Brief Time-Line of Archaeological Fieldwork at Monte Albán*
Guillaume Dupaix visits Monte Albán and records architecture, carved stones with “danzantes”, and other artifacts.
William Henry Holmes visited Monte Albán and produced relatively detailed descriptions and drawings of the ruins and some carved stones. At the time, he was a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago. See more here.
Dr. Fernando Sologuren and Francisco Belmar, local professionals and artifact collectors, explore Monte Albán.
Leopoldo Bartres visited Monte Albán and carried out limited excavations of tombs and structures, including Building L. He later published a map of the Main Plaza, drawings of carved stone monuments and a study of hieroglyphic writing from the site.
——–Modern Era of Research———
Alfonso Caso and colleagues, including Jorge Acosta and Ignacio Bernal, carried out 18 field seasons of investigations at Monte Albán. Stratigraphic excavations of structures and residences within and around the Main Plaza and uncovered more than 170 tombs. Among their most spectacular was finds was the discovery of Tomb 7 in 1932. Caso’s team also investigated outlying areas as well, such as the 7 Venado complex and Atzompa. Their efforts included reconstruction of Monte Albán’s major buildings, which visitors see today.
Richard Blanton and colleagues carry out extensive survey of Monte Albán and surrounding environs. Study includes settlement pattern analysis of the site. The project also resulted in a detailed map of Monte Albán and adjacent hilltop settlements (e.g., Atzompa, Cerro del Gallo, El Paragüito, El Plumaje, Monte Albán Chico, El Mogollito).
Marcus Winter and colleagues carry out excavations of residential areas at Monte Albán in an area located northwest of the Main Plaza. Houses date from Period I to IIIB-IV.
Bernd Fahmel Beyer carries out intensive architectural study of buildings on Main Plaza and produces detailed maps of these structures.
Ernesto González Licón and colleagues carry out excavations at 15 residences in 3 different areas at Monte Albán located north and east of the Main Plaza.
The Proyecto Especial de Monte Albán (PEMA), directed by Marcus Winter, carries out excavations in several areas, including the North and South Platforms. The PEMA also results in a detailed total station map of Main Plaza and surrounding areas.
Nelly Robles García carries out a restoration project at Monte Albán, following damage to more than a dozen structures caused by the 1999 earthquake. This interdisciplinary project included archaeologists, architects, engineers, geophysicists, and geologists. The restoration efforts included limited excavations of several structures on the Main Plaza.
The Proyecto Arqueologico del Conjunto Monumental de Atzompa, led by Nelly Robles García, included the excavation and restoration of several monumental structures, residences, plazas, and ballcourts at Atzompa. Closely related to Monte Albán, Atzompa is located a few kilometers northwest of the Main Plaza and is linked by ancient roads and paths. The site is open to the public and artifacts from the project are displayed at the Museo Comunitario de Santa María Atzompa.
Christian Duverger and colleagues carry out investigations at the 7 Venado complex, located just a few hundred meters southeast of the Main Plaza.
Monte Albán Geophysical Archaeology Project, led by Marc Levine, carried out geophysical prospection on the site’s Main Plaza, including ground penetrating radar, electrical resistance, and gradiometry. The project also created topographic maps of the Main Plaza using aerial photogrammetry and a robotic total station.
*Note: This time-line does not provide an exhaustive list of all research projects carried out at Monte Albán. In particular, the list does not include some of the important conservation, salvage, and research projects carried out by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).
During Monte Albán’s heyday, from 500 BCE to 800 CE, scholars believe the site was home to Zapotec (or Bènizàa) speakers. This attribution is based on studies of hieroglyphic texts from the site and general similarities to the Zapotec language spoken today. Following Monte Albán’s political collapse, however, other ethnic groups visited and used the site. Most notably, later groups reopened Classic Period tombs during the Late Postclassic (14-16th Centuries) to bury their dead. The most famous example is Tomb 7, which includes hundreds of offerings that are stylistically linked to Mixtec (or Ñuu Dzahui) people.
Information on Zapotec hieroglyphic writing from Monte Albán can be found here.
Information on Mixtec culture and language can be found here.
Archaeological understanding of Monte Albán’s history is based on the ceramic chronology devised by Alfonso Caso, Ignacio Bernal, and Jorge Acosta and presented in La Cerámica de Monte Albán (1967). Caso’s chronology utilized roman numerals, beginning with the site’s founding in Period I and ending with Period V. Subsequent research at Monte Albán, however, found irreconcilable issues with the chronology that led Marcus Winter, Cira Martínez López, Robert Markens, and Michael Lind to propose a new chronology utilizing phase names (e.g., Pe, Nisa, Tani). A chart presenting the revised chronology alongside Caso’s original version appears below (from Winter 2011).
Zapotec Writing: Knowledge, Memory, and Power in Ancient Oaxaca (Download Part 1, text & Part 2, figures). By Javier Urcid. 2005. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. Crystal River, FL.
Geophysical Prospection of Monte Albán’s Main Plaza: An Overview of Results (A. Regnier, S. Hammerstedt, and M. Levine). Paper presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Washington D.C., 2018.
Mapping from the Heavens: UAV(Drone) Data Collection at Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico. (A. Badillo and M. Levine). Paper presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Washington D.C., 2018.
Monte Albán’s Main Plaza: New Perspectives Gained through Geophysical Prospection and Digital Mapping (M. Levine, A. Badillo, S. Hammerstedt, A. Regnier, and M. Winter). Paper presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Washington D.C., 2018.
The Discovery of a New Buried Building on Monte Albán’s Main Plaza (S. Hammerstedt, A. Regnier, and M. Levine). Paper presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Washington D.C., 2018.
Levine, Marc N., Scott W. Hammerstedt, Amanda Regnier, and Alex E. Badillo 2021 Monte Albán’s Hidden Past: Buried Buildings and Sociopolitical Transformation. Latin American Antiquity 32(1):76-98.