Ancient Zapotec CivilizationCategory: Articles
Archaeologists believe that the first American Indians arrived in the New World by way of the Bering Strait. These migrations took place during the Ice Age when the sea levels were lowered and a land bridge was exposed between Alaska and Siberia.
This occurred sometime between 15.000 and 20.000 years ago. At this time much of North America was covered in glaciers. Many immigrants continued traveling until they reached ice free corridors in the areas that we now know as Texas. New Mexico. Arizona, and northern Mexico. These first people lived under rock outcroppings and in caves. They were nomadic, traveling seasonally to the areas where food was the most abundant.
These first Americans survived by hunting wild animals and foraging for wild plants. They hunted with spears and darts that were tipped with obsidian, and usually they used an atlatl, which was a wooden device that worked as an extension of the human arm. It increased the velocity of the spear. At this time, the bow and arrow had yet reached this part of the world. The first Zapotecs hunted mammoths, antelope, rabbits, deer, gopher, horse, squirrels, rats, fox and quail. Jackrabbits and pronghom antelope were the mainstay of their diet. Both of these animals could be hunted communally. Jackrabbits were plentiful and they lived in burrows on the surface of the ground. The Indians learned that by beating the bushes they could herd them into box canyons where they would be clubbed to death. Antelope were hunted in a similar fashion. However, they were not as plentiful. At this time, meat was usually roasted over an open fire or in earthen ovens. Sometime around 8000BC the Ice Age ended.
During the Archaic time period, from 8.000 to 2.000 ВС the Oaxaca Valley was occupied by no more than 200 people. During this time period much of the valley was covered in mesquite. The syrup found in the pods of the mesquite became a popular food source. The earliest Zapotec also enjoyed wild fruits, acorns from the oak trees, and the tender young stems of the prickly pear cactus. They also hunted deer and other wild animals. It was during this time period that the very first plants were being domesticated. Probably, the first plant domesticated was the gourd. Bottle gourd were extremely important because they were used by the hunter gathers as portable water containers. Before long, beans, squashes, and corn were also cultivated. However, of all of the crops harvested com became the most important. The first cobs were very small. It would take centuries for the corn cobs to be the size they are today.
Then by 2.000 ВС people began to permanently settle in small villages in the Valley of Oaxaca. These first Zapotec settlements were located next to the Atoyac River where there was very high water table. The population of the valley was growing. Social conflicts no longer could be solved by splitting up camp, now they were tied to a piece of humid bottom land. Homes at this time had roofs thatched with reeds and grasses.
Pine posts supported the roof and the walls were made out of bundles of canes lashed together and plastered over. This style is called “wattle and daub.” These early Zapotecs no longer used flint-tipped arrows or darts. They trapped animals using nets. Also, at this time the domestic dog was introduced and added to their diet. This was soon followed by the domestic turkey. Then, around 1500 ВС the Zapotec began to develop their pottery skills. They made bowls and jars in reddish brown colors. At about the same time, religious rituals were developed by the villages. These rituals involve drink, smoking wild tobacco, food, dancing, music, and costumes. The costumes were made from animal parts and bird feathers, with some marine shell. Then, from 1150 to 850BC. the population in the Valley of Oaxaca tripled to about 2.000 and the amount of villages doubled to 40.
Between 850 and 700BC witnessed the construction of public buildings throughout the Oaxaca Valley. This construction was spurred by the elite. At this time, the towns of Huitzo and San Jose Mogote emerged as competing rival centers. These centers were ruled over by a big chief. These chiefs lived in houses that were larger and better made than the commoners. They also had the finest quality of pottery, and most of their curtains were made of brightly colored feathers. Fashions were important. Women wore distinctive headgear, car ornaments, turbans, and necklaces. It was fashionable to wear well-made sandals so that their feet did not touch the ground.
Between 700 and 500 ВС raiding and burning villages became more and more common. The main objectives were to bum the enemies temple and take as many people prisoner as possible to be sacrificed. Then around 500BC several villages uprooted, and relocated on Monte Alban. The population grew rapidly. B\ 200 ВС there were roughly 17.000 inhabitants. At this time it was one of the largest cities in the New World. Roughly, one-third of the Zapotec population now lived in Monte Alban. Like the Mayans, they had been forced to seek refuge in a citadel on top of a mountain. The population of Monte Alban would peck somewhere between 50.000 and 100.000 people.
Monte Alban saw the emergence of hieroglyphic writing, a 365-day calender, distinctive art styles, and the highest refined level of pottery that the New World had seen. During the period called Monte Alban II there was a tremendous increase in the amount of public buildings. The incredible hill-top city was now covered in temples, ball-courts, palaces, and living quarters. Nobles in this time period lived in large palaces constructed out of adobe bricks and lime plaster. Built on stone foundations, each of the palaces had a central patio. At this time, Zapotec kings were known to dress in costumes, and wear a variety of masks. There faces were never seen by commoners. They wore feathered headdresses, jade jewelry, and kilts covered in sea shells.
Monte Alban has been an archeologists dream. Excavations have wielded a wealth of clay artifacts. Possibly, the greatest collection of jewelry ever found in Mesoamerica was discovered here in 1931. In a multiple tomb, with the remains of nine people, more than 300 objects of gold, silver, copper, jade, turquoise, pearls, and crystal were found. So far excavations have discovered 153 tombs in Monte Alban.
The Zapotec expanded their empire as far north as Teotihuacan. Except for Teotihuacan in the north, there were no other provinces as powerful as the Zapotec. The Zapotec had excellent diplomatic relations with Teotihuacan, and they maintained a barrio in that city.