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Olmec Society

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by

Tanaya Sardesai

on 14 November 2013

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Transcript of Olmec Society

SPICE Chart
Olmec Society
Located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico
Existed around 1500 BCE - 400 BCE
Social
Large group of commoners
Very few artisans/craftsmen
Ruling elite lived in ceremonial centers with the artisans/craftsmen
Women were revered for childbirth, and basically nothing else. Olmecs had a very patriarchal society.
No standing army and no military elite; every man is a warrior
A very defined social hierarchy (commoners labored for the elite)

Political
Elite had power over the commonwealth - they were the priests
They spread their influence partially by military force - influence over their entire region
Olmec deliberately destroyed their capitals, perhaps because of civil conflicts or doubts about the effectiveness of the ruling classes
Following the disappearance on the Olmecs around 100 BCE, complex societies arose in MesoAmerica, some even evolving into genuine cities
Authoritarian-Theocracy - the elites, who were also priests, hold political power
Seemed to be cultural centers where political power was vested (elites gathered to discuss terms, etc.)

Interaction
Abundant deposits of salt and tar and fine clay for pottery
Very flat land on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico
Wood and rubber from the rain forest
Hills to the north provided hard stone which could be used for tools and monuments
Not a river valley civilization - coastal lowland, although smaller rivers provided transportation
The agricultural potential of of maize was discovered by 4000 BCE - as time went on more and more crops were domesticated and regularly harvested
A lot of rain, so no irrigation systems needed to be built, although Olmecs had to build drainage systems to divert water that could’ve flooded the fields or settlements.
The humidity, marshy, swampy land would have caused malaria

Cultural
Ceremonial Centers with pyramids, temples, and palaces arose alongside the agricultural villages. Festivals could have been held at them
Olmec center at San Lorenzo, Honduras contained several huge carved heads, they are probably portraits of Olmec leaders.
Olmec people created lots of jade figures (Olmecs were great artists)
Big pyramids
Animism - worshiped spirit of animals religiously
Had influence of the region - created a cultural template that didn’t go away with time

Economic
By 8000 to 7000 BCE the peoples of Mesoamerica began to experiment
Olmecs imported jade, made large amounts of decorative objects out of it, and traded it. They did likewise with obsidian (creating weapons instead of decorations, though).
Enormous amount of wealth discovered in Moche tombs (gold, silver, and semiprecious stones)
Agrarian society - based on maize (also growing beans, squash, gourd, tomatoes, peppers)
Held the reigns of trade of Mesoamerica in their hands
Tapped into rubber trees for latex. Rubber stood a huge role in the Olmec economy (they’re known as “the rubber people”).

Olmec Civilization
Full transcript