Olmec mask (offering 20 from the Templo Mayor)

Olmec mask, c. 1200–400 B.C.E., jadeite, 4 x 3-3/8 x 1-1/4 inches, found in offering 20 buried c. 1470 C.E. at the Aztec Templo Mayor (Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City)

The Olmecs are known as “rubber people,” a name given to the peoples of the Gulf Coast after the Spanish Conquest. We don’t know what they called themselves.

Items buried in offerings included ceramic vessels, stone sculptures, obsidian blades, seashells, greenstone, and objects gathered from earlier locales (like Olmec sites and the city of Teotihuacan). Jadeite was quarried in the Sierra de las Minas in Guatemala, and was imported to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Items acquired via trade or tribute (by the Aztecs) included feathers, obsidian, jadeite, cotton, cacao, and turquoise.

Key terms and ideas:

  • Olmec
  • Templo Mayor
  • Archaizing
  • jadeite
  • ritual cache or offering
  • trade networks

Additional resources

Olmec art on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (by Dr. James Doyle)

Olmec stone mask on BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

More Smarthistory images…

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Olmec mask (offering 20 from the Templo Mayor)," in Smarthistory, August 10, 2015, accessed September 21, 2023, https://smarthistory.org/olmec-mask/.