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Olmec Civilization: Africans in Ancient America

The Olmec civilization represents the first great kingdom in the Americas. It was centered in current-day Mexico. The Olmecs dominated the Mesoamerican region from about 1200 to 300 BCE. Their culture thrived in the Gulf Coast region in Eastern Mexico, mainly in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco, where there are rivers flowing through swamps alongside fields of maize and beans.

Figure 1 Maps of Mesoamerica and the Olmec Heartland

Historical Background

The name Olmec means “rubber people” in Nahuatl, the language of the later Aztec civilization. The name, given to them long after the demise of their culture, refers to their production of rubber by tapping rubber trees. The Olmec people called themselves Xi. ...

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