he archaeological resources in the State of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HAH-cah), Mexico are so plentiful that, to date, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has discovered over 4,000 different archaeological sites. Sites of such overwhelming beauty have helped paved the way for the origins of Mexican culture, and remain open for visitors to enjoy. Monte Albán and Mitla are two sites that have become famous all around the world, attracting a high number of foreign visitors. Other sites worth mentioning are Yagul, Lambiteco and Dainzú.
The origins of the Mixtec and Zapotec cultures can be traced to the Monte Albán and Mitla archaeological sites, helping to pave the way for Oaxacan culture. Most of the symbols and trails found here are almost indecipherable, including the architectural style of the structures themselves.
Sites were designed to meet the standards of a much more demanding lifestyle than what we know today. It has always been amazing how locations for development of human life and culture were so wisely chosen. These archaeological sites are definitely ‘magical’, for the beauty they offer can reach for your heart once you arrive. Video or photographic images could never describe this feeling. You have to experience each the sights, sounds, atmosphere and the thrill of going back in time in person.
There are many less well-known sites in Oaxaca than Monte Albán and Mitla that are worth a visit, with the added benefit that the crowds are smaller and they can be more personally accessible. Here’s just one of them:
This site’s name comes from the Zapoteca word “danni”, which means mountain or hill and “zu”, which is Zapoteca for Cacti. Therefore, Dainzu means “Cacti Mountain”. The site was explored for the first time in 1965 by Mexican Archaeologist Ignacio Bernal, who came to find evidence od occupation from 750 AD until 1,000 AC. The most interesting point is a stone bas-relief gallery, that presents ball players, dressed in Pre-Hispanic garment, involved in some kind of violent activity. Another sight worth seeing is the portrait of four figures that seem to be the Four Gods of Fire.
This site has been built on artificial terraces, which are displayed in oblique positions, from the lower side of the valley over the western end of the hill. This is what gives the place its name. The main construction is formed by three intercommunicated buildings that feature different staircases, terraces, yards and rooms. The buildings’ architectural style and organization have helped define them as the administrative control centre for this ancient Pre-Hispanic village. The site’s influence extends as far as the current town of Macuilxochitl.
The three buildings have been named as: Structure A, Structure B and Ball Court.
Structure A. This site is composed by a pyramidal base that features four bodies, all the corners are rounded and the buildings feature a central staircase. On top of the pyramid, a group of walls that might have been used to accommodate the inhabitants’ quarters, can be found. Inside this accommodations, there are two more stairways that served as an accessing way to these rooms. The most important constructions are located in the southern side of the fourth building: A series of stone bas-relieves, representing the Ball Players. The athletes are portrayed wearing gloves, feline like masks and they hold a small ball in their hands. It is assumed that the four Deities that blessed the game are included in this portraits. The latter can be described as delightful imprints. On top of the hill, there are the sculptures of other masks and ball player heads displayed, these too are engraved in stone.
Structure B. This construction is a huge platform, surrounded by different staircases, yards and rooms, all divided by stone walls. One of the most outstanding sights here is the Jaguar Tomb, carved in stone in the shape of a jaguar with the lintel forming the head and the doorjambs forming its front legs. Also included in Structure B is the Amarillo Temple which faces West and was painted with yellow ocre, probably for religious reasons.
Originally this complex had two separate terraces, which were connected by the “Templo Amarillo “. There are underground drainage channels for rainwater in several places. These are well constructed with rectangular cross-section.
Inside the terraces, four funerary chambers were found and several simpler tombs. The most important tomb (tomb 7, the Jaguar Tomb), was completely private and access was through a stairway.
Ball Court. This space has been classified as the ball playing court. The court, shaped as a double ‘T’, has been partially rebuilt. It features two lateral platforms, sustained by a wall carved in stone that shapes the court in slopes. Chronologically, it has been reported to date back to 1,000 AC. Interestingly enough, due to the court’s construction’s date, it is not possible to relate it to the Ball Players’ portraits, located in the site’s main building.
This Archaeological zone is located 12.43 miles south-east of Oaxaca City, off Federal Highway 190, headed for Istmo de Tehuantepec. The site is approximately 300 m. away from the before mentioned highway, driving through an unpaved deviation that is close to the road’s 20 km. sign. Estimated travelling time: 30 min.
So you can see that if you want to see ancient pyramids you don’t have to go all the way to Egypt. You can see them, walk around in them and explore their many mysteries right next door in Mexico!
Courtesy of Ministry of Tourism Development of the Oaxaca State. www.oaxaca.gob.mx
Some photos courtesy of http://oaxaca-travel.com and http://www.delange.org/Dainzu1/Dainzu1.htm
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