Thursday, July 7, 2011

NEH Day 2 -- Monte Alban and Rancho Zapata

We began Tuesday's excursion at Monte Alban. The ruins of the structures that survive were built by the Zapotec and give us a picture of ceremonial life in a city that reached its zenith between 350CE and 550CE, about 1,000 years before Mitla's rise.

Unlike Mitla, Monte Alban was built on a strategic hilltop that is at the intersection of three arms of the Valley of Oaxaca. It was abandoned, possibly abruptly, around 850CE and was deserted until the Mixtec appropriated it as a sacred burial ground and continued to use it up to and after the arrival of the Spanish in 1519.

Some of the first archaeologists to explore the site in the 19th Century were -- no surprise here -- Germans, but systematic exploration and documentation began later in the early 20th Century led by Alfonso Caso. It was his work that uncovered the Zapotec treasure -- both in terms of objects and knowledge gained -- from Tomb 7, much of which can be seen today in the Museo of the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. Reading the following article has shown me that while we covered a lot of ground in our two-hour visit, we didn't even scratch the surface of what there is to know about this site:

Tomb 7.

(I've posted some new photos but am still having problems with wonky WiFi, so uploading photos has been a struggle. I'll keep at it but may not get a lot up until I return to NYC next month.)

On our way to Mitla, we stopped at a mezcal plant and learned the various stages of turning agave into a potent drink. We sampled several varieties before we ate a splendid meal:

Estofado Oaxaqueno

The group dynamic continues to be positive and enriching. We're all negotiating social boundaries with 30 or more new acquaintances while grappling with a lot of visual and intellectual stimulation, so it's tiring, but in a good way. I feel very lucky to be here and am just as happy socializing for hours on end as I am going off on my own. So far, I've found a balance that's working for me.

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