What Did The Olmecs Do?

The Olmecs were especially dedicated to agriculture as their main activity. It is considered the precursor of the other pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica; Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs.

Geographically this culture was distributed over the lowlands of central and southern Mexico and part of Guatemala. It covered the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, from the banks of the Papaloápan River in Veracruz, to the Laguna de los Terminos in Tabasco.

It is believed that the Olmecs had a highly organized society, patriarchal and theocratic, highly hierarchical in different castes or social classes.

Like all organized civilization, each one of the individuals that made it up carried out activities based on collective needs, which could be of a social, economic and artistic nature.

Olmec social activity

As for the social activities developed by the Olmecs, these have not been very easy to identify, mainly due to the fact that it existed between 1500 BC and 400 BC, when it disappeared without leaving almost any vestiges of its civilization and social organization.

However, it is known that it was a patriarchal society structured in castes, where each individual engaged in a specific activity based on the social division and the needs of the group.

 Based on social status, the activities are believed to have been as follows:

The “Chichimecatl” or Chief of the tribe. His main activity was to direct, represent and discipline the other members of his “tribe.”

The priests. Being a theocratic society, the priests enjoyed great power and constituted the main ruling group within Olmec society. This was due not only to the religious activities they carried out, but also to the study and practice of other activities such as astronomy, mathematics, a rudimentary class of writing in the form of hieroglyphs, the study of agricultural techniques and other technologies.

The shamans and council of elders, made up another caste by themselves. His main activity was probably advising or advising the other ruling classes on various matters.

The militia, made up of the military chiefs or chiefs and the soldiers or warriors. Its primary activity was to provide security to cities and commercial activity, as well as defense against possible attacks from other nearby towns.

Artisans and artists. Its main activity was to make everyday objects for practical purposes, or also for decorative objects or for religious worship.

The merchants. It is believed that it existed as a defined caste, and was dedicated to the commercialization or barter of goods that were produced in the Olmec populations. His practice of acquiring raw material to process it and make objects for sale with it was common.

Farmers or peasants. Being agricultural activity its main economic resource, the caste of farmers or peasants was the most numerous class within Olmec society. Its main activity was focused on the production of corn, squash, beans (beans), and cassava (manioc).

The servants. Its main activity was to assist and take care of the domestic tasks and personal care of the population belonging to the highest castes.

-The slaves. They were generally prisoners taken from the wars and confrontations in which the Olmecs participated. Their activities were similar to that of the servants, but without rights or freedoms, subject to the strict control of the castes that used them.

Economic activity of the Olmecs

The Olmec civilization based its economy mainly on the exploitation of the land. He also developed a series of activities that they used to obtain resources and facilitate the barter or exchange of products between their own population and other nearby towns.

Among the economic activities developed by the Olmecs, the following can be mentioned:

-The Agriculture

-Hunting and fishing

-The exploitation of rubber

-The exploitation of tar or asphalt

-Animal husbandry

-The carving of figures and objects in semi precious stones for sale

Artistic activity of the Olmec culture

Olmec art had unique and advanced characteristics for its time, which served as a basis and example for later artistic manifestations of other Mesoamerican cultures.

Among the artistic manifestations that this town developed can be mentioned:

-The sculpture

-The relief

-The ceramic

-Wall painting

Of these activities, sculpture was perhaps the one that had the greatest development and was its most representative artistic activity.

The monumental heads carved in alabaster stone, of impressive dimensions and weight, are well known, for example, which are believed to represent nobles or important figures within their society.

These sculptures are characterized by their high level of detail and finishes. They also made small sculptures and objects carved in precious and semi-precious stones, which they used as a symbol of their status, for religious, commercial or simply decorative purposes.


  1. historiacultural.com. (without date). Excerpt from the article “Social and political organization of the Olmecs”. Recovered from historiacultural.com.
  2. Hermoso E., S. (July 26, 2007). Excerpts from the article “Olmec Art and Culture”. Recovered from www.homines.com.
  3. olmecas607.blogspot.com. (October 8, 2011). Excerpt from the article “the Olmec Culture. The Town of the Jaguar ”. Recovered from olmecas607.blogspot.com.
  4. Helena (pseudonym). (September 25, 2007). Excerpts from the article “Olmec sculpture”. Recovered from laguia2000.com.
  5. characteristics.co. (without date). Excerpts from the article “10 characteristics of the Olmecs”. Recovered from caracteristicas.co.

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