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(ōl`mĕk), term denoting the culture of ancient Mexican natives inhabiting the tropical coastal plain of the contemporary states of Veracruz and Tabasco, between 1300 and 400 B.C. The term is also used to refer to contemporaneous groups in highland regions of Mesoamerica (including the states of Oaxaca, Morelos, Guerrero, and the Federal District) who possessed ceramic or sculptural designs similar to those found in the lowlands. The nature of the relationship between the highland and lowland groups remains unclear. The largest and best known Olmec sites are situated along rivers on the coastal plain and include San Lorenzo (1300–900 B.C.) and Tres Zapotes (1000–400 B.C.) in Veracruz, and La Venta (1000–600 B.C.) in Tabasco. At the time of their apogee, these three settlements were probably the most complex "ceremonial" sites found in Mesoamerica. For this reason, the Olmec are often considered to be the cultura madre (mother culture) of later Mesoamerican civilizations. The Olmec were renowned for their sculpting skills and distinctive motifs, leaving numerous carved stelae, as well as freestanding jade and basalt sculptures. Among the more notable examples are numerous sculptured heads of basalt, weighing as much as 40 tons and standing up to 10 ft (3 m) in height. The basalt used for these carvings came from up to 50 mi (80 km) away and was floated to the riverine settlements on rafts. Earthen platforms and pyramidal mounds were also common features of the settlements. The largest single pyramid, found at La Venta, measures 459 ft (140 m) in diameter and 98 ft (30 m) in height. The Olmec economy centered around agricultural production on fertile floodplains, and was supplemented by fishing and shellfishing. By 400 B.C., the distinctive features of Olmec culture disappeared and the region was overshadowed by the emerging central Mexican and MayanMaya
, indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatán peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and extreme western Honduras.
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See M. Coe and R. Diehl, The Land of the Olmec (Vol. 2, 1980); R. J. Sharer and D. C. Grove, ed., Regional Perspectives on the Olmec (1989).

References in periodicals archive ?
There are the common figures of the gods: the Feathered Serpent, which makes its earliest appearance with the Olmecs, is refigured by almost every subsequent culture and eventually evoked by the green quetzal-feather headdress allegedly belonging to the Aztec ruler Moctezuma, which was sent by Cortes to the king of Spain (a modern replica is displayed here; the original, which was illustrated in the November 2017 issue of Apollo, is now in the Weltmuseum in Vienna).
While asserting that there was an African presence in ancient America, Van Sertima did not believe that the land of the Olmec was an African settler colony.
Olmec investigators praise the new Ceibal report but say it can't explain Maya civilization's roots.
That does not make the Maya civilization older than the Olmec civilization -- since Olmec had another center prior to La Venta -- nor does it prove that the Maya civilization developed entirely independently, researchers say.
There is no denying the striking similarities between Ceibal and La Venta, such as evidence of similar ritual practices and the presence of similar architecture - namely the pyramids that would come to be the hallmark of Mesoamerican civilization but did not exist at the earlier Olmec center of San Lorenzo.
Whether these Olmec heads are of men from this fleet, or of others who got caught up in the current is not (yet) known.
The site was first excavated in the early 1940s by expeditions led by archaeologist Matthew Stirling, who uncovered monumental carved stone heads and other monolithic stone objects that would come to define Olmec art.
The authors highlight such controversial issues as the pre-Columbian Olmec culture, the legendary Floridian 'Fountain of Youth', the evidence of a Mississippi Mound Builders culture, the possible incursions of pre-Columbian Europeans upon the Americas, and more
They emanate from a 'dream time' of Olmec heads, the dry, harsh world of Pre-Columbian South America re-memorized within the green leafiness of England's capital city.
DANCING BRAVE b c, 1-5-1983 Pedigree Nearctic Northern Dancer Natalma Lyphard (b 1969) Court Martial Goofed Barra Sir Gaylord Drone Cap And Bells Navajo Princess (b 1974) Pago Pago Olmec Chocolate Beau Bred by Glen Oak Farm & Gainesway Farm in Kentucky.
Among the periods are the proto-Maya Olmec cities of San Lorenzo and La Venta 1250-400 BC, the Mirador Basin in times long gone 1000 BC-AD 150, Calakmul and the Snakehead Dynasty as a Maya superpower, and terminal classic in the Yucatan AD 800-1100.
The Olmec mask (900-550 BC) is the oldest American artifact in the collection of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (MEA).