Relatively little is known about the Olmec culture, referred to by many archeologists as the mother culture of Mesoamerica. Its legacy, which includes the Long Count calendar, glyphic writing, a rain deity and probably also the concept of zero and the ball-game, influenced all subsequent civilizations in ancient Mexico. The name Olmec comes from Nahautl (the language of the Aztecs) word “Olmecatl”, meaning “rubber people”; this is a reference to the Olmecs practice of extracting latex from trees growing in the region and mixing it with the sap of local vines to produce rubber.

The fact that the Olmecs developed and flourished in the unpromising environment of the Gulf coast swamps 3200 years ago only adds to their mystery. After emerging around 1200 BC, and eventually spanning across northern Central America and much of central Mexico, the civilization began to decline around 400 BC, and over the subsequent thousand years the plains were gradually absorbed by the great Maya cities to the east, an influence most notable at Comalcalco.

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