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date: 15 December 2019

Zapoteclocked

  • John Paddock

Extract

Pre-Columbian people and stylistic tradition in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. These people’s name for themselves was Peni-Zaa (‘real people’), but the term Zapotec (‘people of the sweet fruit’) is an Aztec improvisation based on the rough phonetic similarity of zaa and Aztec tsa. There is no simple Zapotec art style, rather an orderly uninterrupted sequence of styles stretching from c. 500 bc to c.ad 800. After 600 bc culture was centred around the hilltop city of Monte Albán. The Zapotec and Mixtec peoples are still the most numerous of the Indian peoples in Oaxaca: the Zapotecs dominate the eastern portion of the state, the Mixtecs the western. Linguistic research, however, suggests that Zapotec inhabitants of the region could date back to c. 4500 bc.

From 1931 the Mexican scholar Alfonso Caso began exploring Monte Albán and the Oaxaca Valley; his work remains a primary source for the study of Zapotec–Mixtec culture. The centuries of isolation essential to a rare case of homogeneous development like that of the Zapotec people of Monte Albán were favoured by topography: range after range of mountains on every side made communication with the central valleys of Oaxaca, at whose confluence Monte Albán rises, laborious and slow. Settled agricultural villages appeared in the valleys, as elsewhere in Mesoamerica, by about ...

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