The Olmecs: An Enigma Wrapped Up In A Secret

When on a time, some 3300 a long time or so before you ended up conceived of in anyone’s philosophy, a motley band of nomads that had quite a few generations beforehand crossed about into North The united states from Asia at the top of the past Ice Age, identified their way into what is right now known as the tropical lowlands of the japanese coastal area of Mexico. That motley band of nomads settled down and became the 1st good civilization of the New World– the Olmecs. They are categorised by students as inhabiting the Middle Pre-Traditional Period of theAmerica’s historic historical past. Early Pre-Traditional refers to these prehistoric hunter-gatherers and the transition to these early and incredibly smaller primitive agricultural settlements.

OLMEC Basic principles

The Olmecs ended up the 1st of the good Mesoamerican civilizations, occasionally referred to as the Mom of all subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations.

They survived, even thrived from roughly 1200 BC to about 400 BC in the southernGulfCoastarea ofMexico, in an region now referred to as the states of Veracruz andTabasco.


However the Olmecs ended up primarily an agricultural culture (we all have to eat), they did build several significant density metropolitan population centers, truly a lot more ritual-dependent politico-religious centers, all with huge monuments which include pyramids. The trilogy of these key centers ended up

*San Lorenzo (roughly 1200 – 900 BC). That web site was sooner or later abandoned and they moved to La Venta, nevertheless you can find likely some degree of overlap in between the two.

*La Venta (roughly 900 – 400 BC). This is the Olmec web site most effective known and documented. It was truly on an island located within theTonala River. The believed population of La Venta has been believed at some 18,000 people. Okay, soMexico Cityit’s not, but that is not a bad ‘city’ for the moments.

*Tres Zapotes (roughly 900 BC). The 900 BC date is once again a beginnings coinciding with the decline ofSan Lorenzo. You can find no termination date simply because other cultures inhabited the web site right after the Olmec civilization went the way of the dodo.

In some cases you can find also a mention of Laguna de les Cerros as a key Olmec web site.

These Olmec politico-religious sites ended up crafted under their rulers on a grand sufficient scale that one can draw parallels with historic Egyptian monuments under their pharaohs. In other text, Olmec ‘cities’ ended up extraordinary for the moments.


The Olmecs ended up named “The Olmecs” truly by the Aztecs as “Folks of the land of the rubber trees”. However named by the Aztecs, the Aztecs didn’t appear on the horizon till some 1400 a long time later on on down the monitor. So their “Olmecs” ended up as a lot an enigma wrapped up in a secret to them as the Olmecs remain and are to us, as we shall see. 

The Olmecs did these normal each day issues you affiliate with practically any historic civilization – farm the land, build the structures, interact in warfare, played ball online games, practiced their faith with religious ceremonies that seemingly involved human sacrifices and bloodletting, in this situation to their Jaguar-God and other deities.

All these things to do ended up completed by the way without having the wheel or any beasts of stress.

Just one problem immediately springs to mind. Exactly where did they appear from? They surely appeared incredibly quickly all wrapped up in a civilized box as a key culture. The subsequent most obvious problem is the place did they disappear to since you can find no longer any ethnic team of persons on Earth Earth we can simply call Olmecs? They disappeared from the scene just as swiftly as they at first appeared. It appears as it they just melted away into bordering parts, abandoning their ritual centers and settlements and way of daily life, dropping all contact for all time with their exclusive identification. That said, it really is also obvious that these people’s culture surely had a key influence on other Mesoamerican societies that adopted like the Maya.

As to why the Olmec civilization collapsed, effectively the induce is not known, and students have speculated maybe this and maybe that and maybe the subsequent matter. Your guess at this stage is likely similarly as legitimate. But whatever induced their demise, it took place incredibly swiftly.


Apart from just a incredibly number of human remains that have been identified – just the bones from two, probably 3 youthful people – if any key discoveries of bodies (skeletons, corpses or mummies), identified in graves, tombs or cemeteries and linked with the Olmec civilization have been made, I’m unaware of them. There is on report a stone burial chamber, a sarcophagus and basalt tombs, but seemingly no bodies. That alone is quite anomalous when it arrives down to placing a human deal with on an historic culture – imagine of these Egyptian mummies, or these bog corpses oft uncovered in northern Europe. With out skulls you won’t be able to do forensic facial reconstructions to get an notion of what these persons looked like. With out skeletons you’ve got very little notion of their typical measurement and common state of overall health and health – what sorts of conditions and injuries could have been commonplace.

Also missing are all these favourite remains that convey to archaeologists so a lot about the daily life and moments of a culture – rubbish dumps. There are no involved kitchen middens or refuse sites that have been located and excavated. 


The Olmecs remaining driving no prepared historical past that we can realize. Their glyphs carved into their stone monuments, sculptures, monoliths, and so on. remain indecipherable. We will need an Olmec equal of the Egyptian Rosetta Stone! Further more, there are no parallels with the writings of later on Mesoamerican cultures. We’re caught in between that rock and that hard position. So, alas and alack, you can find almost nothing comprehensible to convey to us, for example, how they carved, transported and crafted their megalithic monuments/stone heads or why they did so.


Olmec culture is likely most renowned for all these practically round-as-a-ball stone heads of the masculine gender that generally are inclined to feature prominently anytime you go through about the Olmecs. These ended up not smaller stone statues of the head only, but huge sculptures up to about 3 meters (about 10 toes) in top and weighing about 20 tons (nevertheless I’ve noticed estimates of up to 50 tons for the most significant of the huge). Over 20 stone heads, or sections of heads, are now known you can find likely a lot more continue to buried within the jungle. Further more, no two heads are clones. When they all appear equivalent, each and every is exclusive in its very own way. However bland right now, in their heyday, they ended up seemingly painted and brightly adorned.

These stone heads are made of basalt, a somewhat dense and hard volcanic rock. Not the easiest of substance to carve. Further more, the uncooked parent multi-ton basalt blocks had to be imported from the Tuxtlas Mountains – hauled about land and drinking water presumably by human muscle energy from roughly 37 miles to about 90 miles away, dependent on what eventual web site they had to go to, and they have been identified at all four key Olmec politico-religious sites. It would have been no easy process muscling multi-ton stone blocks by hand through steamy, swampy tropical jungle, nevertheless no person is aware for absolute certain how these blocks acquired from source to web site, since the Olmecs remaining driving no ‘how-to’ manuals. 

The immediate 1st, through to at minimum the tenth effect you get when viewing these Olmec stone heads is without having problem ‘African’. That of class would not make the effect suitable, but 1st impressions are lasting ones and ordinarily have some form of logical foundation driving them.

Now the typical model of classic Mesoamerican archaeology nixes any conversation in between Central The united states andAfricabefore the beginning of Christ (and for really some sizeable time thereafter too). However these heads continue to appear ‘African’. You can find no having all over that.

Further more, these Olmec stone heads have facial photos that appear almost nothing like the jade masks or heads of several carved figurines, and so on. (see below).

No matter, whose heads and faces are they? Are they portraits in stone of Olmec rulers? When that is the normally recognized notion, no one genuinely is aware for absolute certain. And nevertheless quite a few other cultures have carved, transported and erected huge statues, like the Easter Islanders and certainly the historic Egyptians and Greco-Romans, they didn’t emphasis on exclusively chin-up statues. The Olmecs appear to be to be quite exclusive in monumental head-only representations.

OLMECS’ JADE Lifestyle

Some historic civilizations are known for their operates of stonemasonry or artifacts of silver and gold (or electrum – an amalgamation of equally) or maybe amber, textiles/weaving, metallurgy, pottery/ceramics, and so on.  The Olmecs ended up a jade culture. Even so, they had to trade for jade about long distances, acquiring about time extensive quantities which they then carved into all sorts of ornamentations, masks, smaller sculptures and figurines, and so on. Even so, as pointed out over, carvings in jade of masks or facial functions are not equivalent to these of the incredibly huge basaltic stone heads. That is just one more puzzlement when it arrives to figuring out what made the Olmec’s tick.  

When it arrives to art operates, the Olmecs ended up also known for their complex cave paintings.


Like all societies, the Olmecs had their deities. Olmec gods tended to be a hybrid mixture of human, avian, reptilian but most of all feline varieties, particularly the jaguar, in several and usually bewildering combinations. Most distinguished of these was the Ended up-Jaguar, usually depicted as human infants with jaguar-like faces. Now that is unusual! Lots of Olmec photos show individuals (shamans presumably) form-shifting into jaguars and vice versa. It was their capability to execute a transition from the all-natural earth to the supernatural and back once again. At minimum that is the suitable interpretation.

You can find no problem that the jaguar was the key animal predator inMesoamerica, and as a result it really is not surprising that the jaguar showcased prominently in pre-Columbian societies, and adoption of jaguar motifs by the ruling elite was likely employed to reinforce or validate leadership. Even so, that alone rarely explains the Ended up-Jaguar cult and the doable origins of the cult have engaged students for about a 50 percent century. The difficulty has nevertheless to be resolved.

Apart from the cult of the Ended up-Jaguar, Olmecs ended up the 1st to sculpture a ‘feathered serpent’, made a distinguished cult deity determine in its very own suitable as Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs.


*Exactly where did they appear from and the place did they vanish to?

*Why didMesoamerica’s ‘Mother’ culture seemingly vanish into thin air, and incredibly quickly at that?

*Why so number of Olmec bodies and no kitchen middens?

*Will we ever determine out their ‘writings’? That would certainly drop a lot needed light-weight on their culture.

*That form-shifting Ended up-Jaguar religious cult has no serious further more parallels inMesoamerica. What was their philosophy driving the cult? 

*Most certainly, what ended up the methods and suggests of carving and transporting these huge ‘African’ stone heads? And why just heads from the chin up as an alternative of absolutely fledged human statues like one finds in other historic cultures?

*What’s the African link, if in truth there is any African link?

As I said, the Olmecs are in truth an enigma wrapped up in a secret.

Supply by John Prytz

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