Olmec Civilization 1200 BCE–300 CE

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Map Code: Ax01308

The Olmec civilization is believed to have been the first large Mesoamerican civilization in the southern area of modern day Mexico and Guatemala. Architectural and artistic artefacts suggest that the Olmecs made significant cultural contributions to other civilizations in the region; influences from the impressive, distinctively styled Olmec stone head sculptures can be seen in similar artworks from the nearby Tlatico culture of the Valley of Mexico and the Zapotec civilization of Monté Alban. The prevalence of Olmec iconography throughout the regions suggests that the Olmec had a widespread trade network. Olmec stone glyphs dating back as far as 900 BCE may well be the first such writing system in the western hemisphere. Although the origins of Olmec society are unclear, the name by which they are known is a subsequent Aztec translation meaning ‘rubber people’, presumably due to the local practice of extracting rubber from rubber trees.

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