Today, we will explore documentaries about another part of the world: Central America. Dr. Jago Cooper explores the Lost Kingdoms of Central America. He travels through the wetlands of Mexico and the jungles of Costa Rica. He dives into the Caribbean Sea. He flies above the volcanoes and goes caving. The first episode in this series is called Kingdom of the Jaguar. Cooper starts off his journey exploring a cave that the people believed was a tunnel to the underworld. This civilization rose out of the marshes of Southern Mexico. They built the first pyramids. They are known as the Olmec. They came before the Mayan People.
The Olmecs were the first civilizations of Central America. They believed their rulers had supernatural powers. The Olmecs ruled in Central America 3,000 years ago and collapsed 1,000 years before the Maya. Archeologists heard rumors of a giant eye and went to investigate. What they found astonished them. This was a civilization more advanced than what was previously discovered. The Archeologists found an earlier civilization. This cultivation thrived in the harsh climate of southern Mexico.
Legends of a lost people are part of the local story. However, the jungle hid the real civilization behind this story. The climate is harsh with hurricanes, torrential downpours, and heat made building a civilization challenging. However, the Olmecs seemed to make it work. The environment changed the way the Olmecs existed. They used their environment to their advantage. The Olmecs stopped being nomads. It was the first time maize was farmed. Maize fed the people and it could be harvested three times a year. They also grew beans and squash together. Maize, beans, and squash helped keep both the soil and the people healthy.
These three foods allowed the civilization to grow. This civilization grew into something never before seen in Central America before. Dr. Cooper goes in search of the original Olmec villages. He discusses the challenges archeologists have in exploring the Olmec people. Dr. Cooper ends up at the top of a hill and looks at the landscape around him. It was here where the Olmec people developed.
It was here that archeologists discovered their first stone building. It was a palace for Olmec rulers. To protect it, the site was reburied. However, Cooper demonstrates that this palace was a sign of centralized rule in Central America. The elite showed their power by carving heads. These heads led up to the palace. What made these individuals so special? How did the ordinary people feel about the elite?
Dr. Cooper makes his way deeper into the Olmec territory and talks about the connection the Olmec had to their ancestors. The Olmec carved objects and they would toss them into bogs. The lakes and bogs were places that the Olmec believed to lead to the underworld. Their connection to the underworld gave the Olmec legitimacy to their civilization. A rubber ball was discovered among the offerings. Cooper holds the ball and tells the cameraman that this was the first time that this object was filmed. The Olmecs used rubber to make balls for their games. The object of the game was to keep the ball moving. It could perhaps be the forerunner of soccer. Sports were an important part of society.
To continue to learn more about the Olmec watch this documentary. Dr. Cooper is an excellent narrator who enjoys sharing the available information. This documentary is highly recommended for a history classroom. It is a fascinating look at a civilization other than the Maya. So if you need to give your students a break from studying the Maya, then show an episode from The Lost Kingdoms of Central America.
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