 336 and 339.


WORKS CITED Diehl, Richard A. The Olmecs. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2004. Print “Olmec Civilization.” Crystalilnk Dec. 2007: 1-1. Olmec research. Web. 17 Sep. 2010. “Olmec Religion.” Civilizations Aug. 2007: 1-2. Ancient Civilizations. Web. 16 Sep. 2010. “Olmec Religion.” Creative Commons Attributions Dec. 2008: 1-2. Wikipedia. Web. 18 Sep. 2010.


who were the olmecs?