A brief analysis of the social life of the Olmecs
The Olmecs were the first major civilization in Mexico.
They inhabited the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, now Veracruz and Tabasco, and their center was in the city of La Venta.
The Olmecs flourished during the formative period of Central America, roughly dating from around 1500 BC to around 400 BC.
Pre-Olmec culture began to flourish in the region around 2500 BC, but by 1600 to 1500 BC, early Olmec culture had emerged.
They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many foundations for subsequent civilizations, such as the Mayan civilization.
From the available archaeological evidence, it is likely that they originated in ball games in Central America, and that they may have performed ritual bloodletting.
The lowlands of the Gulf of Mexico are often considered the birthplace of Olmec culture and have been the heartland of that civilization for the duration of its existence.
The area is characterized by swampy lowlands dotted with low hills, ridges and volcanoes.
The Tustras Mountains rise sharply in the north, along the Gulf of Mexico in Campeche Bay.
Here, the Olmecs built permanent urban temple complexes in San Lorenzote Nochtitlan, La Venta, Tressa Portes and Laguna de los Cerros.
San Lorenzo was the capital of Olmec until about 900 BC, when the central city became La Venta, which remained functional until the fall of Olmec around 400 BC.
Possible river or weather changes caused this movement to occur.
Trade and village life
There are no written records of Olmec commerce, beliefs, or customs, but from archaeological evidence, they appear to be free from economic constraints.
In fact, Olmec artifacts have been found throughout Central America, suggesting the existence of extensive interregional trade routes. During the Olmec period, the length of trade routes, the variety of goods, and the sources of trade items increased significantly.
Trade helped the Olmecs establish the urban centers of San Lorenzo and La Venta.
However, these cities were mainly used for ceremonial purposes and elite activities; Most people live in small villages. Individual dwellings have a shed and a storage pit nearby.
They may also have gardens, where the Olmecs would grow herbs and small crops, such as sunflowers.
Most agriculture takes place outside the village in fields cleared using slash-and-burn techniques. The Olmecs probably cultivated the following crops:
Unfortunately, there is no direct record of the Olmec faith, but their famous artwork provides clues about their lives and religion.
There are eight different androgynous Olmec deities, each with its own unique characteristics.
For example, the bird monster is depicted as an eagle-bodied eagle associated with domination.
Olmecdragons have flaming eyebrows, a bulbous nose, and a forked tongue.
It is believed that these gods provided the ruler with the authority to lead. God usually represents a natural element that includes:
Rain elves or jaguars
Fish or shark monsters
Religious activities associated with these deities may include elite rulers, shamans, and possibly a priestly class who sacrificed at religious sites in La Venta and San Lorenzo.
Olmec culture is defined and unified by a specific artistic style, which remains the hallmark of the culture.
Many of Olmec's artworks, such as The Wrestler, use a variety of mediums—jade, clay, basalt, and greenstone—to name a bit—and are surprisingly naturalistic.
Other arts express fantastic anthropomorphic creatures, often highly stylized, using images that reflect religious meaning.
Common motifs include drooping mouths and split heads, both of which appear in portraits of jaguars and rain gods.
Olmec Giant Head
The most striking art left by this culture is the giant head of Olmec.
To date, 17 boulders, carved from large basalt boulders, have been unearthed in the area.
These heads date back to at least 900 BC and are a distinctive feature of the Olmec civilization.
All works depict mature men with plump cheeks, flat noses and slightly slanted eyes.
However, none of the avatars are alike, and each has a unique headdress, suggesting that they represent a specific individual.
These boulders come from the Tustras Mountains in Veracruz.
Given that the oversized stone slabs used in their production required long-distance transportation and required a lot of manpower and resources, the monuments were thought to represent portraits of powerful Olmec rulers.
The heads are arranged in rows or groups in different ways in the main centers of Olmec, but the method and logistics of transporting the stones to these locations remain uncertain.
The discovery of a huge head in Tressa Portes in the 19th century prompted Matthew Stirling to conduct the first archaeological survey of the Olmec culture in 1938.
Most of the giant heads are carved from spherical boulders, but two of the heads of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan were recarved from huge stone thrones.
Another monument to Abah Takalik in Guatemala is a throne, probably carved from a huge skull.
This is the only known example outside the heart of Olmec.
The population of Olmec declined sharply between 400 and 350 BC, but the reasons for this are unknown.
Archaeologists speculate that the depopulation was due to environmental changes, particularly in rivers.
These changes may have been triggered by silting of rivers due to agricultural practices.
Another reason for the drastic decline in population has to do with crustal turbulence or subsidence, with volcanic eruptions from early and late formative periods covering the land and forcing the Olmecs to move their settlements.