|The Olmec were the first major civilization in Mexico following a progressive development in Soconusco. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco.|
The Olmec flourished from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, Early Olmec culture had emerged, centered on the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. The aspect of the Olmecs most familiar now is their artwork, particularly "colossal heads".
|The Olmec constructed permanent city-temple complexes at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and Laguna de los Cerros. In this region the first Mesoamerican civilization emerged and reigned from c. 1400–400 BCE.|
What is today called Olmec first appeared fully within the city of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, where distinctive Olmec features occurred around 1400 BCE.
|San Lorenzo was all but abandoned around 900 BCE and La Venta became the most prominent Olmec center, lasting from 900 BCE until it was abandoned around 400 BCE. La Venta sustained the Olmec cultural traditions with spectacular displays of power and wealth. The Great Pyramid was the largest Mesoamerican structure of its time. |
Between 400 and 350 BCE, the population in the Olmec heartland dropped, and the area was sparsely inhabited until the 19th century. Whatever the cause, within a few hundred years of the abandonment of the last Olmec cities, successor cultures became firmly established.
"Olmec-style" face mask in jade
|The Olmec culture was first defined as an art style, and this continues to be the hallmark of the culture.|