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Olmecs

Olmec baby figurine from 1200–900 BC The Olmecs lived in the swampy lands near the Gulf of Mexico in the region of modern-day Mexico. Their civilization, the first in Central America, thrived from about 1400 BC to 300 BC. The people were artists and traders who did not seek to conquer other parts of America. They worshipped gods and built pyramid temples, a style that was adopted by later Mexican civilizations. The Olmecs are also believed to have been the first American people to play the ball game, which was later taken up by civilizations such as the Aztec and Maya.



A map of Olmec lands. The yellow spots are Olmec towns; the red spots are other places where Olmec objects have been found.

Trade

Olmec traders travelled far and wide within Mexico, searching for raw materials, such as jade, clay, basalt and greenstone, for their craftwork, and trading in the finished products. Their travels brought them into contact with other peoples, who were influenced by their beautiful art. The Olmecs carved and moulded extremely natural-looking sculptures of people and animals, from fish to jaguars.

The massive Olmec stone heads were transported dozens of miles across the terrain without the use of wheels or animals. Moving a single one required the efforts of hundreds of people for three to four months.

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