Olmec Art and Culture
The climatic condition of the area is largely dictated by the tropical lowland forest. The tropical wetlands make the area densely populated by different species of trees which for the most part of the year stay green. The climate of this area has not changed much over the years and thus there exists little variation between the climatic conditions experienced when the Olmec culture thrived and the present times. The major areas of historical interest in this geographical zone include; San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, Tres Zapotis, and Laguna de los Cerros. There are smaller sites which the archeologist have discovered ancient artefacts and continue to be of great interest to these researchers even in the present times. They formed means of transport from one area to another.
For instance, Coatzacoalcos River was used for purposes of transport and touches several areas within the Mexican Gulf such as Sierra de Niltepec and the state of Oaxaca around Isthmus of Tehuantepec to cover a distance of 325 KM (Ball 6). The settlement of people in one location without much movement in the ancient times in most cases resulted to the development of a form of civilization. It can, therefore, be asserted that this dense settlement of the Olmec people in the Gulf of Mexico along rivers and tributaries was a major catalyst in the development of some form of organization. While this form of ancient organization could be termed rudimentary compared to what took place in the same region in the later centuries, this civilization led to several cultural developments.
The depopulation could have been caused by extinction or migration. Several theories have been proposed to explain this depopulation. One of the theories relate this depopulation to tectonic forces. These tectonic upheavals could have resulted to volcanic eruptions which wiped the entire population or made the population to flee from the area. Another theory attribute the depopulation to the silting of rivers which made it difficult for the people to practice agriculture. The Olmec people not only made human and human-like sculptures, but also depicted non-human subjects in their art. They used different types of materials such as rock to represent animal subjects such as birds and the fish. Some of the vessels used by the elite in the culture were also shaped to represent some of the animals within their surroundings.
These artistic representations were used for different purposes. Some such as those depicting the leaders of the community were made to preserve the history of the people and also to bestow honor. Those figurines which were more durable and in most cases were found with all the parts intact were carved out of certain types of stones such as jade, serpentine, basalt, and greenstone. Archeologists have found several types of figurines in the Olmec heartland. One of these are the baby-face figurines. These figurines had a face which represented that of a child. The figurines have a chubby body, a mouth which has been downturned, and swollen slit-like eyes. These carvings also have straight legs which are separated and lack the detailed depiction of the knee joint.
The toes and the figures are usually not properly carved out clearly but are represented by line carves. The ears are depicted with holes, perhaps for the purposes of fitting ornaments during rituals. These ear holes could also suggest that these figurines were carved and dressed with clothes and ornaments made of perishable materials. As elements of weather acted on these clothing materials, they disintegrated and left the nude figurine which survived due to the material used to carve them. These depictions of adult holding baby were-jaguars are inscribed on monuments, altars, and even in homestead vessels. There are also two-dimensional representations of these motifs in drawing, pottery decorations, and on green-stones. The use of these figurines was majorly religious and shamans are thought to have used these figurines extensively during their divination exercises.
There were other forms of figurines within the Mesoamerican region which were closely linked with the Olmec culture. One group of these figurines was the transformational depiction of beings. At first, these huge head carvings were understood to represent ballplayers, a statement which was later challenged by the revelation which came from further studies on Olmec culture. It is now agreed that these colossal heads represent rulers who had been dressed as ballplayers. These monumental portraits are strikingly different. It has been noted that among the 15 plus portraits which so far have been unearthed, none is similar to the other. This implies that each head represented a specific ruler. It has been inferred that some of these stones had to be transported from their natural locations to the needed destinations which, sometimes, could be miles away.
To transport these stones, dragging them or sometimes employing water forces to help reduce the overall weight of the stone could have been used to transport them downstream. Researchers estimate that transporting one block of stone required a coordinated effort of about 1500 people and could take several months especially when the destination was several miles away. CULTURAL PRACTICES Bloodletting and human sacrifice speculation. Archeological research does not give substantial evidence on the practice of bloodletting as a form of sacrifice. The explanations on both sides are not definitely clear and non-ambiguous. A safe conclusion will, therefore, be pegged on future findings (Coe, 20). Writing. Most early writing systems were developed from civilizations in the eastern hemisphere of the globe. It is speculated that the Olmec could have been the first culture in the western side of the globe to develop a writing system.
The six artefacts which depicted the use of calendar among the Maya people were unearthed outside the Maya homeland, thus giving a strong suggestion that these calendars were not an invention of the Maya culture but was borrowed from the Olmec civilization. This assertion is solidified by the fact that half of the six artefacts with the long-count calendar were discovered in the heart of the Olmec civilization. To use the long-count calendar one had to first identify the zero position. This necessitated the discovery of the zero concept which is quite a grand civilization achievement of this culture. Ethnicity and Language. They, together with the rulers presided over worship and other forms of rituals. The shamans acted as the link between the living and the deity.
They would enter into trance and perform transformational acts such as healing the spirit of a person, recommending herbs for those suffering from different diseases, and performing divination. The Olmec civilization does not have much archeological evidence to make direct conclusions on the forms of religion and mythology. The conclusions which are arrived at, are, therefore, based on the careful interpretation of artefacts and monuments. Carmack, Robert M. Janine L. Gasco, and Gary H. Gossen, eds. The legacy of Mesoamerica: history and culture of a Native American civilization.
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