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The Olmec and Rapa Nui Civilizations


The Southern Gulf Coast of Mexico is believed to have been home to the ancient Olmec culture (Diehl 93). Olmec civilization emerged around 1200BC and it developed distinct and complex structures, which have had impact to the people of Mexico up to date. In addition, the civilization instilled a culture, which is recognized by the contemporary inhabitants of Mexico and beyond. Around 400BC, the Olmec culture declined, but it left a lasting mark of a complex culture, which is still cherished eve to date (Diehl 102).

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The Rapa Nui culture of Easter Island thrived in an isolated island where people erected big statues of great art (Peiser 514). The island got its name from Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch explorer, who made the visit on Easter day of 1722. The two cultures of Olmec and Rapa Nui both possessed artistic skills evident from the legendary stone statues, which have fascinated generations since they were discovered.

The objective of this paper is to examine the socio-cultural, economic, and political organization of the Olmec and Rapa Nui cultures and their implications to the modern day civilization coupled with linking these cultures to those of people living around the pyramids in Egypt and Teotihuacan in Mexico.

Summary of the articles

Article 1: Akhet Khufu: archaeo-astronomical hints at a common project of the two main pyramids of Giza, Egypt by Giulio Magli

The Giza 1 and Giza 2 pyramids of Egypt still draw unique attention and they stand out as the most recognized artistic features in the history of humanity, which is incredible. However, the cultural and structural marks accompanied by this accomplishment override any theoretical or architectural criticism that may arise within the scientific spectrum.

This assertion means that the existence of the pyramids still influences the socio-cultural composition of the modern society. The symbolic structuring of the pyramids relate to the religious organization of the ancient Egyptians due to the presence of the Temple. One of the main elements of the pyramids is a road believed to be for the Pharaoh’s funeral, thus indicating the social importance vested in the leaders.

The political organization was based on Kingdoms. Conventionally, the two pyramids had almost similar layout complexes and researchers believe that the two were part of one major project (Magli 2). Magli posits, “Maybe, the planners of this gigantic project conceived it also as a sort of calendrical device for the sun cycle, with the Giza 1 complex related to the “southern” part of the yearly movement of the sun.

The Giza 2 complex related to the “northern” one; actually, a likely calendrical interpretation of the Giza 2 complex and its solar connections” (6). Therefore, the article dwells on highlighting the different similarities between Giza 1 and Giza 2 pyramids. The author ultimately concludes that the two works were part of one major project even though solid information is lacking to support this claim.

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Article 2: State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico by George Cowgill

The Teotihuacan City was located on the semi-arid highlands of the Central Mexico around the first century BCE (Cowgill 129). The pre- historic city was characterized by early rapid growth of its population. By the time the city changed its name to Teo, it was in ruins, and the remains lacked substantial evidence to develop a wealth historic generalization (Cowgill 130).

However, the information about Teo may lack exact details, since the inscriptions in the ruins were hard to tell, thus making it more of a myth than history. Urbanization of the city was coupled with a number of challenges involving limited housing and undeveloped transportation system. People around the city practiced farming. High rates of infant and child mortality were a common shortcoming facing the city of Teo (Cowgill 142).

Teo organized its administrative structures within a radius of about 90 kilometers and it controlled specified settlements and routes across them. The Teo culture was believed to be a closed one and its sculptures were only understandable to the city dwellers only.

Political organizations can be described to be of little concern since no events or structures recognized specific people and no evidence of subordination of people by their masters. The scenes on the carvings did not depict themes embracing classes and social variations and evidence of rebellion or dissent has not been identified.


Cultural influence

The different cultures of Olmec and Rapa Nui manifested common cultural behaviors and practices despite having existed in different geographical settings. Their prowess in making symbolic carvings was the major aspect shared by both societies.

The similarities in behavior can be attributed to the environmental impacts as both regions were characterized by volcanic activities. Skillful scenes of conveying message through stone inscriptions was common among the cultures. The two cultures earned livelihood through craft production and trade with neighboring communities.

The existence of the pyramids highlights the socio-political organization of the people who lived around the area. The presence of complex structures with the names of the Pharaohs associated to them underscores the social class that was associated with leadership. Kings’ chamber and the Queens’ chamber imply that the people were politically organized into kingdoms.

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The level of organization was very high, and his aspect resulted in finely established structures. Indications of the use of censers, which were associated with the commemoration of the dead, were evident across different ancient cultures. Both cultures, viz. the Olmec and Rapa Nui, constructed their structures with keen concern on the astronomical alignments. The dominant culture around the pyramids in Egypt was similar to that of the Olmec and the Rapa Nui based on their artistry works.

Similarities and differences between the two cultures

Both cultures were defined through artifacts, and this aspect highlights the most striking similarity between the two. Both cultures established fascinating structures, which laid foundation for the civilization that took cause later on. According to some researchers, the construction of the pyramids was aimed at building the strongest structures possible at the time.

Though the purpose of the pyramids might not come out clearly, the structures had great significance to the architects of the Giza pyramids. They highlighted the hierarchical order coupled with presenting the system of control that existed. The pyramids took a war-like architectural design.

They entailed a societal structure with the god-king at the top. The war-like structuring was meant for the anticipated persistent war against the existing tribal means of living among humankind. The different cultures associated the mighty art of the pyramids to the superiority of existence and trade was facilitated within these structures.

Each pyramid was built with standard architectural approach with three main figures. Each had a Temple, causeway for linking the Nile, and an artificial lake sourced from the river. The general knowledge about the construction of the two pyramids is still lacking, and thus the majority of the available information is based on assumptions. The pyramids had king chambers symbolizing the presence of kingdoms.

The similarities and differences about the two cultures highlight the surrounding environments at the time. For instance, the Rapa Nui society lived on an abandoned island where nobody could think of visiting (Peiser 520). The circumstances under which the inhabitants of the Easter Island vanished remain widely unknown.

However, the environs of Easter Island have a combination of volcanic cones and lava flows on top of being designed with arts in wood and stones, thus creating a picture of the existence of hereditary chiefs, clergymen, and a clan system. The Olmec culture of Mexico might have collapsed, but it left a lasting mark amongst the modern cultures of Mexico.

The Olmec traded in Mesoamerica and developed trading items like knives and animal skins (Diehl 114). In addition, the Olmec people created trade routes through the valley of Mexico to Central America (Diehl 107). This networking through trade led to the spread of the Olmec culture. The Olmec religion can be observed to have had specific reverence for natural places connecting the sky and the earth. They worshipped a sky dragon (Diehl 114).

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Both the Olmec and the Rapa Nui cultures influenced the civilizations that they mixed with especially when trading. The Olmec religion had symbols of feathered snake god, which was adopted later by other religions such as gods of Kukulcan for the Maya (Diehl 121). Other artistic and religious impact included common ceremonial events, sacrificial rituals, and ball courts.

In terms of organization, the Olmec were authoritarian in nature, which involved high specialization of labor and patronage (Diehl 116). Politically, the Olmec were structured in small kingdoms, which embraced peace and artistic endeavors (Diehl 116). The social life of the Olmec involved games such as the ball games that were played against two men or two teams of four members each (Diehl 138). The game was intended for sporting and at times betting was done on outcomes.

This aspect signified superiority among the society. In addition, amongst the Olmec, the game honored successful agreement of treaties. Captives who were being held for long periods were exposed to forced ball games in public arenas. Losers were tortured and used as sacrificial victims to please the gods. Similarly, the culture of the Rapa Nui included rulers and priests who organized and led the people in socio-political activities (Peiser 528). Games and sporting were common social aspects that brought people together.


The ancient civilizations of the Olmec and Rapa Nui societies show a number of similarities in terms of socio-cultural and political organization. However, the collapse of the two societies did not kill the progression of their culture. Moreover, most societies that developed later advanced some of the cultural practices like farming, trade, and artistic works.

The pyramids and other inscriptions still stand firm and they have attracted many studies trying to establish the facts surrounding their complex existence. The current culture of Mexico is organized in a civilized manner, but it still borrows some organizational ideas from the ancient societies of the Olmec.

Works Cited

Cowgill, George. “State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico.” Annual Review of Anthropology 26 (1997): 129-161. Print.

Diehl, Richard. The Olmecs – America’s First Civilization, London: Thames & Hudson, 2004. Print.

Magli, Giulio n.d, Akhet Khufu: archaeo-astronomical hints at a common project of the two main pyramids of Giza, Egypt. PDF file. 2014.

Peiser, Benny. “From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui.” Energy & Environment 16.4 (2005): 513-540. Print.

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