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Archaeological Sites

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Central buildings
Alfonso Caso
The dancers
The Ball Game
Monte Albn

Monte Albn

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Description
Monte Albn was the capital city of the Zapotec nation, and one of the first and most populated Meso-American cities during its peak. It was founded in approximately 500 BC, flourishing until 750 AD. Located in the centre of the Oaxacan Valley, Monte Albn exercised political, economical and ideological control over other communities in the valley and surrounding mountains. Its main constructions were: the Great Square, Ball Court, System II, "Los Danzantes" [The Dancers], Building "J", Central buildings G., H., and I., the Palace, Southern Platform, "Sistema 7 Venado" and Tomb No. 7. The Great Square is 650 feet long by 650 feet wide, which explains why they had to cut away rocky ledges and fill in depressions.

Ball Court: The court is located to the left of the Great Squares main entrance. It presents the characteristics of other ball playing courts found in the region. The field is delimited by two very inclined, rectangular-based structures. The eastern side has a grasshopper-shaped sculpture on the upper section, and the western side has a staircase, flanked by two sloped joists. Two small niches are in the corners of each extreme.

System II: This site features two structures and a staircase, flanked by two sloped joists and two double scapular panels. In the upper portion, is a small temple, built on a rectangular base, with five columns to the front, and another five to the back. There are no walls to either side of the temple. South of this building, is a tunnel with an angular ceiling which leads to the main buildings.

Los Danzantes (The Dancers): This edification has three structures that belong to Period III-B. The slanted walls are covered with sculpted stone slabs of human figures in very strange positions, and with the typical Olmec sculptural traits.

Building "J": Standing apart from the others, Building "J" is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, due to its unique shape and orientation. Shaped like an arrowhead, it has two different structures. The staircase faces the Northeast, and the walls are vertical, covered by stone slabs with inscriptions. It is believed that the former chamber was used for astronomical observation, although this has not yet been proven. This building belongs to Period II.

Central G. H. I. Buildings: Of these buildings, located in the middle of the Great Square. Central Building "H" is the larger of the two structures. It has a large staircase, two tombs, and a temple in the upper section, with two chambers and two columns at the entrance, very close to the lateral walls. The site is believed to belong to Period III A, and that it was still in use near the end of Period III B.. There is a small, square-based pavilion in front of the main stairway, in which the famous "Mscara del Dios Murcilago" (Mask of the Bat God), sculpted in Jade, was found.

The Palace: Formed by two buildings and a central stairway, the structure features slanted joists. There are thirteen chambers around a central courtyard on the upper level. The main portal features a recently installed lintel.

Southern Platform: A very large structure with two buildings closing off the Square to the southern side. It has two mounds in the upper part from which one can appreciate the entire ceremonial square. Various offerings and monumental tombstones with relief of zoomorphic figures are recessed in the corners of the lower level.

Sistema 7 Venado: In order to reach this site, we recommend walking south-east on the upper portion of the southern platform, since it is located approximately 800 feet from the Main Square. This site is comprised of four structures surrounding a Square that is oriented toward the four cardinal points.

Tomb No. 7: When Mexican Archaeologist, Dr. Alfonso Caso explored this site on January 6, 1932, he discovered a great array of offerings, considered to be invaluable archaeological treasures. These are currently on display in the Oaxaca Regional Museum. The tomb is on a rectangular base, integrated by an entrance and main chamber with an angular vault. It is one of the few tombs found to date that, despite deterioration, had intact offerings.


Location
Monte Albn: Is located 6 miles (10 kilometres) West of the City of Oaxaca via the Oaxaca - Monte Albn highway. Approximate travel time: [0:15]


Additional Information
Mote Albn is a Zapotec archaeological zone and the most important archaeological site in the State of Oaxaca. Its cultural and architectural development has made it representative of Meso-American cultures in this region. This Pre-Hispanic settlement is at the top of a high mountain, west of Oaxaca City. It is 6,000 feet above sea level (850 feet. higher than the Oaxaca Valley).

The Pre-Hispanic name of Monte Albn, has not yet been defined. Zapotec descendants claim that the hill used to be known as Dhauya quch or Dauyacach "Hill of the Precious Stones". On the other hand, Mixtecos named it Yucucui "Green Hill". The place has been known as Monte Albn since the seventeenth century, because at that time, this land belonged to a Spanish Lord named Monte Albn or Montalban.

Mexican Archaeologist, Dr. Alfonso Caso, was in charge of the first exploration and restoration projects in the zone. Casos project, contemplated 18 periods between 1931 and 1958. Based upon research of the zones architectural sites, such as buildings, tombs, ceramics and jewellery, Dr. Caso decided that the history of Monte Albn should be divided in different periods, since each period demonstrated remarkable differences in social organisation, population density and commercial trading habits. This explains why he established five different periods: Monte Albn I, II, III, IV and V, from 500 BC until 1521 AD, each with its own sub-divisions. These ages totalled up to fourteen centuries of continuous occupation, plus 6 centuries during which the site, though abandoned, was of importance to the inhabitants of the Oaxacan valley. This helped establish formal recognition that the two most important Pre-Hispanic cultures in Oaxaca were the Zapotec and Mixteca.

The area that has been explored and restored corresponds to Zapotec culture. It covers an area of approximately three square miles, and extending more than 8 square miles. It covers several hills, which include the Gallo (Rooster) and Bonete (Bonnet). The zone borders on the San Martin Mexicapan and San Juan Chapultepec municipalities, and the Santa Cruz Xoxocotln, San Pedro Ixtlahuaca and Santa Maria Atzompa municipalities. Pyramid bases, terraces, squares, courtyards, and places of worship surround the Main Square, the zones most important centre, where temples and palaces once stood. All these architectural areas are built of stone. The majority of them are characteristic to the last age of construction, but parts corresponding to the first age can be seen through additions made during the centuries. The buildings are characterised for their horizontal design, accented by the stairways bordered with light beams crowned with a double-scapular panel, typical Zapotec vision of the Teotihuacan theme, panel on joist. The scapular panel, a decorative element characteristic for its elongated, E-shaped form laying on one side, is reinforced by its simple remetimiento de paos (insertions of fabric), and contributes not only to reducing the main volumes of temples and palaces, but also giving the group diversity.

The most typical constructions around the Square are the Ball Court, Temple II, Temple P, Eastern Palace, and Temple Q (on the eastern side). The Ball Court stands out for the unity of its construction features, and the Eastern Palace for its chambers. Temples G, H, I, and J (located in the centre of the Square): Building J is thought to be the first astronomical observatory in all of Meso-America. It is a typical structure, in respect to the orientation of the other buildings, because of the steep slope of its central axis. Its reliefs date from the time of the conquest. The Southern Platform stands out, because of the relief on its base, representing numerical systems, scriptures, and portrayals of people engaged in chronological and war related events. System M, the Wall of Dancers, Building L and Building K and System IV (on the western side). The Wall of Dancers displays a series of stele in relief, representing human characters. The characters are in motion, and are the reason for the name of this site. They are thought to be Olmec in origin, the oldest of all Meso-American cultures, because of their physical features. Other sites are the Northern Platform (north side), Sunken Courtyard, Buildings A and B, the Building of Geodesic Vortex (north side). The Northern Platform stands out because of its great majesty, and the grouping of several platforms. Tomb 104 is unique for its murals, lintels, support columns in relief and clay funerary offerings. This site is located in the posterior section of the Northern Platform. Tomb 7, where the great Monte Albn treasure was discovered by Dr. Alfonso Caso, is on the north-eastern end, isolated from the Main Square.

In the plains surrounding the Main Square, there are several structures, identified as living quarters, tombs, and common burial grounds. There is a Museum at the main entrance to Monte Albn, where visitors can receive more information on the sites they will visit in the archaeological zone.



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