Tomb Seven at Monte Albán

Monté Albán is an archaeological site dating back to the Late Classic Period from 650 to 800 A.D (World Monument Fund). Monté Albán means “White Mountain” (“Visit Mexico”). Many tourists flock from around the world to the outskirts of Oaxaca to visit the Zapotec ruins, which are known for having a spectacular mountain view.

The mountaintop city contained a complex culture. For example, their art can be seen in their sophisticated architecture and sculptures. The city contains buildings, such as an observatory, a ball court, residential palaces, temples, and many tombs. The structures within the city suggest that the city’s social structure can be compared to an acropolis with a feudal system. The tombs indicated the complex burial rituals and customs. Another example is seen in the Zapoteca’s simplified calendar system. The Zapoteca kept time by using the Calendar Round, which is a combination of the Tzolkin and the Haab’. The Tzolkin was a 260-day calendar that kept sacred days. The Haab’ was a 365-day solar calendar. The Calendar Round was actually round, and it functioned much like two gears would. The effect was that both calendars synchronized into a simpler, an all-in-one calendar. Lastly, the city traded with Oaxaca and developed their own system of pictographic writing.

What is interesting is that around 700 A. D., Monté Albán was abandoned. Many of the high priests and royalty left. The commoners did not immediately leave the city. The city was not abandoned because of war; There are no signs of military force. A likely story is an economic downturn. The city Teotihuacan had undergone a great fire. The fire subsequently placed the Zapoteca’s economy into stagnation, which once combined with infertile crops, created the city’s decline in the 14th century. Shortly after the decline, Monté Albán was later reused and reoccupied by the Mixtec.

Alfonso Caso, an archaeologist, arrived in the once Zapotec capital and started digging around. He was credited with the site’s discovery. Caso was attributed for proving that there are at least five major phases in the long history of Monté Albán. He provided a chronology of its history and its relations to other sites, as well as, deciphering the Mixtec Codices. Caso found an area where there were as many as 170 tombs, all of which were filled with paintings, carvings, and other artifacts.

The tombs in Mesoamerica were chamber-like burials locations that were spacious enough to hold the remains of one or more individuals, as well as any material items. Often these uncovered tombs and the artifacts they hold offer great insights into pre-conquest Mesoamerican art and craftsmanship. The artifacts aid archaeologist “interpretation of Mesoamerican worldviews, religious ideologies, and artistic canons” (Andrews).

Out of the 170 tombs, Caso uncovered was Tomb Seven. This tomb has gained its own reputation for being one of the richest archaeological finds. The structure was originally built in the Classic Period. It was reused during the Late Postclassical. Some of the artifacts include skeletons, bone carvings, jade necklaces, earplugs, bead work, and other offerings.

Seven’s findings included nine skeletons and over 500 grave offerings. Of the nine bodies, one was named Individual A. According to Geoffrey McCafferty, Individual A was found with “a human skull covered with turquoise and shell mosaic plaques and with a flat shell representing a knife projecting from the nasal cavity” (McCafferty 144). Caso found the skull on an altar. As Caso documented the items he found, he made guesses as to what the items were, their purpose, and the like. Caso happened to assume the remains of Individual A were male. However, it is now believed that Individual A was a female.

In fact, recent studies suggest a more engendered perspective. When McCafferty revisited Tomb Seven, he found there was substantial evidence pointing at Individual A is a woman. The artifacts and offerings found were feminine. For instance, McCafferty found sewing items, such as battens, spindle whorls, onyx, and crystal spinning bowls within Tomb Seven that support the new interpretation. In fact, if Individual A is a female, it is likely that she was associated with the Crass Lady, a goddess. Other items like carved bones, were not interpreted as weaving tools by Caso despite how “he did identify a scene on one of the bones in which a possible batten was carried by Lady 9 Reed, whom he associated with an Aztec goddess Tlaxolteotl, patroness of weavers” (McCafferty 146). This new development calls archeologist to have an open mind in revisiting artifacts.

Today, people can go and visit Tomb Seven at Monté Albán and see it’s artifacts at the San Domingo Cathedral. Unfortunately, there are consequences of tourism. As Foote points out, Monté Albán only offers a tourism revenue. Foote expresses that one of the consequences of tourism is that people are living too close to the site and it persists as an issue in preservation, as well as, aiding the impoverished obtain aid from the government. Despite this issue, the rediscovery of Monté Albán and Tomb Seven have given valuable insight into the Zapotec society, culture, religion, and history, much of which is still being studied.