Uncovering the Mother of American Culture: the Olmecs

Essay by blackbeautyUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, November 2002

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The Olmec Tribe of Southern Mexico is the oldest tribe in Central America. This paper takes a general look at life during the period of the Olmecs: their religous, social and political beliefs. I also discuss their contributions to the history of Mexico.

Uncovering the Mother of American Culture: the Olmecs

I thought when I decided upon the Olmecs as my paper topic that I would examine the claim that this prehistoric tribe was Africans. Indeed the subject is intriguing, however, I found other aspects of their existence to be quite mystifying. How did those giant stone heads appear miles from the point where they were built? What is the obsession with the jaguar? And, what brought about the crazy practice of binding their heads? These are a few of the areas of social entities of the Olmecs I will cover in this paper.

The Beginning

In his article entitled, "The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership, Gillett Griffin gives a graphic introduction to the discovery of the Olmecs:

"In 1862 plantation workers in Huaypan, Veracruz, thought they had found a large overturned iron kettle buried in the ground.

Believing that it might be a cache of gold, they dug -- and dug -- and dug, eventually revealing a colossal stone portrait head. This was the first Olmec sculpture to be discovered in Mexico."

According to Griffin, scholars generally accept the theory that the Olmec culture provides the "foundation of all subsequent civilizations of Mesoamerica."

Starting roughly in 1200 BC and lasting through approximately 600 AD, the Olmecs were the prevailing group in Mesoamerica. They resided from central Mexico through Guatemala -- what later became known as the Mayan Empire. Researcher E. Crystal identifies the area as being, "from the Tuxtlas Mountains in the west to the lowlands of the Chontalpa...