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 Culture & Traditions

Mexican pre-Columbian Cultures

Olmec Civilization

The Olmec lived along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

This civilization is considered the ”Mother Culture” of Mesoamerica, on account of the diffusion and influence of its characteristics throughout this region.

The word Olmec comes from the  Nahuatl Ōlmēcatl and means rubber people.

Colossal Olmec Head

The Olmec flourished during Mesoamerica’s Formative period, from as early as 1500 BC to about 400 BC.

The most identifying object of the Olmec is their artwork, particularly the aptly named colossal heads, and their beautiful jade masks.

They were the first to develop a calendar and a system of hieroglyphic writing, as well as the ball game.


In Mesoamerica, great high cultures, the Teotihuacan, Mayan, Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations, rose centuries later.


Zapotec Civilization


The Zapotec, known as the ‘Cloud People‘, were greatly influenced by the Olmec. Zapotec civilization originated in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.          


Zapotec Cloud People

Their most important city was Monte Alban, and at the summit of their power, they leveled the top of the hill where it stands to build their political and religious center.

This civilization was highly intellectual and impregnated with religion.

The Zapotec developed a calendar and a logosyllabic (a written character that represents a word or phrase) system of writing.



The western part of Mexico was sort of a geographical corridor through which influences from Central America and the southern region of the United States penetrated.  



There were no great urban centers in this region except for the Tarascan civilization in Michoacan.           They built ceremonial centers atop semicircular platforms.

Yacatas Michoacan by Thelmadatter

The Tarascos were contemporaries of the Aztecs.            They built an empire that didn’t succumb to the Spaniards unti11 long after the fa11 of the Aztec Empire.


Northern Mexico, a desert area unfit for agriculture, never supported any important settlement or civilization; only small groups settled there for short periods of time.          

Teotihuacan Civilization (next page)

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