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Olmec CivilisationTimeline: The Great Lakes
OTL equivalent: South Mexico
1500 BC - 800s BC
Olmec Heartland.png
Olmec Heartland
CapitalSan Lorenzo Tenochtitlán
Largest city La Venta
Other cities Tres Zapotes
Official languages Olmec
The Olmec were a early Mesoamerican civilisation that arose on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in around 1500 BC. It has its origins in the city of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, where the alluvial soils assisted bountiful crops and the rise of a stable and densely-populated civilisation. Over time, the focus of power shifted around the region, from San Lorenzo to La Venta, and the from La Venta on to Tres Zapotes, until the eventual decline of the 800s BC. Throughout this time, the Olmec lands were a bustling hub of art, science and architecture. 

Rise of San Lorenzo

In around 1500 BC, a distinct culture began to develop in Central America, based around the city of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán. San Lorenzo at that time was a city of roughly 50,000, and it was a centre of riches and wisdom in the region. The area had been developing over the last thousand years, yet it was nonly now beginning to evolve into a single, advanced culture, known as the Olmec.

The rich alluvial soil of the area led to superb crop-growing abilities - the origin of the Olmec success. This highly productive environment encouraged a densely concentrated population, and in turn the rise of an elitist society, in which nobles, showered in gifts and riches, ruled those below them with fear and reverence. The elite class created the demand for the production of the symbolic and sophisticated luxury artefacts that defined Olmec culture. These luxuries were created from the abundant but treasured precious stones of the region, such as jade obsidian and magnetite. However, some of these items can be traced back to source mines that are hundreds of miles from the Olmec heartland, suggesting they had extensive trade networks throughout Mesoamerica. For example, one jade carving has been traced back to a mine in the Motague river valley, some 550 miles from San Lorenzo.

Olmec Head (The Great Lakes)

A large Olmec carving, thought to be representing an Olmec deity.

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