The Olmecs are the earliest known Mesoamerican civilization. Around 1200 B.C. the Olmecs originated as a primitive people living and farming on the shores of Mexico (Stanton 91). Soon, however, they began to build cities such as San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Monte Alban. These “cities” were religious centers where people gathered to worship, and were not populated (Stanton 91). The first of these centers, San Lorenzo, was built c. 1150 B.C., on a flat topped, man-made mountain. It was mysteriously abandoned 200 years later (Stanton 92-93). La Venta, built between 1000 and 600 B.C., sat on an island in a swamp (Stanton 93). Later, around 500 B.C., Monte Alban, which was used as a religious center even after the Olmecs faded, was built on an immense mountain (Stanton 93). The cities were made up of temples and plazas, and decorated by monumental stone heads, which weighed up to 50 tons (Stanton 93)! These heads probably represented their early kings and had distinct helmets (Kingfisher 32). It is incredible how the Olmec people transported the stone from the distant mountains to La Venta, near the shore, without the aid of work animals or carts. It appears that the Olmecs did this grueling work for their gods willingly, as there is no evidence of forced labor (Stanton 93). The Olmecs probably worshipped the jaguar, as it appears so often in their artwork. There are also many e...
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... (Schweikart 5-6). The Aztecs’ greed for sacrificial hostages turned these Indian neighbors against them (Kingfisher 196-197). The Aztecs were defeated, partially because they had been weakened by smallpox, but also because the Spanish fought together as a single force, while Aztecs fought as individuals (Schweikart 6-7).
These three civilizations were focused on their religions, causing some similarities. They all built cities as religious centers. Both the Mayas and the Aztecs worshipped their gods through human sacrifice. The Olmecs were so dedicated to their gods that they transported 50 ton boulders from the mountains to the shore. For the Mayas, even their games were related to their religion. The Aztec society was constantly at war for the sole purpose of making sacrifices to their many gods. Religion dominated the cultures of these Mesoamerican empires.
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