How did the Olmecs spread their culture?
The larger stones were used for sculptures known as cabezas colasales, or colossal heads, and also altars, and thrones with many smaller stones were used for other sculptures. The more likely method was considered to be water transport using a combination of sleds and raft configurations made of canoes or logs.
While historians have speculated that the facial features of some monumental carved heads indicate an African origin of these people, most scholars believe that the Olmec, like other native Americans, descended from Asian ancestors who entered North America during the Great Ice Age.
The heads were each carved from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their final destination, presumably using huge balsa river rafts wherever possible and log rollers on land.
The Olmecs lived in hot, humid lowlands along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in what is now southern Veracruz and Tabasco states in southern Mexico. The first evidence of their remarkable art style appears about 1200 bce in San Lorenzo, their oldest known building site.
With their heartlands in the Gulf of Mexico (now the states of Veracruz and Tabasco), Olmec influence and trade activity spread from 1200 BCE, even reaching as far south as present-day Nicaragua. Many Olmec sites suffered systematic and deliberate destruction of their monuments sometime between 400 and 300 BCE.
The Olmec created massive monuments, including colossal stone heads, thrones, stela (upright slabs), and statues. They may have been the originators of the Mesoamerican ball game, a ceremonial team sport played throughout the region for centuries.
In addition to their influence with contemporaneous Mesoamerican cultures, as the first civilization in Mesoamerica, the Olmecs are credited, or speculatively credited, with many “firsts”, including the bloodletting and perhaps human sacrifice, writing and epigraphy, and the invention of popcorn, zero and the
Contributions. The Olmecs were apparently the first Mesoamerican people to fathom the concept of zero, develop a calendar, and create a hieroglyphic writing system. Also, they are credited for the discovery of the first conduit drainage system known in the Americas.
The Olmec were American Indians, not Negroes (as Melgar had thought) or Nordic supermen.”
The Olmecs were a culture of ancient peoples -1300-400 B.C. – of the East Mexico lowlands. They are often regarded as the Mother Culture of later Middle American civilizations. The Olmec people called themselves Xi (pronounced Shi).
The period of production of the colossal heads is therefore unknown, as is whether it spanned a century or a millennium. Estimates of the time span during which colossal heads were produced vary from 50 to 200 years. The San Lorenzo heads are believed to be the oldest, and are the most skillfully executed.
The Olmec diet mainly consisted of squash, beans, manioc, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and maize.
The end of the Olmecs The Olmec population declined sharply between 400 and 350 BCE, though it is unclear why. Archaeologists speculate that the depopulation was caused by environmental changes, specifically by the silting-up of rivers, which choked off the water supply.
Less dramatic climate changes, such as a drought, could severely affect their favored crops. Human actions likely played a role as well: warfare between the La Venta Olmecs and any one of a number of local groups could have contributed to the society’s downfall.
The Olmec may have given Mesoamerica its first written language as well. Undecipherable designs on certain pieces of Olmec stonework may be early glyphs: later societies, such as the Maya, would have elaborate languages using glyphic writing and would even develop books.