A Mesoamerican group whose heartland lay in the low-lying swampy areas of the southern Veracruz and Tabasco provinces of Mexico. Since their cultural zenith occurred in the Middle Pre-Classic, they are often proposed as the earliest civilization in Mesoamerica. The ceremonial centre settlement pattern is typical, although an Olmec presence is evident at numerous small sites in Mesoamerica which are presumed to be trading stations. The Olmec were apparently great traders, but they are particuarly noted for the variety and high quality of their art, especially their ceramic and jade figurines. Massive basalt heads depicting thick-lipped men in tightly fitting helmets have been found at all the major centres (see San Lorenzo, Tenochtitlan, La Venta and Tres Zapotes). They are also noted tor a distinctive black, white-rimmed kaolin pottery. Certain elements of style are highly characteristic, including the down-turned mouth, the St Andrew Cross, infantile features and feline motifs. The were-jaguar (the transmutation of man and jaguar) is a constantly recurring theme in Olmec art. The internal workings of Olmec society are by no means certain but it is clear that the Olmec were controllers of a widespread trade network. None of the elaborately worked stone found at the major centres occurs naturally there; jade, obsidian and even the basalt for the massive heads had to be imported, in some instances over distances of 100 km. On the other hand, unmistakeably Olmec materials have been found as far afield as El Salvador. Figurines have been found at Las Bocas, ceramics of all kinds at Tlatilco, cave art (see Juxtlahuaca) and carved jade in Guerrero, and colossal heads in sites in Morelos. Although San Lorenzo and La Venta were abandoned in the Pre-Classic, Olmec traits persisted well into the Classic Period at such sites as Tres Zapotes and Cerro de las Mesas.