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The Olmecs. Political. Ruled by powerful priest chieftains who had alliances with other regional priest chiefs; they came to dominate the government with respect and fear instead of force. The Olmec civilization existed from 2500 BC to 400 BC.
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Political • Ruled by powerful priest chieftains who had alliances with other regional priest chiefs; they came to dominate the government with respect and fear instead of force. • The Olmec civilization existed from 2500 BC to 400 BC. • Rulers were the most important religious figures and also had important secular roles. • They had city-temple complexes, public buildings, and drainage canals all of which were provided by the government. • The three major cities of the Olmecs were La Venta in Tabasco, Laguna de los Cerros in Veracruz, and San Lorenzo in Tenochtitlan. • The Olmecs had very little military advancements and many cities such as San Lorenzo were invaded in 900 BC
Economic • The Olmec economy was based on commerce and agriculture. • They farmed, fished, and hunted. • People that lived near the rivers had two crops while the people in the mountains had only one; their crops included guords, beans, squash, maize, cotton, and possibly the coco tree. • Irrigation and raised fields were used to farm more intensely. • The Olmecs had long distance trade in which only the elites had access to. • Merchants traded jade and helped city-states connect and communicate with each other.
Religion • Polytheistic Relgion • Olmecs had shamanism- believing that each person had an animal spirit that could be controlled by the Shaman. • The Shaman was responsible for conducting rituals and healing the sick. • The Olmecs had a full time priest class. • Most important figures in Olmec religion were animals. EX: The jaguar is seen as an ancestor and a god to the Olmecs. • They had extremely powerful ceremonies that revolved around animals • The Olmecs also linked many man-made things with the environment. EX: They believed that smoke was what produced rain, so they created a fire for their rain ceremony. • Religion inspired most of Olmec art including stone heads and jewelry for ceremonies. • Religion also was the inspiration for the Olmec calendar. • Buried the dead in special burial mounds with all of his jade jewelry. • When a person died the Olmecs believed that the body divided into three. One part went to heaven, one stayed on earth, and one went to the underworld.
Social • The Olmecs were dominated by an elite class of ruler priests able to command labor of population. • The elite class lived in the center of the city-states while the commoners lived in rural areas. • The merchant and warrior class fell underneath the elite, and then the farmers, artisans, sculptors followed. • Artisans created pottery and feather design as well practiced weaving. Merchants spread culture and influence throughout all of the city-states. The elite class contributed to religion, art, and government and economic affairs.
Intellectual/Arts • Olmec art was inspired largely by religion. • Jade was commonly used in Olmec art. • They had religious statues and icons that blended animal and human figures. • The Olmecs are famous for their religious stone heads. • They produced very accurate calendars. • The Olmecs were engineering geniuses. • They produced monumental architecture including many temples and the Great Pyramid. • They created the mathematical system of 0. • Studied astronomy to orient the city with the stars. • There is controversy over if it was the Olmecs that developed a very important hieroglyphic alphabet.
Near Geography • The Olmec society is centered in five different geographical areas. • Oaxaca region of western Mexico • Inland Valley of Mexico • The border between Mexico and Guatemala • Southern highlands and lowlands of Yucatan, Honduras, and Guatemala • 125 miles of the eastern Mexican coast • The geography ranged from swampy lowlands and hinterlands to volcanoes and mountainous regions. • Well watered soil allowed high maize production. • Olmec farmers were able to harvest two times a year, but much of the land was not fertile. It could only produce food every few years.