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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

ancient people and civilization of Mexico, 1787, from Nahuatl (Aztecan) Olmecatl (plural Olmeca), literally "inhabitant of the rubber country."


The Olmecs 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. It has been speculated that Olmec derive in part from neighboring Mokaya and/or Mixe–Zoque.

The population of the Olmecs flourished during Mesoamerica's formative period, dating roughly 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. Among other "firsts", the Olmec appeared to practice ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies.

The aspect of the Olmecs most familiar now is their artwork, particularly the aptly named " colossal heads". The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America's most striking.

Usage examples of "olmec".

While they ate, Olmec sat in silence on his ivory seat, watching them from under his broad black brows.

And with his weird eyes blazing, Olmec spoke long of that grisly feud, fought out in silent chambers and dim halls under the blaze of the green fire-jewels, on floors smoldering with the flames of hell and splashed with deeper crimson from severed veins.

Without emotion Olmec told of hideous battles fought in black corridors, of ambushes on twisting stairs, and red butcheries.

While Olmec talked, Valeria felt the blazing eyes of Tascela fixed upon her.

A glance back showed Valeria Olmec sitting on his throne, chin on knotted fist, staring after them.

Only twenty-one, counting Olmec, had survived that fiendish battle in the throne room.

But she noticed that Olmec went stealthily, with his head on one side as if listening for sounds of pursuit, and he did not return to the throne chamber.

She was rewarded by a slap that half-stunned her, and Olmec quickened his pace to a shambling run.

Without a word Olmec balled his free hand into a huge fist and stretched the wounded warrior senseless at his feet.

You are my slave as you were that night--as you shall be so long as you live, Olmec of Xuchotl!

Valeria thought she had tasted the ultimate in humiliation already that night, but her shame at being manhandled by Olmec was nothing to the sensations that now shook her supple frame.

Casually stepping over Olmec, Tascela walked to the bronze door and shot the bolt and threw it open, revealing a hallway without.

Conan stooped and cut the ropes that held the prince, and Olmec slid cautiously from under the great ball and rose, shaking his head like a bull and muttering imprecations as he fingered his lacerated scalp.

Conan satirically, swaying his broadsword as he spoke, and Olmec shrugged his shoulders and stepped onto the staircase.

Awakening instinct brought him about again, just as Olmec strruck with his great mallet-like fist.