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.
Who were the Olmecs?
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 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 riverine environment changes.
The Olmecs were the first group in Mesoamerica with specialized weapons and personnel for war. Their homeland was in the lowlands along the Gulf coast in the Mexican provinces of Tabasco and Veracruz. Atlatls (spear-throwers) were not yet a weapon of war. They used neither shields nor armor.
The Olmecs didn’t have many enemies, but there could be more that weren’t recorded in scrolls or cave paintings. Archaeologists looked for any sign of an enemy tribe or group.
The Olmec were American Indians, not Negroes (as Melgar had thought) or Nordic supermen.”
To quickly sum up, the Maya were first but learned a lot from the Olmecs, who started 1,200 years later.
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.
Today the descendants of the Aztecs are referred to as the Nahua. More than one-and-a-half million Nahua live in small communities dotted across large areas of rural Mexico, earning a living as farmers and sometimes selling craft work. Most Nahua worship in the local church and take part in church festivities.
Some historians assert that the Mayans were the descendants of the Olmecs.
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.
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.
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.
Olmec Food, Crops, and Diet They planted many of the same crops seen in the region today, such as squash, beans, manioc, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Maize was a staple of the Olmec diet, although it is possible that it was introduced late in the development of their culture.
Olmec art lived on in ancient Mesoamerican aesthetic traditions as well. The sculptors and painters in Olmec-period Mexico were the first to portray many of the iconic features of self-proclaimed divine rulers in Mesoamerica.
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.