The Olmecs (/ˈɒlmɛks, ˈl-/) were the earliest known major Mesoamerican civilization. Following a progressive development in Soconusco, they occupied the tropical lowlands of the modern-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. It has been speculated that the Olmecs derived in part from the neighboring Mokaya or Mixe–Zoque cultures.

The Olmec heartland, where the Olmec reigned from 1400 to 400 BCE
Geographical rangeVeracruz,  Mexico
PeriodPreclassic Era
Datesc.2,500 - 400 BCE
Type siteSan Lorenzo Tenochtitlán
Major sitesLa Venta, Tres Zapotes, Laguna de los Cerros
Preceded byArchaic Mesoamerica
Followed byEpi-Olmecs
Olmec artworks
Olmec Head No. 3 from San Lorenzo-Tenochtitlán; 1200–900 BCE; basalt; height: 1.8 m, length: 1.28 m, width: 0.83 m; Xalapa Museum of Anthropology (Xalapa, Mexico)
El Señor de las Limas; 1000-600 BCE; greenstone; height: 55 cm; Xalapa Museum of Anthropology
The Wrestler; 1200-400 BCE; basalt; height: 66 cm, from the Arroyo Sonso area (Veracruz, Mexico); Museo Nacional de Antropología. Olmec artists are known for both monumental and miniature portrayals of what are assumed to be persons of authority-from six-ton heads sculptures to figurines.

The Olmecs flourished during Mesoamerica's formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, early Olmec culture had emerged, centered on the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz.[1] They were the first Mesoamerican civilization, and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed.[2] Among other "firsts", the Olmec appeared to practice ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies. The aspect of the Olmecs most familiar now is their artwork, particularly the aptly named "colossal heads".[3] The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America's most striking.[4]