Monte Albán Archaeological Site
The ancient Zapotec metropolis of Monte Albán was founded in the 6th century B.C. on a flattened mountain overlooking the city of Oaxaca. The history of the site is documented in its architectural remains spread over some 6.5 square kilometers, including structures built around the Great Plaza, the north and south ends of which are anchored by massive platform mounds. Most of the existing ruins date to the Late Classic period from 650 to 800 A.D. Numerous stelae depict images of captives and Zapotec inscriptions. The Zapotec culture declined in the late 8th century, and major development activity at the site ceased. In the 14th century, areas of Monte Albán were reoccupied by Mixtec peoples.
The hieroglyphic inscriptions at Monte Albán have been eroding rapidly from exposure to the elements. Looting and vandalism of the site have occurred over time. Tourism has created new challenges, as the public is not always provided with clear guidance about how to visit the site and respect the fragile remains. The site needs improved tourism management plans to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the archaeological site while keeping clear of places that are too fragile to bear heavy foot traffic. As an added assault to Monte Albán, recent forest fires have decimated much of the buffer zone around the site, destroying native crops and superficially damaging the architectural remains through exposure to smoke and ash.
How We Helped
The Monte Albán Archaeological Site, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987, was listed on the 2008 Watch due to the threats it faced. The World Heritage designation calls attention to the great importance of the site and Watch listing signals there are improvements needed to assure the sustainability of the archaeological zone. WMF’s project at Monte Albán focuses on the conservation, documentation, and interpretation of the carved stones and has benefitted from both public and private sector support. The National Institute of Anthropology and History and the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation have provided funds for the construction of the laboratory and storage facility required to implement the conservation work and protect the stones.
Why It Matters
The text on the stones at Monte Albán is significant in providing insight into this ancient Zapotec civilization. Preventing further decay of the stones is essential to continuing research in the field and to long-term appreciation of Zapotec culture.