Could you tell me more about how the Olmec people revered animals and the natural world?
That's a great question! The Olmec have one of the oldest cultures in Mesoamerica. For these works specifically, the association with animals has meaning. For example, Jaguars -- the greatest hunters in the wild -- are tied to power, ferocity, and therefore, royalty.
Any nocturnal animal (such as owls) are tied to shamanism and the ability to see and perceive the world beyond. The human and animal blending, implies the unique ability to move between and embody both the power of animals and the world of humans. The Olmecs suddenly disappeared, so our understanding of their spirituality is somewhat limited.
So is it mostly allegorical or more religious?
I'd say it's very much religious.
What can you tell me about these?
These jade figurines are associated with the Olmec culture, one of the oldest-known civilizations from Mesoamerica. They likely served a ritual purpose. Jade, or any green stone, was highly prized in the region and was traded across far distances. Each of the figurines has unique aspects. The small one on the left of your photo, for instance, has cinnabar rubbed onto it.