Monte Alban is a hill-top site, centrally located within the valley of Oaxaca. It controlled much of the modern state of Oaxaca during the Classic Period of Mesoamerican prehistory. The view seen here is from the North Platform. Click on this photograph and follow the links to other views of the site and of the valley.
   The ancient Zapotec civilization of the Valley of Oaxaca is famous for their subteranean tombs. Here you'll find two photographs of Tomb 104. The first is a ceramic statue depicting a seated person wearing the headdress of Cocijo, a major Zapotec diety. He sits in a niche above the entrace to tomb 104. The photograph which follows is of the interior of Tomb 104. The beautiful polychrome murals which adorn its walls are still visible today, though difficult to photograph using only the reflected sunlight from above.
   The Ball Court at Monte Alban is in the shape of a capital "I", and possesses no rings. However, it does possess a central stone marker which may have been used to bounce the ball at the beginning of a game (which Ignacio Bernal points out is the way Zapotecs begin a different ball game today). There are also four niches in the corners of the court which served an unknown function.
   The North Platform rests upon a natural rise in the bedrock. This monumental staircase leads to other structures located on top of the North Platform. A tall monument rests at the foot of this staircase, with carvings on all four visible sides. To the East of the staircase is a small chamber with a carved lintel and another carving inside.
   A labyrinth of tunnels criss-cross beneath the central plaza. Some lead to the other side of a building, others lead to the other side of the site. Here, one such tunnel is visible in the foreground, and two visitors peer into a chamber within this structure. Inside the chamber is a small opening which allowed light to enter from a hole in the platform above. This tube of light may have been used to map the passage of the sun across the sky at different seasons.
   Monte Alban had its beginnings in the Formative Period of Mesoamerican prehistory. Many of the most famous monuments were carved at that time. However, most of the architecture that is visible today was constructed during the later phases of the Classic Period. The earlier Classic and Formative monuments were not destroyed or covered up. Instead they were incorporated into the later structures as cornerstones or façade adornments. The monuments shown here are some of the most important political statements from the early Classic Period of Monte Alban.
   From on top of the South Platform, one can see the odd shape of Building J. This structure (seen in the center foreground) is shaped without right angles when viewed in plan. The uniqueness of this structure has led some scholars to assert that it acted as an astronomical observatory. The carvings on Building J record possible conquests of neighboring cities. These carvings depict named hills (in the Zapotec writing system) with severed or upside-down heads hanging from them.
 Some of the best examples of Monte Alban's bas-relief sculptures can be seen in the southwest corner of the main plaza. There, monuments such as the Danzante stones can be viewed. The Danzante stones were originally considered depictions of "Dancers" (hence the name Danzantes). But a more likely interpretation is that the "dancing" men are in fact sacrificial victems. The scrolls which eminate from their bowels and genitalia are probably depictions of ritual mutilation. These may be roughly contemporary with the conquest glyphs on Building J.

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