Key Points

The Olmec resided in south-central Mexico, through their center in La Venta in Tabasco.Little is recognized about Olmec religion, though scholars believe tright here were eight major deities.People stayed in tiny farming villperiods external of urban centers, which were mainly for ceremonial use.The decrease of the Olmec population from 400—350 BCE might have been because of eco-friendly transforms.

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La Venta

The primary city of the Olmec people.

Mesoamerican ballgame

An ancient ritual sport that involved keeping a rubber sphere in play in designated courts. It the majority of likely originated in the Olmec society.

Olmec colossal heads

Basalt sculptures of human deals with wearing large helmeted headdresses that stand also up to 3.4 meters high. These sculptures most most likely reexisting essential rulers.

The Olmec were the initially major world in Mexico. They stayed in the tropical lowlands of south-main Mexico, in the present-day claims of Veracruz and Tabasco, and also had actually their facility in the city of La Venta.

The Olmec flourimelted during Mesoamerica’s developmental period, dating roughly from as at an early stage as 1500 BCE to around 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec societies had actually flourimelted in the area because around 2500 BCE, yet by 1600–1500 BCE, Early Olmec society had actually emerged. They were the initially Mesoamerideserve to world and lhelp many kind of of the structures for the civilizations that adhered to, such as the Maya. Judging from the easily accessible archeological evidence it is likely that they originated the Mesoamerideserve to ballgame and feasible that they exercised routine bloodletting.

The Gulf of Mexico’s lowlands are mainly taken into consideration the birthlocation of the Olmec society, and remained the heartland of this civilization during its existence. This location is defined by swampy lowlands punctuated by low hills, ridges, and volcanoes. The Tuxtlas Mountains increase sharply in the north, along the Gulf of Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. Here the Olmec built irreversible city-temple complexes at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and also Laguna de los Cerros. San Lorenzo continued to be the Olmec resources up till about 900 BCE, once the main city became La Venta, which continued to be useful till the demise of the Olmec roughly 400 BCE. Possible river or weather transforms brought about this movement to take place.

Trade and Village Life

There are no created documents of Olmec commerce, beliefs, or custom-mades, yet from the archeological proof it appears they were not financially confined. In reality, Olmec artefacts have been discovered throughout Mesoamerica, indicating that tright here were substantial interneighborhood trade The Olmec period saw a significant boost in the length of profession routes, the variety of items, and the sources of traded items.

Trading helped the Olmec build their metropolitan centers of San Lorenzo and also La Venta. However, these cities were offered mostly for ceremonial purposes and elite activity; many human being lived in little villperiods. Individual homes had a lean-to and also a storage pit surrounding. They also most likely had actually gardens, in which the Olmec would certainly grow medicinal herbs and also small crops, favor sunflowers.


The Great Pyramid in La Venta, Tabasco. Remains of the last capital of the Olmec culture, La Venta, include this religious website where elites many likely percreated rituals.

Most farming took location exterior of the villeras in areas cleared making use of slash-and-burn approaches. The Olmec most likely thrived crops such as:

MaizeBeansSquashManiocSweet potatoesCottonReligion

Unfortunately, tbelow is no making it through straight account of Olmec ideas, yet their significant artoccupational administer hints around their life and religious beliefs.


Olmec king. Surviving art, favor this relief of a king or chief found in La Venta, aid provide clues around how Olmec culture operated.

There were eight various androgynous Olmec divine beings, each with its own distinct attributes. For instance, the Bird Monster was illustrated as a harpy eagle linked through rulership. The Olmec Dragon was displayed through flame eyebrows, a bulbous nose, and also bifurcated tongue. These gods were believed to provide the rulers a manday to lead. Deities often stood for a organic facet and included:

The Maize deityThe Rain Spirit or Were-JaguarThe Fish or Shark Monster

Religious activities concerning these deities more than likely had the elite rulers, shamans, and perhaps a priest course making offerings at spiritual sites in La Venta and San Lorenzo.


The Olmec society was identified and merged by a details art style, and also this proceeds to be the hallmark of the society. Wrought in a big variety of media—jade, clay, basalt, and greenstone, among others—a lot Olmec art, such as The Wrestler, is surprisingly naturalistic. Other art expresses fantastic humanlike creatures, often extremely stylized, using an iconography reflective of a religious interpretation. Common motifs include downturned mouths and a cleft head, both of which are seen in depictions of were-jaguars and the rain deity.


Olmec hollow baby figurine. Realistic ceramic objects, such as this portrayal of an infant, show the extremely experienced artistic style of the Olmec society.

Olmec Colossal Heads

The most striking art left behind by this society are the Olmec colossal heads. Seventeen monupsychological stone depictions of humale heads sculpted from large basalt boulders have been uncovered in the region to day. The heads day from at least before 900 BCE and also are a distinctive attribute of the Olmec human being. All portray mature guys with fleshy cheeks, flat noses, and slightly crossed eyes. However, none of the heads are afavor, and also each boasts a unique heattend to, which argues they reexisting specific individuals.

The boulders were brought from the Sierra de los Tuxtlas hills of Veracruz. Given that the extremely large slabs of stone offered in their production were transported over big ranges, requiring a great deal of human initiative and also sources, it is thought that the monuments reexisting portraits of powerful individual Olmec rulers. The heads were otherwise arranged in lines or groups at major Olmec centers, however the method and also logistics used to transfer the stone to these sites remain unspecific.

The exploration of a colossal head at Tres Zapotes in the 19th century spurred the initially archaeological investigations of Olmec culture by Matthew Stirling in 1938. Most colossal heads were sculpted from spherical boulders, yet two from San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán were re-carved from massive rock thrones. An additional monument, at Takalik Abaj in Guatemala, is a throne that might have actually been carved from a colossal head. This is the just well-known example from exterior the Olmec heartland also.

Olmec head. This sculpture is typical of the colossal heads of the Olmec.

The End of the Olmecs

The Olmec population decreased sharply in between 400 and also 350 BCE, though it is unclear why. Excavators speculate that the depopulation was caused by environmental alters, specifically riverine environment alters. These transforms may have actually been prompted by the silting up of rivers due to farming techniques.

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Another concept for the significant populace drop relates to tectonic turmoils or subsidence, as argued by Santley and colleagues that propose rearea of negotiations due to volcanism, instead of extinction. Volcanic eruptions during the Early, Late, and also Terminal Formative durations would certainly have blanketed the lands and forced the Olmec to relocate their settlements.