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Taysir Aljumah
Dr. Jeremy Cook
Ancient World History

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Early Olmecs
Most of the area in the Western Hemisphere is located on two continents, South, and
North America. These continents are joined by the Central America, which is a long and thin
strand of land. Large and small rings of fertile islands from Florida to Venezuela surround the
Caribbean Sea. The Americas, also known as Mesoamerica, lie on the north-south axis, unlike
Eurasias east-west axis, with large tropical zones covered by forest, separating the regions that
are more temperate. Geographically, the area of Mesoamerica is a patchwork of zones that are
complex, also divided into tropical coasts and lowlands, an intermediate temperate zone, and
cooler highlands. These variations formed several environments with various probabilities for
human exploitation. There was also the creation of the basis for trade, as the people attempted to
obtain goods that were not available locally (Lockard 82). Much of the trade flowed towards the
cooler central plateau from the tropical lowlands. The long gradual process of change where
hunters and gatherers in Mexico started to settle into small villages and began domesticating
particular plants is not well known. Probably, human beings were in Mesoamerica by the year
20,000 B.C., where men hunted the large animals, and most probably, women were taking part in
gathering activities (Lockard 83).
By the start of 5,000 B.C., there was domestication of certain plants due to the gathering
that was done and the increasing use of plants for food. Avocados, squash, peppers, beans, and
finally maize became the basis of agriculture in the area. Later innovations, for instance,
development or introduction of pottery happened around 2,000 B.C., though there was a small
difference between the villages. These were merely modest and small settlements. The absence
of prestigious burials shows that these societies lacked much social or hierarchical
differentiation, and the simple and uniform nature of pottery and material goods shows the

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deficiency of craft specialization. The number of these outdated villages flourished and a rise in
population densities was witnessed (Schendel 650).
A new phenomenon appeared quite suddenly. On Mesoamericas southern coast, that is,
in Veracruz and Tabasco, gradual development in the historical record without much evidence,
there emerged a cultural tradition that comprised of irrigated agriculture, urbanism, monumental
scripture, an elaborate religion, and writing, and calendar systems began. The mystery of Olmecs
origin is still unknown though their attractive sites at TresZapotes and La Venta prove a high
level of artistic skill and social organization. The main sites of Olmec at La Vanta and San
Lorenzo are in the tropical forests of the Gulf Coast located at eastern Mexico (Agnew 60).
However, the art style and objects of Olmec spread to the highlands of Central Mexico extending
towards the Pacific coast.
The Olmecs have been referred to as the mothers of the civilization of Mesoamerica. The
cultivation of maize, particularly along the river, availed the chance for a state led by hereditary
elites and in that state, the ceremonialism of a religion that is complex dominated much of the
life. Some of the monumental sculptures belonging to Olmec seem to have Negroid features
while others seem to be human representations with feline characters. They were good at the
carving of jade, and they could trade or conquer to attain it. They also invented a numerical
system that was based on 20, and a calendar that combined a 260-day ritual cycle with a 365-day
year. This forms the foundation of all calendar systems in Mesoamerica. The language that they
use to communicate and the results of the civilization remains a mystery. However, it is the belief
of some scholars that Olmecs are ancestors of Maya, who later succeeded in great civilization
(Schendel 655). Olmec objects and, possibly, Olmec religious ideas and influence spread into

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many regions of the lowlands and highlands, forming the first culture of generalization in the
area. By 900 B.C., Olmec symbols and styles were diffused widely in Mesoamerica.
The Olmec people were responsible for creating a more uniform culture in Mesoamerica
because of their trade routes. They communicated with a lot of other societies, which spread their
ideas. One influence that the Olmecs had on other groups was in their religion, which
emphasized fearsome half-human, half-animal supernatural beings, the prototypes of later
Mesoamerican deities (Lockard 87). The influence of the Olmec religion can be seen in later
cultures like the Mayans.
During the pre-classic period between c. 2000 and 300 B.C., development and other
civilizations were witnessed in other places of Middle America. The Zapotec people that lived in
the valley of Oaxaca at Monte Alban formed a large hilltop aimed at irrigated and terraced
agriculture that surrounded the valley. A calendar and writing system were also present, maybe
borrowed from the developments by Olmecs, as it can be considered as evidence of conquest and
warfare. After the initiative by Olmec, the period ranging between 150 A.D and 900 A.D was the
age where Mesoamerica achieved much culturally (Lockard 411). The archeologists referred this
period as the Classic era. It is during this time when great civilizations spread and developed in
several regions. The two major centers of development were the tropical lands of southern
Mexico, Guatemala, and Yucatan, that are more humid and the high central valley in Mexico.
In conclusion, the Olmec society was an early Mesoamerican culture that had a large
impact on the surrounding societies, as well as societies that came later. The Olmecs were
responsible for setting up routes of trade and communication which then allowed for people to
begin settling down and creating permanent communities. They also had impacts in science and
art, as they had their own numerical system, calendar, and style of sculptures. Later civilizations,

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like the Mayas, showed influences from the Olmec society in their religious figures. The early
Olmecs were an interesting and influential civilization in early Mesoamerica.

Work Cited
Lockard, Craig A. Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History. Boston, MA: Houghton
Mifflin, 2008. Print.
Agnew, John. "The Territorial Trap: the Geographical Assumptions of International Relations
Theory." Review of International Political Economy. 1.1 (1994): 53-80. Print.
Schendel, Willem. "Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance: Jumping Scale in
Southeast Asia." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 20.6 (2002): 647-668.

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Annotated Bib
This essay is about Early Olmecs I wrote this essay November 19 , 2015. I wrote this
essay because Early Olmecs talk about agriculture. This essay is written by Taysir Aljumah