While the arts, crafts and festivities surrounding Dias de los Muertos were certainly drawing cards for me to visit this part of Mexico, I was also eager to experience history well before the Spanish colonial period, Anxious to continue my tour of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I set my sites on one just outside of Oaxaca. This time dating perhaps more than 500 years before Christ at the once buried city of Monte Alban. Here the ancient Zapotecs, who anthropologists pegged as originally migrating from Oceania in canoes, built a tremendous city that laster some 1300 years before around 700-900 AD Monte Alban fell into ruin.
The ruins I wandered through today date from approximately 300 -700 A.D. when the Zapotecs leveled the hilltop above Oaxaca and built great temples, plazas, ball courts and other buildings. Only a portion of Monte Alban has been excavated. The process began sometime in the 1930’s. More than 170 tombs were uncovered as well. The Zapotecs buried their dignitaries in elaborate tombs with all their personal belongings. Unfortunately early archaeologists didn’t manage the excavation very well. Many tombs were pilfered and for years artifacts were sold to high bidders. The Zapotecs were the first Mexicans to write and use a calendar and they terraced the hills and built communities throughout Oaxaca. And they are perhaps the only ancient people from these parts not to sacrifice humans. While there are many alters where animal sacrifices were performed, apparently the only human “sacrifices” occurred after a gentlemen’s ball-game. Ironically enough, in ancient Zapotec cultures, it was an honor to be killed after winning a ball-game. The only losers that were killed after a good game were those who came to the chiefs with a grievance. The grievance was resolved by playing a ball-game. Here the loser lost his life.
I had hoped to visit other Aztec ruins north of Oaxaca but my time in Mexico is running on a short lease. Originally my plans were to head to the Yucatan and Quintana Roo where I would explore the great Mayan cities of Palenque and Chichén Itzá, But hurricane Wilma has destroyed much of Cancún and information regarding roads and access to food and gasoline are sketchy. So after visiting San Cristobal de Las Casas i will head to the border of Guatemala.