To the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica, the jaguar was more than just an animal; it was divine. Almost every ancient Mesoamerican civilization revered the jaguar in some way. The Olmec (circa 1200-400 B.C.) heavily featured jaguars in their art and religion.
Why are the Olmec gods important to Mesoamerica?
To the ancient civilisations of Mexico; the Olmecs, the Mayans and the Aztecs, the jaguar was worshipped as a deity.
Olmec farmers grew maize, beans, chilies, tomatoes, and squashes. They kept dogs and chickens for meat. As well as that the Olmecs hunted deer and peccaries (wild pigs). The Olmecs also fished and collected shellfish.
Covarrubias, in addition to seeing the jaguar as involved with rain, believed that the jaguar “dominated” the art of the Olmecs and that “this jaguar fixation must have had a religious motivation.” As his chart suggests, however, it is not the jaguar himself who dominates Olmec art but rather the composite being who
The Maize God Because maize was such an important staple of life of the Olmec, it’s not surprising that they dedicated a god to its production. The Maize God appears as a human-ish figure with a stalk of corn growing out of his head.
The Olmec were American Indians, not Negroes (as Melgar had thought) or Nordic supermen.”
All major Mesoamerican civilizations prominently featured a jaguar god, and for many, such as the Olmec, the jaguar was an important part of shamanism. The Olmec and the Maya witnessed this animal’s habits, adopting the jaguar as an authoritative and martial symbol, and incorporated the animal into their mythology.
Their most important domesticated animals were camel-like llamas and alpacas, which provided them with both meat and wool, and which also served as pack animals in some areas of the Andean highlands. They also cultivated cotton, which they used to make fishnets and textiles.
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.
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
This theory holds that the Maya derived their entire society—including their architecture and social structure—directly from the Olmec. And although some Olmec cities are indeed older than both La Venta and Ceibal, they likely did not interact with the Maya.
Olmec Dragon (God I) Also known as the Earth Monster, the Olmec Dragon has flame eyebrows, a bulbous nose, and bifurcated tongue. When viewed from the front, the Olmec Dragon has trough-shaped eyes; when viewed in profile, the eyes are L-shaped. Fangs are prominent, often rendered as an upside-down U-shaped bracket.
Olmec, the first elaborate pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica (c. 1200–400 bce) and one that is thought to have set many of the fundamental patterns evinced by later American Indian cultures of Mexico and Central America, notably the Maya and the Aztec.
The Olmec are probably best known for the statues they carved: 20 ton stone heads, quarried and carved to commemorate their rulers. The name Olmec is an Aztec word meaning the rubber people; the Olmec made and traded rubber throughout Mesoamerica.
The most commonly depicted pair are the Olmec Dragon (God I) and the Olmec Bird Monster (God III). The Olmec Dragon, believed to be a crocodilian with eagle, jaguar, human, and serpent attributes, appears to signify earth, water, fire, and agricultural fertility, and may have served as the patron deity of the elite.
The End of the Olmec Civilization Around 400 B.C. La Venta went into decline and was eventually abandoned altogether. With the fall of La Venta came the end of classic Olmec culture. Although the descendants of the Olmecs still lived in the region, the culture itself vanished.