Olmec people

Olmec people were the earliest inhabitants of Mesoamerica who gave birth to a civilization.

They were mostly pastoral tribes who settled down for agriculture at San Lorenzo. The rich soil of the region led to a rapid increase in agricultural produce.

The consequent increase in the population of the Olmec people led to an increase in the population.

This gave birth to a complex society and ultimately, a civilization.

Most of the Olmec population comprised of farmers, warriors and traders.

The Olmec people were also expert artisans and expended considerable resources on monumental works.


Olmec people Origins

Olmec people were a group of pastoral tribes who settled down in tropical lowlands of Mesoamerica around 1400 B.C.

The area for settlement was chosen based on the rich soil which was apt for agriculture. A vast part of the population was engaged in farming to ensure subsistence.

As surplus agriculture production became possible, Olmecs also took up trade, art as well as warfare.

The Olmec people migrated around 900 B.C. from their first area of settlement, San Lorenzo, to another major center at La Venta.

They continued to be a significant civilization until 400 B.C.


Olmec Rulers

Olmec rulers were usually military chieftains. Some evidence, though disputed, also reveals that possibly artisans and craftsmen in the Olmec culture could rise up to the rank of governors of specific regions, or even the rulers of the Olmec.

The rulers enjoyed divine sanction which is deduced from the fact that they were closely associated with shamans and priests.

Some evidence reveals that Olmec rulers were often associated with Olmec deities and other supernatural phenomenon.

The rulers apparently enjoyed considerable resources and power, without which it would have been impossible for any Olmec ruler to commission the creation of the iconic Olmec colossal heads.


Olmec Priests and Shamans

The religious activities in the Olmec culture were performed by priests and shamans.

The rulers were the main religious heads but the priests and shamans came second to them in authority. The key role of priests and shamans was to act as intermediaries between the Olmec deities and the Olmec common people.

They were tasked with performing various religious rituals, many of which were concerned with a cosmic mythology.

There is evidence that the Olmec shamans made use of hallucinogenic materials.

Figurines extant from the Olmec age also depict shamans transforming from human shape into animals.


Olmec Women

Very little is known about the gender roles in the Olmec society.

One of the extant Olmec figurines depicts a woman seated with a mirror ornament.

Given the posture and the appearance of the figurine, it has been established that the woman being depicted hailed from the elite Olmec class and possibly had religious or political status.


Olmec Artists

Olmec artists were a prestigious part of the Olmec society.

They excelled in creating various forms of art, including figurines, masks and monumental statues. What really stands Olmec artists apart from artists in later civilization is that the art of the Olmec artists was realistic.

They depicted humans, animals and other objects in a fairly life-life imitation.