ANCIENT INDIAN CIVILIZATIONS
The Olmec Indians
The Olmec Indians are often regarded as the Mother Culture of later Middle American civilizations. The Olmec Indians were a culture of ancient people who lived about 1300-400 B.C. in the Eastern Mexico lowlands.
Some researchers say they descended from Asia - others say they were from Africa. The Olmec people called themselves Xi (pronounced Shi).
The Olmec Indians ruled a territory that extended from the Tuxtlas mountains in the west to the lowlands of the Chontalpa in the east, a region with significant variations in geology and ecology. Over 170 Olmec monuments have been found within the area, and eighty percent of those occur at the three largest Olmec centers, La Venta, Tabasco (38%), San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, Veracruz (30%), and Laguna de los Cerros, Veracruz (12%).
Those three major Olmec centers are spaced from east to west across the domain so that each center could exploit, control, and provide a distinct set of natural resources valuable to the overall Olmec economy. La Venta, the eastern center, is near the rich estuaries of the coast, and also could have provided cacao, rubber, and salt.
San Lorenzo, at the center of the Olmec domain, controlled the vast flood plain area of Coatzacoalcos basin and riverline trade routes. Laguna de los Cerros, adjacent to the Tuxtlas mountains, is positioned near important sources of basalt, a stone needed to manufacture manos, metates, and monuments. Perhaps marriage alliances between Olmec centers helped maintain such an exchange network.
The great Olmec centers that soon developed at La Venta, San Lorenzo, and Laguna de los Cerros, and the smaller centers such as Tres Zapotes, were not simply vacant religious sites, but dynamic settlements that included artisans and farmers, as well as religious specialists and the rulers.
The Olmec architecture at San Lorenzo, for example, includes both public-ceremonial buildings, elite residences, and the houses of commoners. Olmec public-ceremonial buildings were most typically earthen platform mounds, some of which had larger house-like structures built upon them.
At La Venta we can see that after 900 B.C. such platform mounds were arranged around large plaza areas and include a new type of architecture, a tall pyramid mound.
The Olmecs were an agricultural society. An important feature at Olmec centers was their buried network of stone drain lines - long U-shaped rectangular blocks of basalt laid end to end and covered with capstones. The new San Lorenzo research suggests those systems were actually aqueducts used to provide drinking water to the different areas of the settlement. Some of the aqueduct stones, such as San Lorenzo Monument 52, were also monuments, indicating that the aqueduct system had a sacred character as well.
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