Colossal Olmec Head Stone
Their citites appeared around 1200 B.C. They were at the height of ther power between 700 and 400 B.C. Since the influence of the Olmecs was limited to the vicinities of their cities, there was probably not a centralized political organization. They practiced a form of hieroglyphs, which was a pictorial form of writing important in creating a writing system.
In the Olmec civilization, two art forms became very important indicators of a stratified society. One art form was a large stone head measuring nearly nine feet in height and weighing nearly 40 tons each. The other was a figurine made of jade. These artifacts were made of jaguar faces combined with human bodies to create "were-jaguars". the jaguar represented a complex array of religious beliefs associated with the gods of rain and fertility. The wide-spread discovery of the "were-jaguar" indicates that this imagery spread throughout Mexico.
Toward the middle of the first millennium B.C., the Olmecs mysteriously disappeared. Their disappearance was due to either another group gaining control over them or changes in the climate could not support their needs for food. However, the Olmecs played a very important role in shaping the civilizations that followed. Many adopted thier ideas, practices, and values. Jade became more valued than gold. A ritual handball game became an important component of future civilizations.
It is believed the Olmecs practiced human sacrifice. This handball game was one way of selecting those victims to be offered to the gods. The game was played between two teams. The ball could not be touched with the hands, only with the knees or hips. The captain of the team who won the game had the honor of being sacrificed to the gods. His family was forever more honored and respected for the sacrifice their son made.
With the decline of the Olmec civilization, came the the rise of the people of Monte Albán. This civilization was located on top of a large mountain outside of the present day city of Oaxaca City. This group had many similarities to the Olmecs and it is thought that some form of trade was taking place between the Olmecs and the people of Monte Albán.
return to Ancient Mayan