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Definition of OLMEC
: an ancient people of the southern east coast of Mexico who flourished about 1200 to 400 British Columbia
Origin of OLMEC
Nahuatl Ōlmēcah, a coastal people in Aztec history, from Ōlmān, their homeland, probably from ōlli rubber
First Known Use: 1880
Olmec colossal basalt head, c. 1st century BC; in Parque La Venta, Tabasco, Mex. Height 2.4 —George Holton/Photo Researchers
First elaborate pre-Columbian culture of Mesoamerica. The Olmec lived on the lowland coast of the Gulf of Mexico in what is now southern Mexico. They developed a wide trading network, their cultural influence spreading north to the Valley of Mexico and south to Central America; later native religions and iconography throughout Mesoamerica have Olmec roots. Their oldest known building site, San Lorenzo, which dates to c. 1150 BC, is remarkable for its colossal stone sculptures of human heads. The dominant motif in Olmec art is the figure of a god that is a hybrid of a jaguar and a human infant. A later Olmec ceremonial centre, La Venta, is marked by great mounds, a narrow plaza, and several other ceremonial enclosures. In the 21st century, inscribed carvings suggestive of later Mayan glyphs also were found at La Venta. Olmec buildings, monuments, and art style all indicate a complex and nonegalitarian society.