Olmec  1500BC – 200 AD

Major Accomplishments: laid the foundation for the Maya civilization;

Olmec Video:

Meso-American Civilizations

  • Central American Civilizations
    • Olmec - 1500BCE-200CE
    • Maya   200-1200CE
    • Aztecs 1350-1530


  • South America
    • Inca – 1350 - 1530
    • Many older Civilizations across South America are united by the Inca


Meso-American Civilization Origins

  • Olmec 1500 BCE – 200 CE


Yukatan Penninsula

  • located on the hot, humid coasts of the Gulf of Mexico
  • surrounded by rain forests, grasslands, and swamps

Olmec Politics

  • Called “Cult of the Jaguar”
  • City state government that united for religious celebrations under the authority of a Priest/shaman
  • Dirt and clay pyramids used for political power and religious ceremonies
  • Why is it that most early civilizations were set up as city states?
  • Colossal stone heads of rulers used as power symbols


Economic Life

  • most were farmers
  • localized trade for minerals and jade for art


Olmec Religion:

  • Polytheist nature worship
  • shaman ruled, claimed to shape-change, control nature (rain, sun, crops), fly, killing enemies from a distance, and bear off-spring even though they are men.
  • Jaguars seen as magical animals and shaman claimed to shape shift into them
  • foundation of later Maya civilization.


Social Class

  • based on power and wealth
  • priests and government were the most powerful
  • merchants and craftspeople were next
  • farmers were the lowest
  • Most city states had their own language and customs
  • Social Life Typical of Agricultural Society
  • Men:
  • plowed and planted fields
  • tended to the crops
  • hunted and fished
    • housekeeping chores
    • making clothes
    • supplying the home with firewood and water
    • caring for younger children
    • learned about farming and housekeeping chores
  • Women/Older girls
  • Children


Intellectual Life

  • Maize Domesticated 3000BCE
  • Major staplecrop in Mesoamerica
  • Also domesticated cotton, cacao, feathers, pelts, woods, rubber
  • Olmec Art: Jade Sculpture (plus giant heads and pyramids)

Olmec Influence on the Mayans

  • Maize projection
  • Ceremonial centers with temple pyramids
  • Calendar based on the Olmec one
  • Ball games
  • Rituals involving human sacrifice

Olmec Dynasty Multiple Choice Questions:

1. Which was not an Olmec influence on the Mayans?

a.       Calendar based on the Olmec calendar

b.       Ball games

c.       Olmec alphabetic writing

d.       Rituals including human sacrifices


2. In most ancient native stateless societies, women ________.

 a.      were prohibited from raising crops. 

 b.      had basic equality with men. 

 c.      did most of the hunting. 

 d.      ruled individual tribes. 


3. What is considered the parent culture of the Mayan, Teotihuacán, and the Aztec?

 a.      Tikal 

 b.      Olmec 

 c.      Zapotec 

 d.      Toltec 


4. Which of the following is widely accepted as the true origins of the peoples of the New World?

 a.      They were the lost tribes of Israel.

 b.      They were Phoenician sailors from Carthage. 

 c.      They were migrants from northeastern Asia.

 d.      They were refugees from Atlantis.


5. Which of these did the men in the Olmec Civilization do?

a.       housekeeping Chores

b.       hunted, plowed and planted fields

c.       supplying the home with firewood and water

d.       travel to look for better land in South America