Scientists are typically split between two theories on the subject: Either the Maya developed directly from an older “mother culture” known as the Olmec, or they sprang into existence independently.
Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, Early Olmec culture had emerged. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed, such as the Maya.
Yes, the Olmecs are older historically than the Mayans. Olmec civilization lasted from approximately 1200 BCE until 400 BCE, while Mayan civilization
Many matured into advanced pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations such as the: Olmec, Izapa, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Purépecha, Totonac, Toltec, and Aztec, which flourished for nearly 4,000 years before the first contact with Europeans.
Who were the Olmec? 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 Maya were native people of Mexico and Central America, while the Aztec covered most of northern Mesoamerica between c. 1345 and 1521 CE, whereas Inca flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1533 CE and extended across western South America.
Some historians assert that the Mayans were the descendants of the Olmecs.
The Olmec were American Indians, not Negroes (as Melgar had thought) or Nordic supermen.”
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 Maya were the most ancient by a wide margin. The culture was well established by 1000 BCE – over 2,000 years before the Incas and Aztecs. Both the Maya and Aztecs controlled regions of what is now Mexico.
The Mayans are an older people and were around a thousand years before the Aztecs even arrived in Central America. The Aztecs were the dominant culture in Mexico at the time of Cortez’s arrival in Mexico in the 1500s. The Mayans by then had deteriorated into a decadent and decrepit race living on past glory.
Olmec civilization arose along the Gulf Coast of southern Mexico about 1200 B.C., in an area that the Aztecs later called Olman, “The Rubber Country.” There, quick streams flowed into large rivers, with easily cultivated soil and bountiful forests providing sustenance.
The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatán around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras.
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.
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.