Teacher's Guide for CALLIOPE: The Olmecs
Teacher guide prepared by: Gloria W. Lannom, a frequent contributor to CALLIOPE®.
After you have read this issue, what image comes to your mind when you hear the word "Olmecs?" (Big Heads) What are the accepted beginning and end dates of this civilization? (1300 - 400 B.C.)
Now look at the page showing the CALLIOPE® masthead. How many colossal heads have been discovered so far? (17) How much does the head shown on the cover weigh in pounds? (13 tons x 2,000 pounds = 26,000 pounds)
The article "A Surprise Find" beginning on page 4 says that knowledge of the Olmecs comes from artifacts. What is an artifact? Look this word up in the dictionary. (a product of human workmanship; that is, something that was made by human hands) Name some artifacts mentioned in the article. (colossal heads, jade figures and masks, thrones, pottery)
Who were the Olmecs and where did they come from? (We do not know for sure but they probably developed from earlier societies in the area.) What does "Olmecs" mean? ("people from the land of rubber trees") When the first artifact, the large head, was discovered, what theories did scholars form about it? (that it was made from iron; the face looked African; people went to Mexico from Ethiopia in ancient times; the Olmecs came from China) Which of these ideas were true? (None of them) Now what do scholars think about the origin of the Olmecs? (they developed right where the artifacts have been found)
What areas made up the Olmec world? See the map on page 3. (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) What are the two styles found in Olmec sculpture? (natural for representing the real world; abstract and stylized for the supernatural world) Why are the Olmecs called Mesoamerica's first civilization? (They were the first to build cities, carve large stone sculptures, engage in long distance trade, worship gods, and sponsor a state religion with public ceremonies.) How were the large stone monuments moved without trucks or trains? (people on foot dragged them) What modern comparison does the author of the article make with the Olmec people smashing the huge monuments to show their rebellion against the rulers? (Iraqi people smashed statues of Saddam Hussein after he was deposed.) What two groups in southern Mexico are probably the descendants of the Olmecs? (Mije and Zoque Indians) What is one clue to this relationship? (use of words that seem to be related to ancient Olmec language)
Read "The Rise of the Olmecs" (page 8-9) and then fill in the blanks.
The two Olmec capital cities were --- ------- and -- -----. (San Lorenzo and La Venta)
On pages 12 and 13, the writer describes several other groups who became important after the decline of the Olmecs. Name them in order of their appearance. (Zapotecs, Maya, Teotihuacanos, Toltecs, and Aztecs) Look again at the map on page 3 to see where these groups flourished. What knowledge and skills are required to create calendars? (math, astronomy, writing skill, and abstract thinking)
Turn back to the map on page 3. They are located in ------. (Mexico)
The name for the Olmec homeland is -----. (Olman)
The Olmecs buried their dead beneath the earth floors of their homes to keep their ------- close to them for religious rituals. (spirits)
If you were an ancient Olmec, you would hunt ----, ---- ----, and ----- for their meat. (deer, wild pigs, and birds)
In addition to growing or catching food to eat, the Olmecs engaged in foreign -----. (trade) One important product was -------- which they made into sharp ------. (obsidian, blades) Three other products used by the ruling class were --------, -------, and -------. (feathers, pottery, and jadeite) The jadeite came from ---------. (Guatemala) Find Guatemala on the map and see how far the merchants had to travel from San Lorenzo to obtain it. San Lorenzo declined probably because the rivers filled with ----. (silt) The architects of La Venta created --------. (pyramids)
Read the article titled "The Heads of San Lorenzo." What are three possible explanations for the meanings of the colossal heads? (they represent helmeted warriors, ballplayers, or portraits of important people) What was their purpose? (to make a political statement of the ruler's power) How was Monument 61 made? (It was sculpted from a large boulder.) How were the other colossal heads apparently made? (They were recarved from stone block thrones.) Can you think of a word used today to mean reusing material such as soft drink cans? (recycling)
"America's Pyramids" gives us some important facts about the way the Olmecs thought. How did they view the city of La Venta? (as a model of their universe) What was the center of the city? (a large central plaza) What buildings were erected on top of mounds around the plaza? (temples and dwellings for priests, kings, and other notables) Why were the buildings for these individuals placed at a higher level than those of other members of society? (to show their importance) The article says that at the north edge was a ------ (temple); at the east was a ------ complex (palace); and to the south of the plaza there was an ----------- (observatory). What was the purpose of the work done at the observatory? (The movements of the sun were observed in order to make a 365-day calendar.) Look at the sidebar defining the four directions. The Olmecs at La Venta must have known that the sun rises in the ---- and sets in the ----. (east, west)
Read the article "Stones That Tell Tales" and look at the images shown in the photos. What are three possible reasons that the image in Figure 1 is headless? (symbolizes the death of the image, the sacrifice of the person represented, or the completion of a ceremonial act) What is meant by the term "transformation figure?" (an image that combines human and animal or fantastic forms) What is one possible explanation for such images? (They might represent a ritual where a person puts on an animal skin and mask and enters into a trance state.) Why would someone transform himself? (in order to get in touch with the spirit world) How did the Olmecs think the universe was organized? (into the underworld, the Earth's surface, and the heavenly or celestial realm) Where did the Olmecs think rain and clouds came from? (the underworld) What was their idea about the purpose of rain and clouds? (They link the three levels of the universe into one whole.) Name the inhabitants of the celestial realm. (sun, birds, rain, stars, constellations, and possibly some heavenly beings) Draw a picture show your idea of how the Olmec celestial realm might look.