Monte Alban is located in the present state of Oaxaca, Mexico, just outside of Oaxaca City. Monte Alban emerged as the center of political authority in the Valley of Oaxaca around 400 B.C., because it commanded the best terrain in the valley for agriculture and dense settlement.

The city developed as a ceremonial center over several hundred years, from 500 BC to 700 AD. The Zapotecs ruled Monte Alban throughout this time, but there was significant cultural contact with Teotihucan in the center of Mexico. The collapse of Monte Alban is suggested to be linked with the collapse of Teotihucan, perhaps due to loss of an important trading partner.

Though Monte Alban collapsed, the Zapotec culture remains just as distinctive today. Religious worship at Monte Alban was based on ancestor worship and a pantheon of gods. The pottery figure seen here is Xipe Totec from one of the tombs at Monte Alban. Xipe is the “flayed god” associated with human sacrifice. This god is present among many of the Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihucan and the Aztecs.

After the abandonment of Monte Alban by the Zapotecs, the Mixtecs moved into the Valley, resulting in conlifts between the two cultures which lasted until Spanish Conquest. The Mixtecs utilized Monte Alban tombs for their dead, though they did not occupy the site. The gold pendant shown here is from a Monte Alban tomb dating to the beginning of the 1400s. The pendent represents Mictllanteuhtli, the 'Lord of Death', recognizable by his fleshless jaws.

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