Home Free Lab ReportsOlmec style art form is represented in Maya

Olmec style art form is represented in Maya

Olmec style art form is represented in Maya, the Aztecs and other later civilizations in the region, leaving the Olmecs as the origin of all succeeding artistic traditions in Mesoamerica. Hector Neff, Professor at California State University Long Beach, with a focus in Archaeology, Mesoamerica, and Southwest United States, agrees that the Olmec civilization can be emphasized as a “mother-culture.” There was no other influence at the time of the spread of the Olmec culture. Many archaeologist agree that the Olmec heartland that began in San Lorenzo had no precedent. Yet, Olmec-style artifacts discovered outside of the Gulf Coast of San Lorenzo, the Olmec heartland, raises evidence of influence the Olmecs had on less complex societies which incorporates the interpretation of “mother culture.” Influences such as, pottery decorations, vessel forms, and vessel orifice diameters, whether influenced through travel or trade, the Olmec style art spread outside the Gulf Coast.
Researchers discovered that the Early Olmec art styles were created in San Lorenzo followed by exportation. Analysis done through plasma mass spectrometry (LA-TOF-ICP-MS), conducted by Cheetham and others apart of the American Psychological Association state, “Olmec vessels were decorated in the San Lorenzo region before being exported to the Pacific Coast, and that Gulf Coast hematite was exported to Canton Corralito, where it Olmec-style symbolism on locally produced vessels.” The decorated vessels created by the Olmecs were exported from San Lorenzo, yet, the influence of the art style that carried on afterwards with the local art production in Canton Corralitio, later creating the influences of art spreading throughout Mesoamerica.
Many speculate that modern day soccer would represent the ancestral ballcourt games influenced by the Olmecs. Several stone ballcourts have been discovered in multiple sites that predate the rise of the Maya civilization by nearly over 1,000 years. In Nahuatl, the Aztec language, the word Olmec means “rubber,” and presently represents the trees along the Gulf Coast which produces rubber. Researchers have discovered finely preserved latex rubber balls dating to 1,600 BC, which coincides with the beginning of the Olmec civilization at the site of El Manatí in Veracruz, speculating that the balls might have been used for ritual ballgames. Influenced by the Olmecs, in later Maya politics, the ballgame was majorly played in participation of a ceremony to increase alliances, celebrate victories, and sometimes used in sacrificial practices. Archaeologists are now suggesting how the Olmec grew as the focal point during their critical period, thereby, creating a framework for the Maya civilization in the first millennium BC.
From art, to ballcourts, to developing civilizations that influenced and adapted into Mesoamerican history, the Olmecs also created the first written language. Although, many debate as to what is consider written language, the Olmecs in fact had written communication that centralized various meanings from one to another. Near Tabasco, southeastern Mexico, researchers discovered a ceramic cylinder and greenstone plaque covered with symbols, possibly used for body decoration during a ceremonial feast, through radiocarbon dating, this artifact dates to 650 BC, indicates the Olmecs may have developed the first written language. Researchers suggest that the Olmec symbols or characters on cylinders could have innovated language in the Americas. Following the Olmecs, Maya script and calendars resembles earlier Olmec characters, which gives evidence of possible influence of Olmec on later deriving cultures like the Aztec. This discovery debunks previous theories by many researchers claiming that the Zapotecs created or were America’s first writer’s, through analysis, the Zapotecs scripts date nearly 350 years after the Olmec symbolized cylinders. According to debates, many cannot agree and question whether the symbols discovered on the Olmec cylinders were simply pictures or drawings of objects, imitation of people or if they were records of spoken language.
There is also debate as to who the Olmec are and where exactly did they come from. What is known and agreed upon by researchers about the Olmec is that they were the first major civilization in Mexico. The Olmecs inhabited the Gulf of Mexico, present-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. First appearing around 1200 BC, the Olmec were among the first complex societies in Mesoamerica, and their culture influenced succeeding civilizations, like the Maya. The Olmec are greatly known for their stone heads discovered in Veracruz, they are carved from a volcanic rock called basalt, which still amazes researchers today. Due to the finely preserved latex balls discovered on the Olmec region, probably created by the rubber producing trees near the Gulf Coast, archaeological evidence suggests that they originated the Mesoamerican practices of the Mesoamerican Ballgame. Researchers are aware of the developments of the Olmecs but still undecided as to who they really were and why did their civilization abruptly vanish.
Recent linguistic studies position the Olmecs origin not in Mesoamerica but West Africa, relatively possibly to the Mende Africans. Due to the discovery of the Mende script on some of the ancient Olmec monuments in Mesoamerica, were established to be identical to similar scripts used by the Mende people of West Africa. Linguistics also believe the Olmecs did not refer to themselves as the “Olmec” but referred to themselves as, Xi People. Hieroglyphs written by the Olmecs possibly represent a member the Mande family of languages, spoken in West Africa today. Resemblance of the Aztecs Thunder God, Tlalock, was previously practiced by the Olmecs, leaving behind a powerful influence. Other historians believe that there was presence of Africans in Mesoamerica during the Olmec civilization. These scholars reference African features noticeable in Olmec-style art and linguistic similarities, in comparison between indigenous and West African languages. However, many researchers are skeptical to these theories.
The Olmecs achievements brought success to later civilizations. Highly skilled, the Olmecs built large settlements, known as the first developments of complex civilizations in Mesoamerica. Due to the discovery of artifacts made from jade, obsidian, and other stones provides evidence for elaborate trade routes outside the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Through analysis, the jade artifacts have resulted to come from what is today the Mexican state of Oaxaca, the obsidian came from the Mexican highlands. The Olmecs developed religious imagery and rituals, including ceremonial ball games played on ballcourts, adapted by all the Mesoamerican civilizations to follow. They constructed great art forms such as the Colossal Heads, carved from basalt, a great achievement that still baffles researchers in modern times.
The end of the Olmecs is still unknown. Researchers agree the population began to decline between 400 and 350 BC. Archaeologists hypothesize that the depopulation was possibly caused by environmental changes, such as a severe drought. Another composed theory for the cause of possible depopulation is the relocation of settlements due to increased volcanic activity. Volcanic eruptions during the Early, Late, and Terminal Formative periods would have covered the lands with ash and forced the Olmec to move their settlements. Although the Olmec civilization came to an end, their achievements are still vividly influenced in Mesoamerica.