The Olmec were gifted artists who produced stone carvings, woodcarvings and cave paintings. They made carvings of all sizes, from tiny celts and figurines to massive stone heads. The stonework is made of many different types of stone, including basalt and jadeite.
The Olmec culture flourished in several civic and ceremonial centers along the Gulf of Mexico more than 3,000 years ago, from 1500 to 400 B.C. Best known for their carvings of colossal stone heads, the Olmec were masters of monumental sculpture, and also produced an array of other distinctive artworks in stone, ceramic
Olmec art is best known for colossal sculpture in volcanic stone and intricate works in jade, both media that were imported from faraway regions.
The Olmecs created a religious center at San Lorenzo when they built temples and stone houses on a plateau. However, San Lorenzo was destroyed in about 900 BC. The Olmecs built a new religious center at La Venta about 800 BC, including a 30-meter high pyramid.
What is known is that the Olmec produced some of the greatest Mesoamerican artworks including colossal sculpture in volcanic stone and intricate works in jade; they built the earliest known Mesoamerican pyramid; and laid the foundations for all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya and the Aztec.
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
The Olmecs were extremely talented artists and sculptors: they produced many statues, masks, figurines, stelae, thrones and more. They are best known for their massive colossal heads, seventeen of which have been found at four different archaeological sites.
Civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Aztec and Inca all built pyramids to house their deities, as well as to bury their kings. In many of their great city-states, temple-pyramids formed the center of public life and were the site of holy rituals, including human sacrifice.
Olmec glyphs are the earliest known writing in America. These fine-line motifs symbolically define the four quarters of the human world with the king as ruler at the center. The Olmec art style is found on objects as far afield as the Valley of Mexico to the north and the Pacific coast of Chiapas to the south.
Given that the extremely large slabs of stone used in their production were transported over large distances (over 150 kilometres (93 mi)), requiring a great deal of human effort and resources, it is thought that the monuments represent portraits of powerful individual Olmec rulers.
Olmec Cosmology Like many early Mesoamerican cultures, the Olmec believed in three tiers of existence: the physical realm they inhabited, an underworld and a sky realm, home of most of the gods. Their world was bound together by the four cardinal points and natural boundaries such as rivers, the ocean and mountains.
The Olmecs studied astronomy and developed a system of writing and mathematics. They were the first Mesoamerican culture to build pyramids. Their calendar and religious beliefs appear to have influenced later cultures. In fact, many scholars call the Olmecs the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica.
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 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.
The Olmec Dragon represented the Earth or at least the plane upon which humans lived. As such, he represented agriculture, fertility, fire, and otherworldly things. The dragon may have been associated with the Olmec ruling classes or elite.
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.