UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Formative Olmec Moreiras Reynaga, Diana


The Olmec civilization thrived in what is now the present-day Gulf Coast of Mexico. They developed religious and artistic traditions that extended far and wide into ancient Mesoamerica during the Formative/pre-Classic period. The Olmec developed regal-ritual centers with main plazas, pyramids, and public spaces near naturally sacred places (e.g., springs, water sources, caves) so that the general population could congregate for ceremonial religious rituals. The Olmec practiced shamanism and had an organized priesthood. The Olmec elite, shamans, and priests were at the top of the social hierarchy and were in charge of maintaining their religious and cultural traditions. There have been six Olmec supernatural beings or deities identified by Mesoamerican scholars, and while their names are not known, they have been numbered I through VI and associated with natural phenomena including: sky, fertility, rain, earth, agriculture and maize. We know a lot about Olmec religion thanks to their impressive and unique artistic traditions, as well as from later Mesoamerican religious traditions that borrowed Olmec concepts, ideology, and iconography and turned these into their own religious traditions, such as the Maya society. Due to this, the Olmec has been described as the "Mother culture" of Mesoamerica and is known as the first organized religion in this particular region of the Americas.

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Attribution 4.0 International