Art and Tradition

Definition of Olmec


Definition of Olmec

It is an indigenous culture and is considered the first in Mesoamerica which was in charge of founding the various urban centers and societies. This culture was, with the passage of time, influential in the various Mesoamerican groups that preceded it.

The term Olmeca refers to “inhabitants of the rubber region”, living in the lowlands of the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated that this culture inhabited the region approximately during 1500 BC and 400 AD . The origin of its name is not completely known but it is presumed that it was because where they lived there were many rubber trees and from them they extracted the latex to make rubber.

It is said that their culture was so complex and with so much history that its development contributed to later civilizations such as the Aztecs, Toltecs and Mayans . The little information that is handled about it is due to huge heads that were carved in volcanic rock that have come to weigh 20 tons or more.


They mainly inhabited what is now part of the southeast of Veracruz and the west of Tabasco. This was properly the nuclear area of ​​the oldest culture in Mesoamerica, although it must be said that later archaeological evidence speaks of an Olmec presence, that is, of marked cultural features, in other areas such as Chiapas, in the central valleys of Oaxaca and in the Balsas Depression in Guerrero.

Characteristic of the Olmec culture

  • They are considered as the mother culture of the various Mesoamerican cultures.
  • They were the first to create ceremonial temples.
  • They were organized under a structural scheme in order to build great monuments.
  • They specialize in stone carving.
  • They played a ball game.
  • They developed a calendar system
  • They developed a writing system that predates the hieroglyph. The Olmec writing is considered the oldest in America. They were then the oldest epigraphs on the continent, and they too created the first glyphs and calendars.
  • The Olmecs were polytheists and worshiped the jaguar
  • Pantheon was swollen toads, reptiles and alligators among other sacred animals.
  • Their rulers had supernatural powers and were direct descendants of the divinities, and they were, as we have seen, the first “oilmen” in the world.
  • They created trade routes that reached to the Valley of Mexico, and what is now Oaxaca, Guatemala and in general to the Mayan World, where they traded and exchanged jade, rock crystal, obsidian, magnetite and other high-value raw materials.

Olmec culture heads

Their artistic representations, that is, their mastery in stone carving, for which most recognize and admire them, and if it is not enough to say that the Olmecs were the creators of the fantastic and enigmatic colossal heads , without a doubt the artistic expression and culture that most represents them, and perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the matter is that the stone deposits closest to their main settlements, which was where they were found, are more than 100 kilometers away.

These colossal pieces weighing tens of tons and up to four meters in height had to be brought from the region of Los Tuxtlas, that is, from the quarry of the Cerro de Santa Martha, and also their obsidians and their jades that were widely used in their ritual and household objects.

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