The Olmecs were farmers, traders, artists
innovators. The Olmec culture first emerged in the Isthmus region of Tehuantepec. The site of San Lorenzo, which sits on the Coatzacoalcos River, sheds the most light on this mysterious culture. During this time period, The Initail Formative, food surplus sparked an increase in population and career specialization. With the increase of specialization and sedentism came the environment for complex culture.
The Olmec people were farmers, "using ground-stone tools to clear the rainforest along the rivers by using a slash-and-burn farming technique" (Evans 2004:135). Amongst the crops raised were maize and manioc. Using the above mentioned farming methods, the Olmec people were able to create a food surplus that allowed artisanship and trade.
Many items from neighboring regions were traded by the Olmec. Jade, an extremely sought after stone, "whose blue green color may have been associated with lifeforce" (Evans 2004:131). Obsidian from Otumba, Guadalupe Victoria, and El Chayal were also traded to the Olmec people. Obsidian was used to make knives, pottery and even a "grating device used to process manioc" (Evans 2004:135). Raw materials like basalt and rubber were also traded in the region.
The Olmec artist was a skilled member of society. Amongst the Olmec art forms, sculpture was very important. The Basalt that was imported into San Lorenzo was often used for Monumental size sculptures. The Olmec colossal heads are famous pieces of early formative art work; some standing much taller than a full grown human (9 feet). Of the seventeen known heads, most have been found at San Lorenzo wearing helmets that had possibly been used in ballgames. At El Azuzul another important monumental sculpture was found, a pair of twin males facing a jaguar. "This scene offers powerful images of duality and shamanic transformation, as indicated by the postures of the twins" (Evans 2004:141).
In the Olmec art forms...
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