By Suzanne A. Marshall from the October 2018 Edition
Last month, I wrote about the Olmecs that were called the rubber people because that’s what their name translates into, although, no one really knows what they called themselves. Archeologists know they had a preference for depicting the jaguar in their art and so they are also known at the ‘Jaguar People.’ A more popular name for these people is ‘The Mother Culture,’ for good reason. They were the first culture in Mesoamerica to leave behind significant evidence of themselves, things like statues, art, weapons, very large ceremonial areas and the largest pyramids ever constructed in the world by anyone.
The Olmecs built the Great Pyramid of Cholula which today has a Catholic Mission on top of it. Now, this pyramid is 450 meters per side, which is much larger than anything the Egyptians built. I heard something on television the other night about archeologists finding another in the jungle which sports sides that are 5 miles long. I don’t want to say anything more, though, because I can’t substantiate that which I think I heard. These pyramids are at the center of some fairly large ceremonial complexes, which were areas in the middle of towns which consisted of about thirty to fifty thousand people. The Olmecs transisted from hunter-gatherers to a stratified culture which didn’t move around a whole lot, so how’s this possible and why did it happen? We´re not sure as few clues have been left behind.
Great Pyramid of Cholula or Tlachihualtepetl
…The Children of the Were-Jaguar People
The Olmecs left about 600 pyramids, with over 2,000 other living and workshop complexes, and they didn’t have any beasts of burden. I don’t have the education to start worrying about how they did what they did. I look at why they did it. Ms. Gisella Canto Aquilera, while working at Zazacatla said, “When their society became stratified, new rulers needed emblems to justify their rule over people who used to be their equals.”
Last month, I eluded to the fact that these Olmec tribes had been able to settle down and devote more time to things which weren’t part of the necessities of life. Hence, they worked on other things from jewelry, to fashion, to; “The guy down the path makes really good hammocks, I wonder what he would trade for one. I have a few extra jade knives I’ll bet he would like.” And, in any society, you have to have someone to tell everyone else what’s fair and what’s not fair and if you don’t comply with society, then the governing demons, or deities, or just plain gods will strike you down.
This is called changing from an egalitarian society to a more complex, hierarchical one. And when that happens, those in charge need backing up from something larger and stronger than themselves.
It is believed that the top ten gods of the Olmecs were: The jaguar-monster, fire god or maize god, a god with a maize symbol on his head, a bird god, the jaguar-baby, a being with a human-feline face, a figure representing Xipe Totec (a god of agriculture, fertility, the birth of springtime, and the transition of young men from childhood into manhood and being a warrior), the Plumed Serpent, a death god, a bearded figure, and God X.
These were posted by an Olmec scholar, Peter David Joralemon.
Other archeologists have come up with names for these gods such as Bird Monster and Maize – Rain Spirit and Fish or Shark Monster. And with this, the people started to do for others what they only had done for themselves. Couple that with the guys that spoke for the gods and you have the start of a hierarchical society. In this case, the first in Mesoamerica.
I thought the Olmecs lived on a plain in Central Mexico. Actually, they chose the rich bottom land, where the climate was tropical, and easy to live in, with a simple lean-to which sported a storage locker.
Life was good and the priests really didn’t bother people very much, except when they started to trade outside their own culture. Even then, with a small tax and an occasional trip up the local pyramid for religious re-affirmation, and the ritual bloody payment to the gods for their protection, while keeping the trade routes open, life was good.
Life was very busy for the priest class. They had to keep the population interested in the national goings- on and keep the apparent fear of the gods working. They worked out a solar year and a means to track it with their calendars.
These calendars have survived to become the model for those Mesoamerican societies that came after them. They worked out the moon cycles to time all their activities, and to guide the farmers in their planting, growing and harvesting activities.
…The Children of the Were-Jaguar People
Humans, and the lords of the underworld, battled it out by playing the game, according to the creation story the known as the Popol Vuh. In this way, the ball court was a portal to Xibalba.
As the discovers of rubber, they played a game with a ten pound rubber ball which forbade the use of hands. I also read that they would use a head of a sacrificed individual, covered in rubber, as a ball.
But, here again, I can’t qualify that statement and I don’t know the size of the rings the players would guide the ‘ball’ through.
I have read some speculation that the Aztecs played the game with the heads of their vanquished enemies but there is a lot of doubt about that really being true, too.
The Olmec priests have left some pretty strong evidence that they had a working knowledge of how gravity and magnetism work.
Although the Olmecs gave us cotton, tobacco, cocoa, vanilla, and corn or maize, and some of the grandest sculptures and art in the world, it still isn’t known if they had a written language.
However, as modern man continues to search through the jungles, finding more and more artifacts left by these wonderful people, possibly we’ll find their Rosetta Stone.
And we may find out that owe them a lot more.
you can reach Kirby at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kirby was born in a little burg just south of El Paso, Texas called Fabens. As he understand it, they we were passing through. His history reads like a road atlas. By the time he started school, he had lived in five places in two states. By the time he started high school, that list went to five states, four countries on three continents. Then he joined the Air Force after high school and one year of college and spent 23 years stationed in eleven or twelve places and traveled all over the place doing administrative, security, and electronic things. His final stay was being in charge of Air Force Recruiting in San Diego, Imperial, and Yuma counties. Upon retirement he went back to New England as a Quality Assurance Manager in electronics manufacturing before he was moved to Production Manager for the company’s Mexico operations. He moved to the Phoenix area and finally got his education and ended up teaching. He parted with the university and moved to Whidbey Island, Washington where he was introduced to Manzanillo, Mexico. It was there that he started to publish his monthly article for the Manzanillo Sun. He currently reside in Coupeville, WA, Edmonton, AB, and Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, depending on whose having what medical problems and the time of year. His time is spent dieting, writing his second book, various articles and short stories, and sightseeing Canada, although that seems to be limited in the winter up there.