The Olmecs

In 1862 a colossal stone head was discovered in the state of Veracruz along the steaming Gulf Coast of Mexico. In the years to come,
artifacts from the culture later termed "Olmec" turned up at widespread
sites in Mexico and adjacent Central America, with the greatest number
of characteristic themes being present in the region of the original
discovery. For decades these findings were misinterpreted. The Maya
were thought of as the "mother culture" of Mexico, and therefore the
Olmecs were either insignificant or Mayan themselves, and in any case
later in development.

Then in 1939 a carving was discovered near the gigantic head with a
characteristic Olmec design on one side and a date symbol on the other.
This revealed a shocking truth: the Olmecs had a far greater right to
be considered the mother culture. Hundreds of years earlier than anyone
had imagined, simple villages had given way to a complex society
governed by kings and priests, with impressive ceremonial centers and
artworks. Today many find the term "mother culture" misleading, but
clearly the Olmecs came first.

Other megalithic heads were discovered in the intervening years, all
with "African" facial features. This is not necessarily to suggest that
the founders or leaders of Olmec civilization came directly from
Africa, since many original populations of countries like Cambodia and
the Philippines have similar characteristics. These might have been
brought along when the first humans entered the Americas from Asia.

A characteristic motif of Olmec art is a human face with a jaguar mouth,
sometimes called a "were-jaguar" (as in werewolf). This suggests a
derivation of Olmec religion from shamanistic shape-shifting. There is
evidence that the Olmecs practiced human sacrifice, including that of

[Based on The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico.,
by Nigel Davies, published by Penguin Books. Available in paperback
and highly recommended. Also highly recommended is Michael D. Coe's
paperback The Maya., published by
Thames and Hudson. Coe makes the point that whether or not the Olmec is
properly viewed as the "mother culture", the Maya and many other
civilizations were clearly dependent on Olmec achievements.]

Views: 39

Replies to This Discussion

Yes, it is difficult to say whether the Maya or the Olmec came first in Central America, but the fact is that the the Olmecs played a major role in the development of the civilization and arts, as well as the calendric system of the Maya.
It's kind of like asking the qustion? - "Which came first, the chicken, or the egg?"
Did the Olmec or Maya come first? Did the chicken or the egg come first? That is the question?


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