The Zapotec civilization (Be'ena'a (Zapotec) "The People" c. 700 BC–1521 AD) was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca in Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows that their culture goes back at least 2,500 years. The Zapotec left archaeological evidence at the ancient city of Monte Albán in the form of buildings, ball courts, magnificent tombs and grave goods including finely worked gold jewelry. Monte Albán was one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica and the center of a Zapotec state that dominated much of the territory that today belongs to the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
|c. 700 BC–1521 AD|
Zapotec at greatest extent
|Common languages||Oto-Manguean languages|
|Historical era||Pre-classic – Late post-classic|
• Fall of San José Mogote
|c. 700 BC|
• Conflict between Zapotecs and Mixtecs in the empire
• Spanish Conquest
• Last Zapotec resistance
|200 AD||80,000 km2 (31,000 sq mi)|
|1520 AD||38,850 km2 (15,000 sq mi)|
• 200 AD
|Today part of|| Mexico|
|Monte Alban 1||ca 400–100 BC|
|Monte Alban 2||ca 100 BC – AD 100|
|Monte Alban 3||ca AD 200-900|
|Monte Alban 4||ca 900–1350|
|Monte Alban 5||ca 1350–1521|
Zapotec civilization originated in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca in the late 6th Century BC. The three valleys were divided between three different-sized societies, separated by 80 square kilometres (31 sq mi) “no-man’s-land” in the middle, today occupied by the city of Oaxaca. Archaeological evidence, such as burned temples and sacrificed captives, suggests that the three societies competed against each other. At the end of the Rosario phase (700–500 BC), the valley's largest settlement San José Mogote, and a nearby settlement in the Etla valley, lost most of their population. During the same period, a new large settlement emerged in the “no-man’s-land” on top of a mountain overlooking the three valleys, that was called Monte Albán. Early Monte Albán pottery is similar to pottery from San José Mogote, which suggests that Monte Albán was populated by the people who left San José Mogote. Although there is no direct evidence in the early phases of Monte Albán's history, walls and fortifications around the site during the archaeological phase Monte Alban 2 (ca. 100 BC–200 AD) suggest that the city was constructed in response to a military threat. Archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent V. Flannery liken this process to what happened in ancient Greece - (synoikism): a centralization of smaller dispersed populations congregated in a central city to meet an external threat.
The Zapotec state formed at Monte Albán began to expand during the late Monte Alban 1 phase (400–100 BC) and throughout the Monte Alban 2 phase (100 BC – AD 200). During Monte Alban 1c (roughly 200 BC) to Monte Alban 2 (200 BC – AD 100), Zapotec rulers seized control of the provinces outside the valley of Oaxaca because none of the surrounding provinces could compete with the valley of Oaxaca politically and militarily. By 200 AD, the Zapotecs had extended their influence, from Quiotepec in the North to Ocelotepec and Chiltepec in the South. Monte Albán had become the largest city in what are today the southern Mexican highlands, and retained this status until approximately 700 AD.
The expansion of the Zapotec empire peaked during the Monte Alban 2 phase. Zapotecs conquered or colonized settlements far beyond The Valley of Oaxaca. Most notably, this expansion is visible in the sudden change of ceramics found in regions outside the valley. These region's own unique styles were suddenly replaced with Zapotec style pottery, indicating their integration into the Zapotec empire.
Archaeologist Alfonso Caso, one of the first to do excavations in Monte Albán, argued that a building on the main plaza of Monte Albán is further evidence for the dramatic expansion of the Zapotec state. What today is called Building J is shaped like an arrowhead and displays more than 40 carved stones with hieroglyphic writing. Archaeologists interpreted the glyphs to represent the provinces controlled by the Zapotecs. Each glyph group also depicts a head with an elaborate head dress carved into the slabs. These are assumed to illustrate the rulers of the provinces. Heads turned upside down are believed to represent the rulers of those provinces taken by force, while the upright ones may represent those who did not resist colonization and had their lives spared. For this reason, Building J is also called “The Conquest Slab”.
Marcus and Flannery write about the subsequent dramatic expansion of the Monte Albán state: "a great disparity in populations between the core of a state and its periphery, it may only be necessary for the former to send colonists to the latter. Small polities, seeing that resistance would be futile, may accept a face-saving offer. Larger polities unwilling to lose their autonomy may have to be subdued militarily. During the expansion of Monte Alban 2 state, we think we see both colonization and conquest".
The name Zapotec is an exonym coming from Nahuatl tzapotēcah (singular tzapotēcatl), which means "inhabitants of the place of sapote". The Zapotec referred to themselves by some variant of the term Be'ena'a, which means "The Cloud People".
The Zapotec languages belong to a language family called Oto-manguean, an ancient family of Mesoamerican languages. It is estimated that today's Oto-manguean languages branched off from a common root at around 1500 BC. The Manguean languages probably split off first, followed by the Oto-pamean branch while the divergence of Mixtecan and Zapotecan languages happened later still. The Zapotecan group includes the Zapotec languages and the closely related Chatino. Zapotec languages are spoken in parts of the Northern Sierra, the Central Valleys as well as in parts of the Southern Sierra, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and along parts of the Pacific Coast. Due to decades of out-migration, Zapotec is also spoken in parts of Mexico City and Los Angeles, CA. There are 7 distinct Zapotec languages and over 100 dialects.
Zapotec is a tone language, which means that the meaning of a word is often determined by voice pitch (tonemes), essential for understanding the meaning of different words. The Zapotec languages features up to 4 distinct tonemes: high, low, rising and falling.
Between Monte Alban phases 1 and 2 there was a considerable expansion of the population of the Valley of Oaxaca. As the population grew, so did the degree of social differentiation, the centralization of political power, and ceremonial activity. During Monte Alban 1-2 the valley appears to have been fragmented into several independent states, as manifested in regional centers of power.
The Central Valleys of Oaxaca, the cradle of Zapotec civilization, are three broad valleys—Etla in the west, Ocotlán in the south and Mitla in the east—that join at an altitude of about 4500 feet above sea level in the center of what today is the state of Oaxaca. They are located about 200 km south of Mexico City. Mountains surround the valley with The Sierra Norte in the north and the mountains of Tlacolula in the southeast. The environment is well suited for agriculture and is considered one of the cradles of maize. It is estimated that at the time of the emergence of Zapotec civilization, the valley soil were unaffected by the erosion seen today, as the oak and pine forests covering the surrounding mountains had not yet been decimated by logging. There is a dry season from November until May but along the rivers it is possible to plant and harvest crops twice a year.
The valleys of Etla and Ocotlán are traversed from north-west to south by the Atoyac River which provides water for a small strip of land bordering the river, when it periodically floods. To provide water for crops elsewhere in the valley away from the river, the Zapotecs used canal irrigation. By using water from small streams, the Zapotecs were able to bring water to Monte Albán, situated 400 meters above the valley floor. Archaeologists found remains of a small irrigation system consisting of a dam and a canal on the south-eastern flank of the mountain. As this would not have been enough to support all the population of Monte Albán, it is assumed that there were many other irrigation systems. Likewise, crops grown in the valley were not enough to sustain the rapid population growth in the Monte Albán I phase. Therefore, crops were grown on the foothills where the soil is a less fertile and artificial irrigation was needed.
Innovation of farming enabled the Zapotec to pay tribute to the Spanish conquerors and create enough surplus to feed themselves despite natural disasters and disease.
The Zapotecs developed a calendar and a logosyllabic system of writing that used a separate glyph to represent each of the syllables of the language. This writing system is thought to be one of the first writing systems of Mesoamerica and a predecessor of those developed by the Maya, Mixtec and Aztec civilizations. There is debate as to whether Olmec symbols, dated to 650 BC, are actually a form of writing preceding the oldest Zapotec writing dated to about 500 BC.
In the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, there were Zapotec and Mixtec artisans who fashioned jewelry for the Aztec rulers (tlatoanis), including Moctezuma II. However, relations with central Mexico go back much further, as suggested by the archaeological remains of a Zapotec neighborhood within Teotihuacan and a Teotihuacan style "guest house" in Monte Albán. Other important pre-Columbian Zapotec sites include Lambityeco, Dainzu, Mitla, Yagul, San José Mogote, El Palmillo and Zaachila.
The Zapotecs were a sedentary culture living in villages and towns, in houses constructed with stone and mortar. They recorded the principal events in their history by means of hieroglyphics, and in warfare they made use of a cotton armour. The well-known ruins of Mitla have been attributed to them.
At Monte Albán archaeologists have found extended text in a glyphic script. Some signs can be recognized as calendar information but the script as such remains undeciphered. Read in columns from top to bottom, its execution is somewhat cruder than that of the later Classic Maya and this has led epigraphers to believe that the script was also less phonetic than the largely syllabic Mayan script.
The earliest known artifact with Zapotec writing is a Danzante ("dancer") stone, officially known as Monument 3, found in San Jose Mogote, Oaxaca. It has a relief of what appears to be a dead and bloodied captive with two glyphic signs between his legs, possibly his name. First dated to 500–600 BC, this was initially considered the earliest writing in Mesoamerica. However, doubts have been expressed as to this dating as the monument may have been reused. The Zapotec script appears to have gone out of use in the late Classic period.
Like most Mesoamerican religious systems, the Zapotec religion was polytheistic. Some known deities were Cocijo, the rain god (similar to the Aztec god Tlaloc); Coquihani, the god of light; and Pitao Cozobi, the god of maize. Zapotec deities were predominantly associated with fertility or agriculture. Both male and female deities are represented, differentiated by costume. Males are depicted wearing breechclouts with or without capes, while females are depicted wearing skirts. There is some evidence of worship of deities not directly associated with Zapotec culture, such as the Teotihuacan Feathered Serpent, Butterfly God, and rain god; and the Nahuatl god of spring Xipe Totec. It is believed that the Zapotec used human sacrifice in some of their rituals.
There are several legends of the origin of the Zapotec. One of them is that they were the original people of the valley of Oaxaca and were born from rocks, or descended from big cats such as pumas, jaguars and ocelots. Another is that the Zapotec settled in the Oaxaca valley after founding the Toltec empire, and were descendants of the people of Chicomoztoc. These legends were not transcribed until after the Spanish conquest.
According to historical and contemporary Zapotec legends, their ancestors emerged from the earth, from caves, or turned into people from trees or jaguars. Their governing elite believed that they descended from supernatural beings who lived among the clouds, and that upon death they would return to the clouds. The name by which Zapotecs are known today results from this belief. The Zapotecs of the Central Valleys call themselves "Be'ena' Za'a" - The Cloud People.
The Zapotec used dedication rituals to sanctify their living spaces and structures. Excavation of Mound III at the Cuilapan Temple Pyramid in Oaxaca revealed a dedication cache containing many jade beads, two jade earspools, three obsidian blades, shells, stones, a pearl, and small animal bones, likely from birds, dated to 700 AD. Each of these materials symbolized different religious concepts. As it was not easily attainable, jade was valued, and worked jade even more so because the elite were the primary artists. Obsidian blades are associated with sacrifice, as they were commonly used in bloodletting rituals. Shells and pearl represent the underworld, being from the ocean, and the small bird bones represent the sky and its relation to the balanced cosmos. These artifacts are significant due to their placement in a structure used for ritual and associated with power. This cache is a form of dedication ritual, dedicating the Cuilapan Temple Pyramid to these ideas of power, sacrifice, and the relationship between underworld and cosmos.
The last battle between the Aztecs and the Zapotecs occurred between 1497 and 1502, under the Aztec ruler Ahuizotl. At the time of Spanish conquest of Mexico, when news arrived that the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, King Cosijoeza ordered his people not to confront the Spaniards so they would avoid the same fate. They were defeated by the Spaniards only after several campaigns between 1522 and 1527. However, uprisings against colonial authorities occurred in 1550, 1560 and 1715.
Cocijo (occasionally spelt Cociyo) is a lightning deity of the pre-Columbian Zapotec civilization of southern Mexico. He has attributes characteristic of similar Mesoamerican deities associated with rain, thunder and lightning, such as Tlaloc of central Mexico, and Chaac (or Chaak) of the Maya civilization. In the Zapotec language, the word cocijo means "lightning", as well as referring to the deity.Cocijo was the most important deity among the pre-Columbian Zapotecs because of his association with rainfall. He is commonly represented on ceramics from the Zapotec area, from the Middle Preclassic right through to the Terminal Classic. Cocijo was said to be the great lightning god and creator of the world. In Zapotec myth, he made the sun, moon, stars, seasons, land, mountains, rivers, plants and animals, and day and night by exhaling and creating everything from his breath.Codex of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji
The Codex of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji (in Spanish, Códice de Santa Catarina Ixtepeji) is a late 17th-early 18th century bilingual codex in the Spanish and Zapotec languages. It is a 7-foot-long scroll (2.1 m), a hand-painted history and map recounting part of the history of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji, in the Ixtlán District in the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico. It had been held in the hands of private collectors into the 20th century, and was re-discovered and identified as part of the holdings of the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in early 2012, as the result of efforts of scholars at UWM, Marquette University and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.El Palmillo
El Palmillo is a Mesoamerican Classic Period archaeological site located in the Valley of Oaxaca, associated with the pre-Columbian Zapotec civilization which was centered in the valley and the surrounding highlands of the present-day state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Located on a hilltop in the eastern Tlacolula arm of the valley, El Palmillo is just to the south of the pre-Columbian site of Mitla and to the east of the major Zapotec regional center, Monte Albán.
A major excavation at the site has been ongoing since 1999, led by Dr. Gary Feinman and Linda Nicholas of the Field Museum of Natural History.Guiengola
Guiengola is a Zapotec archeological site located 14 km (8.7 mi) north of Tehuantepec, and 243 km (151 mi) southeast of Oaxaca city on Federal Highway 190. The visible ruins are located between a hill and a river, each carries the name of Guiengola. The name means "large stone" in the local variant of the Zapotec language. There are two main tombs that have been excavated, and both seem to be family interment sites. Both have front chambers that are for religious idols, while the rear chambers are for the burial of important people. The site also has fortified walls, houses, ballgame fields, other tombs and a very large "palace" with remains of artificial ponds and terraces. In the center of the site are 2 plazas, one lower than the other, and 2 pyramids, one to the east and one to the west.Hayandose
Hayandose is a cultural category used to express membership and belonging among Zapotec migrants, described by cultural anthropologist Lourdes Gutiérrez-Nájera. Hayandose entails a process of creating ethnically-marked spaces among migrants in an effort to combat feelings of marginalization and displacement in a host country. This concept may be compared to the notion of Native Hubs developed by anthropologist Renya Ramirez to describe how urban Native Americans negotiate a transnational existence.Joseph Whitecotton
Joseph W. Whitecotton (born September 11, 1937) is an American academic anthropologist and ethnohistorian, a specialist in Latin American cultural anthropology and in particular of Mesoamerican cultures. His primary research focus has been on the Zapotec civilization of central Mexico and Oaxaca, and he is the author of half a dozen monographs on the subject. In addition to his research on the Zapotec, Whitecotton has made contributions in historical ethnography, the study of political economies and the effects of globalization trends on local cultures. He has also investigated evidence for pre-Columbian contacts and trade between Mesoamerica and cultures in the American Southwest, and conducted ethnographical research of the Hispanos in New Mexico. Whitecotton is also a performing jazz musician and has written on the influences of jazz in popular culture.
The majority of Whitecotton's academic career has been associated with the University of Oklahoma (OU), where he lectured in various positions from 1967 until his official retirement in 1999. Since then he has retained a position at OU as Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Liberal Studies, and continued to be active in research publications and conferences.Lambityeco
Lambityeco is a small archaeological site just about 3 kilometers west of the Tlacolula city in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is located just off Highway 190 about 25 km (16 mi) east from the city of Oaxaca en route to Mitla. The site has been securely dated to the Late Classical Period.The Lambityeco name has several possible origins: from zapoteco "Yehui" that translates as Guava River. From "Lambi" corrupted zapoteco of the Spanish word "alambique or still" and of zapoteco "Pityec" that would translate as mound, hence the name would mean "the still mound"
Some claim that Lambityeco is a zapoteco word that means "Hollow Hill" This last interpretation seems to be accepted, considering that this site was a salt producer, as much during prehispanic times as in relatively recent times, since records show that as late as 1940 salt was still produced in this zone.
This process was made by running water through the region dirt, obtaining salt water; this water was boiled in pots to obtain salt after evaporating the water. It is confirmed that this city was a salt production center and that it provided up to 90% of the salt consumed in the valley between 600 and 700 AD. The salt was extracted from dirt in the southern part of the site.
Lambityeco is a small part of the larger site known as Yeguih, which according to another version it is the Zapotec word for "small hill". The two main structures at Lambityeco are Mound 190 and Mound 195. Mound 190 is an elite residence with the entrance flanked by two imposing Cocijo masks, the Zapotec rain god.The site dates to the Late Classic and Early Postclassic.Lambityeco was part of a zapoteco settlement from the late classic and early Postclassical period in the Oaxaca valley. The extraordinary artistic quality shown in the various urns, engraved bones and mural paintings in tombs as well as by decorated architectonic elements with mosaics in stucco is remarkable.List of Zapotec deities
The Zapotec culture was polytheist.
List of some deities:
Cocijo, god of rain
Coquihani, god of light
Copijcha, god of war
Cozobi, god of maize
Pecala, god of dreamsMuxe
In Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca (southern Mexico), a muxe (also spelled muxhe; [muʃeʔ]) is a person who is assigned male or female at birth, but who dresses or behaves in ways otherwise associated with the opposite gender; they may be seen as a third gender. Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners. According to anthropologist Lynn Stephen, muxe "may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery or decorating home altars, but others do the male work of making jewelry".The word muxe is thought to derive from the Spanish word for "woman", mujer. In the 16th-century, the letter x had a sound similar to "sh" (see History of the Spanish language § Modern development of the Old Spanish sibilants).México Indígena
México Indígena is a project of the American Geographical Society to organize teams of geographers to research the geography of indigenous populations in Mexico. The project's stated objective is to map "changes in the cultural landscape and conservation of natural resources" that result from large scale land privatization initiatives underway in Mexico. The project is led by Peter Herlihy at the University of Kansas and is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense through its Foreign Military Studies Office. The project has been the subject of criticism by various groups including groups representing indigenous peoples. Critics allege that the project was not forthcoming about its U.S. military funding, and that the project has various ulterior motives besides gathering information for research purposes. The project began in 2005, and lasted through 2008.Oaxaca Valley
The Central Valleys (Spanish: Valles Centrales) of Oaxaca, also simply known as the Oaxaca Valley, is a geographic region located within the modern-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In an administrative context, it has been defined as comprising the districts of Etla, Centro, Zaachila, Zimatlán, Ocotlán, Tlacolula and Ejutla. The valley, which is located within the Sierra Madre Mountains, is shaped like a distorted and almost upside-down “Y,” with each of its arms bearing specific names: the northwestern Etla arm, the central southern Valle Grande, and the Tlacolula arm to the east. The Oaxaca Valley was home to the Zapotec civilization, one of the earliest complex societies in Mesoamerica, and the later Mixtec culture. A number of important and well-known archaeological sites are found in the Oaxaca Valley, including Monte Alban, Mitla, San José Mogote and Yagul. Today, the capital of the state, Oaxaca City, is located in the central portion of the valley.Quiabelagayo
Quiabelagayo (alternatively written Guiebelagayo or Quiepelagayo) is a Zapotec name associated particularly with the Oaxacan Valley pre-Columbian site of Dainzu (known also as Macuilxochitl or Macuilsuchil). In Zapotec mythology and religion, Quiabelagayo has been interpreted by some researchers such as Alfonso Caso and Ignacio Bernal as a local Oaxacan equivalent of the central Mexican deity Macuilxochitl, or "Five Flower".
In post-conquest censuses and maps of the region, particularly the Relacion geografica de Macuilxochitl , Quiabelagayo is marked as the indigenous Zapotec toponym for the town San Mateo Macuilxochitl, the settlement adjoining the site of Dainzu.The derivation of the name is uncertain. John Paddock deconstructs the name Quiabelagayo as composed of the Zapotec word-stems for "rock", "serpent", and "five". Pictographically the Relacion geografica de Macuilxochitl translates or associates the name as "five flower". Joseph Whitecotton suggests that quia- should be read as "rock" or "hill" instead of "flower", and proposes that bela or pela means "reed"; therefore quiabelagayo can with justification be interpreted as "Hill of 5-Reed".San Bartolo Coyotepec
San Bartolo Coyotepec is a town and municipality located in the center of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is in the Centro District of the Valles Centrales region about fifteen km south of the capital of Oaxaca.The town is best known for its Barro negro pottery - black clay pottery. For hundreds of years pottery has been made here with a gray matte finish, but in the 1950s a technique was devised to give the pieces a shiny black finish without painting. This has made the pottery far more popular and collectable. The town is home to the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca (State Museum of Popular Art of Oaxaca) which was opened here in 2004, with a large portion of its collection consisting of barro negro pottery. There is also a barro negro mural on the recently opened Baseball Academy.Type site
In archaeology a type site (also known as a type-site or typesite) is a site that is considered the model of a particular archaeological culture. For example, the type site of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture is Jericho, in the West Bank. A type site is also often the eponym (the site after which the culture is named). For example, the type site of the pre-Celtic/Celtic Bronze Age Hallstatt culture is the lakeside village of Hallstatt, Austria.
In geology the term is used similarly for a site considered to be typical of a particular rock formation etc.
A type site contains artifacts, in an assemblage, that are typical of that culture. Type sites are often the first or foundational site discovered about the culture they represent. The use of this term is therefore similar to that of the specimen type in biology (see biological types) or locus typicus (type locality) in geology.Yagul
Yagul is an archaeological site and former city-state associated with the Zapotec civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The site was declared one of the country's four Natural Monuments on 13 October 1998. The site is also known locally as Pueblo Viejo (Old Village) and was occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest. After the Conquest the population was relocated to the nearby modern town of Tlacolula where their descendants still live.Yagul was first occupied around 500-100 BC. Around 500-700 AD, residential, civic and ceremonial structures were built at the site. However, most of the visible remains date to 1250-1521 AD, when the site functioned as the capital of a Postclassic city-state.The site was excavated in the 1950s and 60s by archaeologists Ignacio Bernal and John Paddock.Vestiges of human habitation in the area, namely cliff paintings at Caballito Blanco, date to at least 3000 BC. After the abandonment of Monte Albán about 800 AD, the region's inhabitants established themselves in various small centers such as Lambityeco, Mitla and Yagul.Zapotec peoples
The Zapotecs (Zoogocho Zapotec: Didxažoŋ) are an indigenous people of Mexico. The population is concentrated in the southern state of Oaxaca, but Zapotec communities also exist in neighboring states. The present-day population is estimated at approximately 800,000 to 1,000,000 persons, many of whom are monolingual in one of the native Zapotec languages and dialects. In pre-Columbian times, the Zapotec civilization was one of the highly developed cultures of Mesoamerica, which, among other things, included a system of writing. Many people of Zapotec ancestry have emigrated to the United States over several decades, and they maintain their own social organizations in the Los Angeles and Central Valley areas of California.
There are four basic groups of Zapotecs: the istmeños, who live in the southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the serranos, who live in the northern mountains of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, the southern Zapotecs, who live in the southern mountains of the Sierra Sur, and the Central Valley Zapotecs, who live in and around the Valley of Oaxaca.Zapoteco serrano, del sureste
Zapoteco serrano, del sureste is a name used by INALI for a variety of Zapotec recognized by the Mexican government. It corresponds to two ISO languages: