The pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Albán, inhabited for over 1,500 years by the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. Oaxaca, Mexico.

Monte Albán, Zapotec capital set on a steep bluff in the middle of the Valley of Oaxaca which rose to prominence after about 400 BCE. Four main phases in the developement and occupation of the site have been recognized.

In period I (500-200 BCE) the slopes of the hill were leveled off to form over 2000 terraces. An acropolis protected by stone walls lay at the centre. Inside was a stone platform surrounded by 140 carved stone slabs depicting contorted human figures. These were executed in Olmec style.

In Period II (200 BCE-AD 300) the palaces were built, along with ball-courts, temples, and an arrow-shaped building in the main plaza. During this period there appears to have been extensive contact with Maya Lowland centres and the increasingly powerful Teotihuacán.

At its peak in Period III (AD 300-750), Monte Albán had an estimated population of 25-30,000. Public buildings, terraces, and residences covered over 40 square kilometres.

Period IV (AD 700-1000) was a time of decline as the main plaza was abandoned. Zapotec influence disappeared, although the site was partially reoccupied by the Mixtec.

-Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill.

Photos courtesy & taken by Omar Bárcena.

Still from the music video for “Zapata Se Queda”, which is collaboration by Lila Downs (pictured on the left) and Totó la Momposina (on the right).

Lila Downs is a Latin Grammy Award and Grammy Award winning Mexican-American artist of Mixtec descent. Born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico, Downs’ music and performance style is known for its Mexican indigenous influences and for often speaking of Latin American political and social issues.

Also a Latin Grammy winner, Totó la Momposina is a Colombian singer of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous descent. Totó has two Latin Grammy Awards for her contribution in the Calle 13 track “Latinoamérica" and one Grammy "Lifetime Achievement Award".


Carved bones at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico.

Bone shown in the first photo:

This bone shows fine incisions outlined in black, with the image of the god “9 Wind”, the creator of wisdom and the wind. In Mixtec mythology he is the ancestor of the rulers and gives them power and is recognized by his attributes — the cut shell and the conical hat and mouth mask.

The bones in the second photo have been made into musical instruments:

Carved in a human femur is a xylophone, ke’e, and carved in wood is a noise maker, having two parts to strike on to produce sound. The use of these instruments was only done during religious ceremonies and they were typically carving a depiction of mythological scenes and symbols.

Courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. Photos taken by Travis S.

This extraordinary pendant consists of a conch shell section carved in jade, enclosed in a delicate gold frame with tiny dangling bells. This symbol was worn by the deity Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) a culture hero credited in one myth with creating human life by sprinkling his blood on ground bones. The pectoral may have been worn by a priest, or by a ceremonial impersonator of Quetzalcoatl.,

c. 1200-1519 Mexico, Guerrero, Ichcatiopan„ Mixtec or Aztec style

Rain God Vessel; Mexico, Colima, El Chanal, Mixtec style, Middle Post Classic period, made of Polychromed ceramic.

Artifact statement from the Kimbell Art Museum:

This spouted vessel in the form of a crouching figure represents an important aspect of Mesoamerican religious practice—deity impersonation—by which the gods were brought directly into the world of experience. The disguise portrayed in this piece is a double one, however: warrior and rain god. In the ancient shamanic traditions of western Mexico, this crouching figure is a shaman warrior, positioned as if ready to leap.He holds a club in his right hand and has a shield attached to his left wrist; his entire head is engulfed in an animal-head helmet resembling a coyote.

These are all appurtenances of the warrior, yet the small size of the weapon and shield suggest a fight more symbolic than real.The mask covering the face is the other element in the double disguise, and relates directly to deity impersonation. The ringed eyes, long fangs, and mustache markings are traits of the rain god, worshiped widely throughout Mesoamerica from about Olmec times onward.

Courtesy & currently located at The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo taken by FA2010