SMU in Oaxaca

During winter term 2009-10, seven students will earn Art History/CF credit studying ancient archaeological sites, Colonial art and architecture, folk art and religious fiestas in the Valley of Oaxaca, the Sierra Norte, Sierra Madre del Sur and on the Pacific Coast as part of SMU-in-Oaxaca.

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Monte Alban

An update from Anne, a graduate student in history with a focus on the U.S. Southwest and Mexico who is doing research on Indian history:

Dec30-1.JPG Arriving just prior to the swarm of visitors and tourists alike, we took advantage of the vast open space of Monte Alban (photo, left).

Like Mitla, this, too, was occupied by the Zapotec and also like its counterpart, exhibits sheer power and intellect. Still, there are some noticeable and appreciable differences.

Higher authority, such as the priests, lived within the site, while others, commoners, lived in the valley below. All, however, interacted with this sacred and religious space. Everything within this site has some meaning behind it, and part of the activities for the day rested in figuring out just what certain spaces were used for and what they have to say about the Zapotecs who lived there.

Dec30-2.JPG For instance, the ball court consisted of a space enclosed by pyramid-like walls and platforms that overlook the long narrow court. One can easily visualize the importance of such a place. A player would have needed a great deal of padding to protect their body from the impact of the rubber ball they played with.

A religious meaning is derived from such a place as well. The Zapotec were extremely knowledgeable, like other Meso-American cultures, concerning the intricacies of astrology and agricultural cycles. This is prevalent among various buildings, such as Structure J, a structure our instructor loves much – we were left feeling obliged to tease her with some good-natured ribbing. This site was abandoned prior to Spanish arrival, but since then, a great deal of restoration has gone into these ruins in order to maintain and display their importance to the pre-Hispanic history of Mexico.

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