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First Civilizations Of The Americas: The Olmec and Chavin, 1
Transcript of First Civilizations Of The Americas: The Olmec and Chavin, 1
First Civilizations Of The Americas: The Olmec and Chavin, 1200-250 B.C.E.
By Mrudula, Kate, Rachel and Eva
The Mesoamerican Olmec
Mesoamerica had it all! Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountains. Mountain ranges broke the region into microenvironments: the Valley of Mexico, Guatemalan highlands, tropical forests of the Peten and Gulf of Mexico coast, the rain forest of the southern Yucatan and Belize, and the drier scrub forest of the northern Yucatan.
The Early South American Civilization: The Chavin
Between 900 and 250 B.C.E., the Chavin dominated a densely populated region that included large areas of the Peruvian coastal plain and Andean foothills. The Chavin capital, Chavin de Huantar, was located at the intersection of trade routes connecting the coast with populous mountain valleys and the tropical lowlands on the eastern flank of the Andes allowed the city's rulers to control trade among these distinct ecological zones and gain an economic advantage of regional rivals.
Ecological niches led to specialized technology. Contact across these environmental boundaries led to trade and cultural exchange. The Olmec had centers like La Venta and Tres Zapotes that were developed independently to exploit and exchange specialized products like salt, cacao, clay for ceramics, and limestone.
Chavin agriculture depended on the introduction of maize cultivation as well as trade with other regions. As Chavin grew, its trade linked the coastal economy with the producers of quinoa, potatoes, and llamas in the high mountain valleys and, to a lesser extent, with Amazonian producers of coca and fruits. Llamas were used to move goods from one ecological zone to another promoted specialization of production and increased trade.
There is evidence of both a local and a more powerful chief or king dominated politics, like crowns, breast plates and jewelry. Shamens and healers were very important in religious life and also provided practical advice.
- First major civilization in Mexico
- Developed by early advances in agriculture.
- Central core was located at san Lorenzo.
- Social class: 1. High council (priests, medicine dr., protectors)
- Gender roles:
-Women: harvesting grain, preparing food, taking care of
domesticated animals and children.
- Men: working at the farm, getting food for the family.
- Decline: internal upheavals or military defeat by neighboring
-Capital: Chavin de Huantar
- Early urban civilizations inherited many of the cultural and
economic characteristics of Caral.
- Dominated a densely populated region that included large
areas of the Pruvian coastal plain and Andean foothill.
- A class of priests directed religious life.
-Both local chiefs and a more powerful of the cultural and
economic characteristics of caral.
- Ancient pyramids like buildings almost volcano shaped.
- First to make 2 floor houses.
- Shred many of the same architecture with the rest of
- Made their houses from clay.
- The Olmec cities were centered around a grand ceremonial
mound which was heavily decorated with their many beautiful,
elaborate and sometimes frightening stone carvings.
-Architectural signature of chavin was a large complex of
multilevel platforms made of packed earth or adobe.
- small buildings used for ritual purposes or as elite residences
were build on these platforms.
- Nearly all the buildings were decorated with relief carvings of
serpents, condors, jaguars, or human forms.
- Large buildings at chavin de huantar measured 250 ft. on
each side and rose to a height of 50 ft. about 1/3 of its interior
is hollow, containing narrow galleries and small rooms that
may have housed the remains of royal ancestors.
-Either a governor or king ruled each Olmec town, and
that there was a recognized religious leader for the entire
- The Olmec emperor may have appointed the local
government heads or Ku (governors).
- Some Olmec rulers refer as Ku Tu.
- Bada: was a local Ku and chief La (leader of the stone mason’s
- Po Ngbe: one of the major rulers at Guerrero.
- A class of priests directed religious life.
- Powerful chief or king dominated chavin’s politics.
- Excavations of graves reveal that superior quality textiles as well as gold crowns, breastplates, and jewelry distinguished rulers from commoners.
Religion/ Belief Systems
The Olmecs were polytheistic, which meant they believed in many gods. They believed that human and animal characteristics were blended together and humans had the ability to transform into animals. Along with that, most of the deities had dual natures (could be both male and female). Famous Olmec animal representations were jaguars, crocodiles, snakes, and sharks. The Olmecs had elaborate religious rituals--they even practiced blood-letting and human sacrifice.
The Chavins were also polytheistic and believed in animal gods. Their most potent religious symbol was the Jaguar God. This symbol has been found dispersed over a very wide area. The Chavin's influence on other cities depended more on the development of an attractive and convincing religion belief system and rituals. Like the Olmecs, they practiced animal sacrifice to please their gods and ensure abundant harvest. Chavin de Huntar served as a pilgrimage site.
Little is known about the political structure of Olmec. There is evidence that suggests that there was a ruler or king, like the colossal stone heads. Archaeologists believe sense each of those heads are so unique and individual, they could be for different rulers.
There is no concrete evidence for a writing system, but there have been sites where speech rolls and glyphs have been found. Also the Cascajal Block was found and shows a set of 62 symbols, its just this is the only one, so it does not confirm anything.
The Olmecs had a limited technological base which has made archeologists to believe that it was unlikely that the empire of the Olmecs projected over significant distances. However the discovery of Olmec handiworks and pictures, as far away as central Mexico proves that they exercised cultural influence over a large area. The Olmecs made some worthy discoveries too, especially in the astronomy field. They created a calendar that was based on the stars and moon. The Olmecs laid out their cities in alignment with the path of certain stars. They also were very artistic, producing high-quality crafts like jade figurines and necklaces. The Olmecs are famous for their stone-carved heads. Each head had a unique personality, and were created to individual rulers.
The Chavin were innovative and produced higher-quality textiles than the earlier methods did. These improvements also associated with the rise of the Chavin. Their products added to the reputation and prestige of the culture and aided in the protection of it's power and influence. Archaeological investigations have also revealed remarkable three-dimensional silver and gold alloy ornaments made by the Chavins. Monumental architecture, pottery, and jewelery suggests the presence of highly skilled artisans.