Olmec Origins: South Mexico vs. Africa

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1 Olmec Origins: South Mexico vs. Africa Basic Facts: Olmec civilization is now considered to be one of the earliest great civilizations in Mesoamerica. First civilization, not the first people Evidence of the Olmec was first discovered in 1863 (Believed) Centered near the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico area, further south east than the heart of the Aztec empire. Developed before 1200 BC, declined 400 BC Came and went before the Mayan and Aztec empires. Referred to as the Mysterious Rubber people Two contrasting points of views on the origins based on lack of archaeological evidence, ethnic origins and location & extent of many settlements o Rooted in South Mexico Achievements arose from influences and traditions indigenous to the region of South Mexico o West African Influence Epigraphic/Linguistic evidence Cultural/Sculptural evidence Osteological evidence South Mexico Origins Traditions Evidence: Similarity between Olmec and known Aztec traditions. Knowledge of Aztec traditions help determine what is linked to Southern Mexico. Pyramids: Structure is the same; both built with steps along all sides leading to the top Top is devoted to religious practices and sometimes astronomical observatories Both used natural materials o Olmec used mud and earth o Aztec used chiseled stone AZTEC PYRAMID OLMEC PYRAMID

2 Language: Similar use and technique between the Olmec and the Aztec Language use hieroglyphs or drawn symbols of objects Symbols represented concepts Usually pictures of animals and birds Similar use o Trading o Religion o Diplomatic and economic needs Calendars were created in both societies o Track harvests AZTEC SCRIPT Rubber Ball Games: Similar game ritual Game Structure o Rubber ball used o Two teams o Players only use hips and knees to move ball o Get the ball through a hoop made of stone attached to the wall Game Sacrifices o Olmec, leader of winning team chosen for human sacrifice to the gods Very prestigious and honored result o Aztec didn t use game to choose sacrifices Sacrifices from tribes defeated in battle OLMEC SCRIPT HOOP BALL COURT

3 Olmec Treasures: Great Sculptors of their time Possibly stone heads and jade figurines used for trade possibly Kept as personal collection items The Sacred Jaguar: Ultimate god for both cultures Aztecs believed to be a jaguar-warrior o Honored the jaguar by dressing superior warriors in skins carved from the sacred jaguar. o Used as a symbol Versatility = hunting on land, water and air WERE-JAGUAR Fertility Olmecs believed to be a half-man half-cat o Figurines carved in shape of creature named Were-Jaguar o Drawings and carvings also found JADE FIGURE Culture Evidence: World around them o Aztecs Believed the world was destroyed and created four times, currently thought they lived in the 5 th age of creation. o Maya Believed that the gods in charge of the creation and destruction of these past worlds met in a city of paradise inhabited by these gods Beliefs poses the idea that there were earlier inhabitants at the south of Mexico before the Aztecs o They thought it was their land of origin Ruins o Excavations lead to the knowledge of another ancient civilization before the Teotihuacan city, a simpler one, a civilization that consisted of farming and pottery-using people. o Ruin was given the name Tamoanchan, which is believed to be the beginning processes on the origins of Olmec civilization o Earliest Olmec societies San Lorenzo Key to figuring out origins of Olmec civilizations lay in these ruins due to the scriptures found within La Venta Tres Zapotes

4 Sculptures o Stones used for sculptures were made of basalt, only found in the Tuxtla Mountains where the Mixe-zoquean thrived Language o Olmec suggested to spoken ancestral form of Mixe-zoquean, theorizing the influences between both San Lorenzo and Mixe-zoquean. African Origins Cultural Evidence: Similarities of facial features in sculpture between cultures. Sculptures bear similar facial features o Flattened nose o Wide lips o Capping headpiece Stone head rafted to the center of the major Olmec cities Epigraphic/Linguistic Evidence: Study of inscriptions or epigraphs as writing Connection to Africa o Olmec writing similar to the Libyco-Berber writing of Africa o Olmec and Epi-Olmec symbols found on the Tuxla Statette & Teo Mask are similar to those found in the Vai script (modern script in Liberia) Tuxla Statette example of early Mesoamerican writing system VAI SCRIPT TUXLA STATETTE Osteological Evidence: Bone evidence linking similarities between the Olmec and African People Cranial evidence from Mesoamerican sites o Research done by Andrzej Wiercinski o Tlatilco & Cerro de las Mesas Outside Olmec land, but influences are seen in the architectural record o Put into racial categories and determined some had Black racial components o Skull of Lucia proves this theory

5 Peoples would ve travelled across the ocean on rafts Ian Van Sertima o Believed that the basis for all the world s civilizations was based in Africa o Africans made a number of journeys to the Americas Evidence of bone and how they depicted their sculptures help to solidify theory o People make art that looks like themselves

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