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Olmec Timeline and Definition

Guide to the Olmec Civilization


Olmec head, DeYoung Museum, San Francisco

Olmec head, DeYoung Museum, San Francisco

G. Marcus

Olmec: An Introduction

The Olmec civilization is the name given to a sophisticated central American culture with its heyday between 1200 and 400 BC. The Olmec heartland lies in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco, at the narrow part of Mexico west of the Yucatan peninsula and east of Oaxaca.

The following is an introductory guide to the Olmec civilization, its place in Central American prehistory, and some important facts about the people and how they lived.

Olmec Timeline

  • Initial Formative: 1775-1500 cal BC
  • Early Formative: 1450-1005 cal BC
  • Middle Formative: 1005-400 cal BC
  • Late Formative: 400 cal BC

While the very earliest sites of the Olmec show relatively simple egalitarian societies based on hunting and fishing, the Olmecs eventually established a highly complex level of political government, including public building projects such as pyramids and large platform mounds; agriculture; a writing system; and a characteristic sculptural artistry including enormous stone heads with heavy features reminiscent of angry babies.

About.com's Guide to the Olmec

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