The Olmec civilization was one of the first
civilizations in the Americas. They thrived between 1200 to 400 BC and settled in the
forests, savannas, and rivers of the Gulf of Mexico. They mainly used stone and clay in
their architecture. Their architectural style included large clay platforms and terraces,
usually painted bright shades of red, yellow, and purple. For special buildings, such as
ceremonial centers, the Olmecs used multicolored clays on the floors to add commotion to
the building. Other characteristics of the ceremonial centers were stone-mosaic floors and
basalt (a kind of stone) columns. |
The Olmecs were the first civilization to build pyramids. Their pyramids resembled volcanoes. The other buildings, probably used as houses for the Olmec people, were rectangular huts made from plants and adobe. There were also buildings with wooden walls covered with clay and palm roofs. Underneath the cities and towns, the Olmecs built an underground, stone drainage system.
Oftentimes, many underdeveloped human figures that resembled jaguars were depicted in Olmec architecture. This figure has been thought of as a rain spirit, which was a prototype to the later rain gods of Mesoamerican civilizations. The Olmecs used animals scarcely in their buildings unlike many other groups. Their animal selection was limited to jaguars, monkeys, serpents, falcons, and eagles.
The Olmec people were most famous for their huge busts, mainly of rulers, which had thick lips and broad flat noses. The remarkable thing is that, oftentimes, the stone quarries were far from the site of the statue (as far as eighty miles), and the huge stones had to be transported for long distances.
1. Ferguson, William M., Rohn, Arthur H., Mesoamerica's Ancient Cities, Niwot, Colorado, University Press of Colorado, 1994