Southern Mexico's Olmec were a highly advanced Mesoamerican culture which emerged around 1200 B.C. and survived for about a millennium. They were perhaps the earliest American civilization to make significant progress in such fields as art, politics, religion, and economics.
Around 1000 B.C., Olmec civilization was centered at San Lorenzo in Veracruz, Mexico. This city was characterized by basalt monuments (Scarre, 1993, p. 128). The basalt was quarried from the Tuxtlas Mountains. These forest-covered volcanic cones now rise a surrounding swampy river floodplain. During early Olmec times, mining centers occurred at Tres Zapotes and Laguna de los Cerros. Typical peasant farming villages may have served as waypoints along the San Juan River between these two mining areas (Stuart, 1993, pp. 88-114).
Such a village would have had to be cut out of the jungle. They probably cleared land using primitive slash-and-burn methods. This must have been rather difficult considering that the Olmec had no iron tools.
A visitor would immediately observe that the people lived in pole-and-thatch houses. The simple structures consisted merely of small one-story huts made out of plant materials: postholes were dug for the poles, which were then covered with reeds or palm leaves (Rust & Sharer, 1988, pp. 102-104). Refuse pits were probably located conveniently around the village. The Olmec had complex water management systems. A village along a river would undoubtedly have some sort of open drainage system.
The village's pottery would probably be of the Chorrera style. Hence, it would have a flat bottom and straight sides. It may have also had some sort of "inscribed geometric decoration" (Scarre, 1993, p. 133).
Quarried basalt may have been floated past the village on rafts. Even a small settlement might have had its own strategically placed stone monuments. Perhaps two massive stone busts would be located...