Mexico and Central America 500 BCE

The Olmec civilization has expanded over a wide area.

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What is happening in Mexico and Central America in 500BCE

The Olmec have expanded their cultural influence over a large area of Mesoamerica. They have pioneered distinctive features of Mesoamerican civilization – stepped pyramids, the production of beautiful ceremonial objects, priestly authority, a complex pantheon of gods and the mysterious ball-game arenas. One of the unique Olmec features, however, is the carving of enormous basalt heads, probably representing local rulers.

By this date at the latest the greatest of the early Olmec centres, at modern San Lorenzo, has experienced a mysterious fate: its sacred sculptures have been deliberately desecrated and buried, and the ceremonial centre deserted. Other Olmec centres continue to flourish, however, and the Olmec trade networks have continued to expand.

Other centres of civilization with non-Olmec characteristics are also emerging, revealing that other peoples are being influenced by the Olmec but not absorbed by them. This process, of widening influence but not absorption, is laying the foundations of Mesoamerican civilization on which successive peoples will build in the future.

Next map, Mexico and Central America in 200 BCE

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