The Olmec people are believed to have occupied a large part of modern-day Southern Mexico. The Olmec civilization is what is known as an archaeological culture. This means there is a collection of artifacts thought by archaeologists to represent a particular society.
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.
Andrzej Wiercinski claims that some of the Olmecs were of African origin. He supports this claim with cranial evidence from two Mesoamerican sites: Tlatilco and Cerro de las Mesas. Tlatilco is a site in the Valley of Mexico. Although outside the Olmec heartland, Olmec influences appear in the architectural record.
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.
Some historians assert that the Mayans were the descendants of the Olmecs.
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 Olmec were the first major civilization in Mexico. They lived in the tropical lowlands on the Gulf of Mexico in the present-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. The name Olmec is a Nahuatl—the Aztec language—word; it means the rubber people.
The Sumerian civilization is the oldest civilization known to mankind. The term Sumer is today used to designate southern Mesopotamia. In 3000 BC, a flourishing urban civilization existed. The Sumerian civilization was predominantly agricultural and had community life.
With more than 5 thousand years old, Caral is considered the oldest civilization in the American continent. Between the years 3000 and 2500 B. C., the people from Caral began to form small settlements in what is now the province of Barranca, that interacted with each other to exchanged products and merchandise.
Among their many accomplishments, Olmecs created the first cities in North America. Many archeological sites are known for this culture, but only two were large and splendid enough to qualify as cities: San Lorenzo and La Venta.
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.
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.
Linguistic evidence has contributed to the ethnic identity of the archaeological Olmecs: they spoke a Mixe-Zoquean language. The Olmecs produced the earliest complex civilization in Mesoamerica (c. 1200–400 bce), and it was located mainly in the same area where Mixe-Zoquean languages are found.
Following Toltec decline, a further period of unrest in the Late Postclassic Period lasted until 1428, when the Aztec defeated the rival city of Azcapotzalco and became the dominant force in central Mexico. This last native Mesoamerican empire fell to the Spaniards, led by Hernán Cortés, in 1521.
The Olmec religious practices of sacrifice, cave rituals, pilgrimages, offerings, ball-courts, pyramids and a seeming awe of mirrors, was also passed on to all subsequent civilizations in Mesoamerica until the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century CE.