Amazing Archeological Discoveries at Monte Albán

Central America - Editor - 14 April 2008

Amazing Archeological Discoveries at Monte Albán

The fascinating pre-Columbian archeological site of Monte Albán, is located on a range of low mountains that rise above the central plain of the Valley of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Mexico’s capital, Oaxaca City, is located about 9 kilometers east of Monte Albán. In addition to being one of the earliest Mesoamerica cities, Monte Albán served as the economic and socio-political center of the Zapotec civilization for almost a thousand years.

Archeological evidence, which includes buildings, tombs, ball courts and burial items, such as intricately designed gold jewelry, indicates that the Zapotec civilization goes back at least 2,500 years. Monte Albán was founded in around 500 BC and went through a period of great wealth and power, but by around 500-750 AD the city had lost its prominent position and was largely abandoned. In the following years, stretching into the Colonial period, small-scale temporary reoccupation and ritual visitations left their mark on the archaeological history of Monte Albán.

In its strategic position, the magnificent ruins Monte Albán are clearly visible from any point in the central region of the Valley of Oaxaca. Explorers and researchers have given much attention to these ruins throughout the Colonial and modern eras, and Monte Albán continues to be a prime tourist destination. The Main Plaza, which measures approximately 200 meters by 300 meters, is the monumental center of Monte Albán. The main elite residential structures as well as ceremonial structures are located around the Main Plaza, or within close proximity. The majority of these structures have been explored and, to the extent possible, restored. The Main Plaza is bordered to the north and south by large platforms that have immense staircases leading up to them. To the east and west of the Main Plaza a number of smaller platforms and mounds remain upon which temples and elite residences stood. A series of ceremonial mounds stretches from north to south in the center of the Main Plaza.

Two ball-courts, similar to those found throughout Mesoamerica, are situated close to the Main Plaza. Although the ball-courts vary in size, they all feature long narrow alleys and side walls. Various stone carvings and pictures on pottery vases that have been discovered indicate that the game differed from place to place, but could probably best be compared to a form of racquetball or volleyball.

An outstanding characteristic of Monte Albán are the large numbers of carved stone monuments that are found throughout the plaza. The earliest examples of carved stones, of which more than 300 have been found, are called “Danzantes”, which literally means “dancers”. This name came about because the carvings of naked men in contorted positions were believed to represent dancers. Later research indicates that it is far more likely that they are a representation of sacrificed war prisoners from competing villages that came up against Monte Albán. This theory is backed up by the fact some of the images are identified by name. The better preserved examples of Danzantes can be seen in the on-site museum, along with an array of interesting artifacts.

Not only is Monte Albán a popular tourist destination because of its picturesque setting that offers stunning views of the surrounding valley, but it is also popular with hikers, birders and joggers. Certainly it is a fascinating archeological site which sheds some light on the long and intriguing history of the area which forms part of modern-day Mexico.


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