The Olmec people are widely recognized as the first major civilization of Mexico and are thus generally regarded as the mother civilization of Mesoamerica, making them the people from which all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures derived. In fact the term Olmec is thought to have originated with the Aztec people, as Olmec in their Nahuatl language means “the rubber people”, a reference to the inhabitants of the land from which they accessed rubber. By and large the Olmec culture is perhaps best identifiable by their so-called colossal heads, mammoth basalt head statues wearing helmetlike headdresses found throughout Olmec habitation sites.
Around 2500 BC the Olmec settled primarily along Mexico's Gulf Coast in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico (in the modern-day States of Veracruz and Tabasco), and they flourished during North America's Prehistoric Indian Formative period from about 1700 to 400 BC. Their direct cultural contributions were still evident as late as AD 300. Among Mesoamerican scholars, the Formative period is subdivided into the Preclassic (Olmec period), Classic (Maya period), and Postclassic (Toltec and Aztec periods).
The Olmec’s agricultural abilities sustained them and ensured their power and influence for over a millennium. They produced corn/maize, squash, and other plant foods in such quantities that they were afforded the manpower to build great monuments and ceremonial centers to further promote their cultural identity.