The birthplace of Olmeca culture lies between the Grijalva and Papaloapa rivers. In the modern Mexican Republic this region is
the southern part of the state of Veracruz and the eastern part of the state of Tabasco. This is where the people we now call
Olmecs first built the cities and carved the sculptures that continue to amaze us. The word Olmec is derived from the Nahuatl
OLLI and MECATL, (rope), line or lineage. Another meaning is an inhabitant of the rubber country. Yet another term applied
to the ancient Olmecas is TENOCELOME, mouth of the jaguar.
Olmeca culture is considered the mother culture of civilization in Mesoamerica.
Its ancient capitals -- La Venta, San Lorenzo,
Laguna de los Cerros, Tres Zapotes -- are found in an area that is bound from the east by the Tuxtla mountains, and by the
Southern Mountain Range (Sierra Madre del Sur) in the south. Experts call this locale the metropolitan area, climax area, or
nuclear zone. This large area, stretching between the mountain ranges and the Gulf of Mexico, is very humid because it
possesses an abundance of water: lakes, rivers and marshes. Although hunting and fishing was plentiful in this area, farming must
have been a common activity. The inhabitants produced the corn, beans and squash that are typically the source of sustenance
for all Mesoamerican groups. The Olmecs are probably responsible for first achieving the domestication of the dog and turkey
and a more advanced agricultural system. There is evidence that they practiced cannibalism. There is also evidence that they
may have used a hallucinogenic substance extracted, from a marine frog that is abundant in the Gulf. We believe that Olmec
government was theocratic because restoration and conservation efforts have revealed extensive construction of religious
centers and both monumental and small-sized sculptures.
Some of La Venta's ceremonial centers are more elaborate. One pre- planned
ceremonial center features monuments made
with earthen materials. Although they have little architectural value, the site includes mounds for religious use, stone mosaic
floors, a space surrounded by basalt columns and a large grave formed from those same columns.
Olmeca sculpture is a style onto itself. It is a vehicle of expression
and the visible signature of an era of cultural integration. Its
various forms, which integrate stylistically, are like an essential and permanent conglomerate, subject to the same cultural
process it expresses and reflects.
The Olmecas sculpted monumental stone heads of perfect proportions,
between 1.5 and 3 meters tall; solid rectangular altars;
enormous statues that represented deformed people; amalgamations of humans with jaguars; and very fine figures reflecting
these same themes.