Olmec and Maya Civilizations

Olmec and Maya Civilizations

(Intro music) After reading the title of this video, some
of you may be wondering, who are the Olmecs? Why are they included here? If you’re here for the Maya we’re glad you’re
here and we didn’t clickbait you, I promise, but we need to talk about a few other things first. These topics need some special attention,
because they really don’t get enough. If you’ve searched Maya or Olmec on YouTube,
you may have noticed… something strange. Since we’re here to provide educational content
based on factual information, if you’re watching for school or your own information, you’re
in the right place. The decedents of the Maya and Olmecs really
deserve better than a lot of what is out there. The Olmec created their civilization in Mexico,
in the area of Mesoamerica and had a lot of influence on other groups in the region, including
the Maya. Even if you haven’t heard of them, you may
have seen some of their art, these huge stone heads that they’re famous for. These stone heads weigh anywhere from around
two to forty tons (or about 2000 to 36,000 kilograms) and measured anywhere from six
feet by five feet to eleven feet by ten feet (or 2m X 1.5m to 3.5m X 3m.) That’s as tall as anywhere from one to two
very tall models. These stone sculptures, 17 have been found,
were built around 1200 BCE – 400 BCE and it was extra impressive since they were using
stone tools. Only stone? In 1200 BCE? Didn’t the Stone Age end a long time before
that? Well, yes and no. Humans began using metals around 3500 BCE,
over two thousand years earlier than these heads were built, but humans didn’t all start
using it at the same time. Staying in one place, and in a place where
metals can be found near the surface of the earth is how groups of people were able to
make metal tools. The Olmecs and other groups in the Americas
had ancestors that traveled a very, very long way. Humans originated in eastern Africa, and some
migrated through Asia walked over icy glaciers that bridged Asia and North America and further
into the Americas. (Yes, we’re getting to the Maya, we are…) People arrived in the Mesoamerican region
around 2100 BCE. It’s always helpful to think about technology
in history and remember a few thousand years is almost nothing when we look at the Early
Stone Age which is over 99% of human history. Getting back to the Olmec, the Olmecs lived
in the Coatzacoalcos River basin, which flooded often, beginning around 2500 BCE. These floods were good for farming, and they
farmed squash, beans, sweet potato and maize (which is similar to corn) and also were able
to grow avocados and even cacao (used for chocolate) in the rich tropical forests surrounding
them. The Olmec protected their homes by creating
mounds and building houses on top of them and by building their homes on higher ground
than where they farmed. Most homes and their crops were outside the
city centers of religious ceremonies, San Lorenzo, La Venta and El Manatí. The Olmec religion had several gods, which
were animal-like and had supernatural powers: There was a Dragon God, also called the Earth
Monster, the Olmec Dragon also looks a bit like a crocodile with flaming eyebrows. The Olmec Dragon represented the Earth and
agriculture. Since the main crop of the olmec was maize
and very important to them, maize had its own god which has the plants sprouting from
its head. … And chocolate… wait, they had chocolate
and it didn’t have its own god? No, it didn’t. There were two Jaguar gods, one believed to
be a rain spirit and the other a jaguar man. The Jaguar man, sometimes called a were-jaguar,
may have been a symbol of strength and victory in battle. The Bird Monster god represented the skies,
sun, the rulers, and agriculture. It is depicted as a fierce bird, sometimes
lizard-like. Its image is seen often in La Venta, including
on an important altar. The Fish Monster god, or the Shark Monster,
is believed to represent the underworld and looks like a frightening shark or fish with
shark’s teeth. The Fish Monster was drawn in stone carvings,
on pottery but the most famous is on a large San Lorenzo monument. There isn’t a lot known about the Olmecs,
because many of the artifacts and sites did not survive time. The writings found have been on stone and
clay, however they did have amate paper, made from bark, that like all paper, rots with
time, moisture and humidity. It is through their influence of other cultures
in Mesoamerica that we are most often able to study them. (Yes, we are getting to the Maya, almost there.) Rubber balls have been found in the Olmec
sites, suggesting that they played a game just called, “Ball game ,” and even the
giant stone heads appear to be wearing helmets that players wore in this game. While the rules of the game are unclear, ruins
of a ball court have been found in Chichen Itza, a center of the Maya culture, this game
was popular for thousands of years throughout the region. (I know, soon, we’re talking about the Maya
soon, okay?) The Olmec were skilled craftspeople, making
clay pottery, millions of pieces have been found in Olmec areas. Tools were made of stone, but these weren’t
just roughly shaped stones, they were finely and precisely crafted. Imported obsidian which is a black and glass-like
rock was also used for tools and made sharp, hard and detailed knives and tools. The jade masks and jewelry they carved were
so well-crafted they could be mistaken for items made with current technology. Items made by the Olmec have been found throughout
Mesoamerica, and the stone that created the giant heads and obsidian were from outside
their region. There is evidence that the Olmec built canals
and moved items using pressurized water,and that they traded a great deal, influencing
later civilizations with their writings, arts and culture. (Yes, including the Maya.) Why the Olmecs disappeared around 400 BCE
isn’t certain. The rivers appeared to have changed, either
because of volcanoes nearby or a buildup of silt which is very fine light soil moved by
water. The main sites emptied, and the people brought
their ideas and cultures all around Mesoamerica. (Yes, okay, we are talking about the Maya
now.) We know much more about the Maya than the
Olmec because Maya civilization lasted longer. We also know a lot less than we could because
when the Spanish arrived they were in search of gold, which the Maya used to make some
of its crafts. The Maya considered jade to be more valuable
than gold and used cacao (or cocoa) beans as money. So, many artifacts that could tell us more
about the Maya were melted down to make gold coins and many of their books were burned. The Maya civilization began in and around
the Yucatan peninsula around 2000 BCE, in modern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras
and El Salvador. Grand step pyramids and ball courts are still
around today in many Maya cities. The Maya were great mathematicians and astronomers,
many of the pyramids they built to line up to movements of different planets or the sun
and moon. Pyramids were first built there around 100
BCE and could be up to almost 1400 feet high, or over 140 meters, some were monuments to
gods, others were tombs for kings. City centers had palaces, temples along with
the pyramids and Maya cities were connected by roads they built. Maya cities even competed against each other
in their ball game courts. Ball game was a very popular sport throughout
Mesoamerica, every Maya city had a ball game court built from stone. These giant courts had lots of flat space
for play, hoops also made of stone and seating for kings and the people. The rules varied and changed with time, and
rubber balls found were different sizes, but carvings show people playing this game using
their hips and torso to hit the ball into the hoop. These games could be played for fun but sometimes
had a religious meaning or were even used to resolve disputes between city-states. The Maya also created one of the earliest
solar calendars that has 365 days in a year, it also has longer measurements of time: a
katun which is almost 20 years, a baktun which is almost 395 years, and a piktun that is
7,885 years, the most recent piktun ended in 2012, which caused some people to wrongly
believe… well, it’s a long story. Maya cities had temples and palaces at their
centers, and homes and crops surrounding them. The ancient Maya farmed foods such as tomato,
chili peppers, cacao, avocado, guava, papaya, pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, and their
most important crop was maize. All those foods originally came from the Americas
and influence some of our favorite foods today. The maya lived in city-states, each state
was independent and they were all united by a common culture, each city-state was ruled
by its king. The Maya believed that their king was divine,
communicated with the gods and was given the right to rule by those gods. The position of king was usually the oldest
son of the last king, but there were also many cases of women rulers. Royalty wore large, elaborate headdresses
and clothing with jewels and jade sewn to them. If someone broke a law they went to trial
and the local leaders or even the king would serve as judge. At the trial the judge would review evidence
and listen to witnesses. If the person was found guilty, the punishment
was carried out immediately. The Maya had strict laws and punishments,
crimes like murder, arson, and disrespect towards gods were often punished by death,
if it was an accident there was a chance at not being killed. The Maya nobles were also subject to the law. If a noble was found guilty of a crime, they
were often punished even more severely than a citizen. If the victim of the crime wanted to forgive
the accused, then the punishment may be reduced. Punishment for crimes could be death, slavery,
and paying a fine. A person’s head could also be shaved for committing
a crime, as this was considered a sign of shame. You’d probably be quite surprised by what
the Maya considered beautiful, their beauty gurus made very different videos, uhhhh, beauty
gurus only did live meet ups back then. Most of us would be considered quite plain
by Maya standards of beauty, they wanted long, sloping foreheads and big crooked noses, some
people even had clay prosthetic noses that they wore over their own noses. People pierced their ears and stretched the
holes to put jade plugs into them and even put jewels into their teeth. Tattoos also were used for beauty and men
were tattooed right after marriage ceremonies. Crossed eyes were also considered beautiful,
babies would have their eyes trained to cross with a ball and string hanging between them. Some of the Maya ideas about what is beautiful
may seem strange or funny to you, but ideas about beauty are cultural, they change with
time and usually involve expressing wealth or status. What is beautiful is opinion, and there’s
even an entire branch of philosophy, aesthetics that is still working on a definition of beauty
that everyone can agree upon. (Spoiler alert: there will never be universal
agreement.) Many Maya cities began to empty after 900
CE and only its strongest, largest cities remained. It’s not entirely known why the Maya civilization
declined, weather may have been a cause, as rainfall is unpredictable where the Maya lived. While the Maya had built underground reservoirs
to store water when the rains did not supply enough, Maya cities had tens of thousands
of people, so a very long drought still would be a disaster. Wars between city-states is another possible
cause as they did happen at times. Even today, archaeologists are still looking
for clues to get a more solid answer, but some of the clues have been forever lost to
history, and fire. The Olmec civilization developed sophisticated
technology, art and culture independent of other civilizations. The Maya were influenced by the Olmec and
built great pyramids, palaces and infrastructure like roads and reservoirs. All of Mesoamerica was captivated by ball
game, and its games were even used to keep peace among city-states. Many of the foods we have around the world
now are from Mesoamerica, you may even eat some of these foods today, if you’re lucky. Bye for now, thanks for joining us! (Outro music)

24 thoughts on “Olmec and Maya Civilizations

  1. It’s pleasing to see information about Ancient America that attributes intelligent creativity to humanity and not to some outside intelligence.

    How about this theory: human beings are endlessly resourceful and creative — as the mind behind this artistic presentation is illustrating both through this work and the subject matter.

    Also: corn and chocolate!!!! What amazing concepts.

    Entire civilizations formed around wheat, oats, rice, and corn. What we take for granted changed reality for our progenitors. And chocolate 🍫 is icing on the cake both literally and figuratively.

    Thanks for this.

    Fun and fascinating!!!!!!

  2. Really enjoy these videos, but not a huge fan of the pacing . Other than that I think the animation is splendid, and this contains tons of valuable information 😊

  3. Graham Handcock is about to @ you lol. There is evidence the olmec civilization is waaayyyy older than what you say.

  4. Well well now they want to build a narrative around the Olmec civilization 30 yrs ago the Olmec didn't even exist in the oral teaching of the Americas that I learned about in school we were told that the Mayan and Aztecs, were the oldest civilization in mesoamerica, now we no that it was the Olmec civilization and science also have found the anthropological "Lucy" look her up, they claim she was the oldest women's remains ever found in they America's. It's not just coincidence that Lucy and the Olmec both have negroes features in common. The truth be told "Niger" people was already in the Americas before Columbus ever stepped foot on this great land.

  5. Olmec didn't come from Africa, they are The Aboriginal ppl of the Americas, so they been there from the beginning. About 92% of so called African American are their descendants.

  6. To be specific the Olmec are the 1st “american” the aboriginal native. They set out on an ocean voyage from ancient “africa” Eons ago. The more you “DIG” literally and figuratively speaking the BLACKER the planet gets. This is our planet you’re 1 of US. And this our message to you the planets are lining UP bringing brighter days and their ALL IN LINE waiting 4US…

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