Art and Tradition

Who were the Olmecs?


Who were the Olmecs?

According to studies carried out throughout history and according to archaeological evidence, it has been determined that the Olmecs were the ones who formed the first civilization of Mesoamerica inhabiting the lowlands of the Gulf of Mexico that is currently known as Veracruz and Tabasco .

The Olmecs and their cultural traditions were considered the pioneers and consequently the initiators of the various subsequent pre-Columbian cultures such as the Maya , the Toltec, and the Aztec. According to the studies carried out, it has been possible to determine that the Olmecs inhabited the earth during 1500 and 400 BC.

The name by which they called themselves is still unknown, however, it is noteworthy that the Olmec word is of Aztec root and has the meaning “inhabitants of the rubber region” . This is because in the area where they lived there were abundant rubber trees. According to studies carried out, it has been determined that the Olmecs used the latex substance that is extracted from these plants to make rubber.

 The influence of the Olmecs

Little is known about this culture, but from the archaeological traces that they left in their wake, it has been possible to determine that they have been the forgers of the later cultures that inhabited Mesoamerica , that is, they influenced later races and generations.

Characteristics of the Olmecs

  • They were the culture that was the basis for later cultures in Mesoamerica.
  • They were the initiators of the constructions of ceremonial temples.
  • They built the various organized social structures.
  • They were pioneers and leaders in stone carving.
  • They played a ball game that was a kind of ritual.
  • They were the forerunners of hieroglyphics.
  • They developed a unique calendar and writing system.
  • They had a wide commercial network.

Olmec economy

In various archaeological evidences, it has been determined that the Olmecs had a fairly wide commercial network , since various artifacts made by them have been found throughout the Mesoamerican region.

This commercial development allowed this advanced culture to be able to develop in its various urban centers, being taken as spaces of the elites and special to be able to perform their ceremonial acts. The archaeological evidences in its constructions and temples demonstrate the development and important advance in this civilization.

Most of the population lived in spaces close to large cities. They were neighboring towns that had gardens where they grew food as well as medicinal herbs. According to the studies, it is presumed that they planted corn, beans and madiocas. In addition to this it is presumed that they were hunters, fishermen and gatherers of wild resources.


  • His artistic creations had elements such as jade, clay, volcanic stone, among others.
  • They carved volcanic stone.
  • The gigantic carved head was one of his greatest contributions, made of basalt rock and they have weighed up to approximately 20 tons.
  • Each of these heads possibly represents a particular character, since none of the 17 that have been found so far have similarity to each other.
  • It is believed that the calendar used by the Mayans was the product of the great contribution made by the Olmecs.

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