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.


Serpiente Bicéfala. Double-headed serpent ‘Xiuhcoatl’ (Aztec/Mixtec); Cedarwood, decorated in turquoise and shell mosaic, Mexico, 15th-16th century C.E.


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.


Five plates from vol. 3 of Antiquities of Mexico - “fac-similie of an original Mexican painting preserved in the Borgian Museum, at the College of Propaganda in Rome.”

Antiquities of Mexico is a 9 volume folio set produced between 1831 and 1848 which reproduced codices and artwork from Mesoamerica held in European collections. Unfortunately we have not digitized all the text volumes which contain (some) notes on the contents and meanings of the plates so I can provide no additional context for these incredible art works. 


Three views of a Turquoise Mosaic Mask, believed to represent Quetzalcoatl (The Feathered Serpent), which was given by the Mexica emperor Moctezuma II to the Spanish captain Hernán Cortés in 1519. Moctezuma probably suspected that Cortés was himself a god. The object is thought to have been made in Mexico sometime between 1400 and 1521 CE.