Ancient Mythology

Olmec Mythology

The Olmec are a native Mesoamerican civilization that first appears in a region of modern-day Mexico, along the Gulf of Mexico to the east of the Tuxtla mountains around 1400 BCE. Olmec culture peaked at around 900 BCE and then gradually disappeared by 400 BCE. The decline of Olmec civilization has not been fully explained, though environmental changes, possibly involving nearby volcanic activity, are likely to blame. Following their decline remaining Olmec population is likely to have lived in smaller communities in the area, or integrated with neighbouring civilizations.

Symbols of Olmec writing date back as far as 900 BCE, suggesting that the Olmec may have had the earliest writing system of the Americas, though claims that this was a true writing system, and that it inspired the later Mayan script are disputed (there are claims that it was the Maya who first developed writing). The long-count calendar used by other civilizations, again most notably the Maya, may have been an Olmec invention.

Unlike the Maya and Aztec cultures, there is no surviving record of Olmec beliefs. What is known about Olmec mythology has been determined by studying Olmec art and inscriptions that did survive, and by comparing Olmec beliefs to other, later Mesoamerican cultures.


The identities of the Olmec deities are not perfectly clear and remain the focus of some study into Olmec religion. There have been eight identified Olmec supernatural beings:

  • The Olmec Dragon
  • The Maize God
  • The Bird Monster
  • The Were-Jaguar
  • The Rain Spirit
  • Banded-Eye God
  • The Feathered Serpent
  • The Shark Monster

There is some disagreement about whether or not these are all individual beings. It has been suggested that the Were-Jaguar and Rain Spirit are same being. Similarly, the Banded-Eye God is sometimes thought to be an aspect of the Maize God.

The Origin of the Feathered Serpent

The Feathered Serpent appears here in Olmec Mythology for the first time. Such a deity would later appear throughout most Mesoamerican cultures. In Mayan mythology, the feathered serpent appears as Kukulkan. Among the Aztecs, it is called Quetzacoatl.

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