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The Olmec is a mysterious civilization that thrived in Mexico between 1200 BC and 400 BC. The Olmecs are considered to be the ancestors of all the better known cultures of Mesoamerica like the Maya and the Aztecs. We know the Olmecs from their monumental religious complexes and massive stone sculptures and their preferences for ball games and drinking chocolate. However overall, the Olmecs remain a source of mystery. Scant archaeological evidence does not reveal their ethnic or geographical origins and the extent of their settlements. The Olmecs did record their gods and rituals with symbols, which suggest an organized religion involving priesthood, holy sacrifices, pilgrimages and pyramid-building. The Olmecs passed on their traditions to all of the subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations up to the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century.
Work, Trade, and Recreation
The Olmecs started off by gathering the plant food and palm nuts and hunting turtles and clams. Then exploiting the fertile coastal areas of the
Cuisine, Art, and Culture
The most striking art works of the Olmec civilization were colossal stone heads. Most of them were carved in basalt and display powerful facial features, which may be considered images of actual rulers. Some heads are nearly 3 meters high and can weigh 8 tons. The subject usually wears a helmet with jaguar paws hanging over the forehead, a symbol of political and religious power.
Language and Religion
The Olmecs appear to have revered natural places that connected the sky, earth, and the nether world. The names of Olmec gods are unknown but like most pagan religions, they represented natural phenomena like rain, earth and animals. They Olmecs attached special significance to animals on the top of the food chain like jaguars, eagles, snakes, and sharks. These were identified as divine beings and probably thought that powerful rulers could transform themselves into such fearsome divinities at will. Their supreme deity may have been a creature half human and half jaguar. They also worshiped a sky dragon and believed four dwarfs held up the sky in the four cardinal directions. These gods were worshiped in elaborately planned religious centers, with precise alignments and huge step pyramids. All these Olmec gods and the construction of their shrines retained their importance with later Mesoamerican cultures. The Olmecs did have a writing system but no continuous script has survived from which to decipher their language.
Decline of the Olmecs
The Olmec civilization is characterized by the systematic and periodic destruction of its principle cities. It happened with
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