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        The Olmec of Mesoamerica

        The Olmec people are believed to be the earliest pre-Columbian culture to emerge in Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica is the name for the region that includes southern Mexico, Yucatan, Guatemala, and Belize. This was a particularly fertile location for advanced cultures; and a number of advanced societies like the Maya, Aztecs, and Zapotecs emerged here. The Olmec likely predated all of these. The oldest known Olmec settlement, San Lorenzo, dates to around 1150 BCE. The Olmec lived in the rich, humid lands in the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz. The Olmec farmed maize, or corn, and made rubber from the sap of rubber trees. In fact, the name “Olmec” comes from the Aztec name “Olmecatl,” meaning “rubber people.”

        Explore the images in the media gallery paying close attention to what the archaeology of the region tells us about the Olmec. Think also about how the Olmec set precedents that other cultures followed.

        Corn Farming Near Mayan Ruins

        This is a modern farmer, but the maize he’s harvesting has its origins in the days of the Olmec and the Mayans, another pre-Columbian culture.

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        Head of the Mesoamerican Corn God, c. 500 CE

        This is an earthenware sculpture of the corn god found in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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        Ruins of Ball Game Building in Mayan Ruins of Kohunlich, Yucatan, Mexico

        Ball courts such as this Mayan version preserved in Yucatan, Mexico exist all around Mesoamerica.

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