Collection Description

Tradition Name

Highland Mesoamerican Late Preclassic

Tradition Description

The Highland Mesoamerican Late Preclassic tradition runs from about 2600 to 1600 BP (600 BC-AD 400) in the mountainous inland regions of Mesoamerica. During this time period the site of Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca becomes a city and then the Zapotec state. As the state expands a permanent military begins and helps it to colonize neighboring areas. Interregional trade is important both for status items for the elite and obsidian for the military. Examples of writing are present on public architecture.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Middle America and the Caribbean --General Middle America and the Caribbean





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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The documents in this collection discuss the Late Highland Mesoamerican Preclassic tradition in the highlands of Mexico from around 2600 BP to 1600 BP. No document provides an overview of the Preclassic tradition.

One document discusses the Basin of Mexico; Sanders et al. (1979, no. 1) presents the results of field work there in the 1960s and early 1970s. To the south of the Basin of Mexico lies the Cuicatlán Cañada. Redmond (1983, no. 6) studied settlement patterns there in order to learn about Zapotec colonization practices and the rise of militarism and of the state in Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca to the south. Spencer (1982, no. 2) also explores the development of the Zapotec state within the context of its interactions with the Cuicatlán Cañada. The ceramics from Cuicatlán Cañada were analyzed using neutron-activation to determine whether some of the ceramics found there were trade items or ones made in the Cañada to look like ones from Monte Albán (Redmond and Harbottle 1983, no. 5). An earlier study of the ceramics from Cuicatlán Cañada is found in Spencer and Redmond (1982, no. 19). Expansion of the Zapotec state is also the focus of Marcus and Flannery (1996, no. 28). They examine the evidence for colonization and conquest between the Valley of Oaxaca and the Pacific Ocean to the south.

The remainder of the documents discuss Monte Albán and the Valley of Oaxaca. Using data from the site of San José Mogote, Marcus and Flannery (1996, no. 9) discuss how early warfare shaped society during the Rosario phase. Several authors examine, discuss, analyze, and use settlement pattern data to support their hypotheses. Fisch (1982, no. 21) looks at the settlement patterns for the Early and Middle Formative periods while Blanton (1978, no. 3) examines settlement patterns within the city of Monte Albán. The sudden rise of the site of Monte Albán and the synoikism (the bringing together of many settlements to form a single polity) that occurred is examined by Marcus and Flannery (1996, no. 10). The document by Kowalewski et al. (1989, no. 4) describes the complete systematic survey of the entire Valley of Oaxaca before discussing settlement patterns. Blanton et al. (1982, no. 20) is a progress report on that survey as of 1975 and covers the central and southern portions of the valley. Drennan (1989, no. 15) describes the sites found in the mountains to the north of the Valley of Oaxaca. Most of the survey work done by Kowalewski and Blanton did not include mountainous terrain so this provides a complement to that survey. Fortified sites are covered by Elam (1989, no. 16) and cave sites by Finsten et al. (1989, no. 14). Using the more specialized data on the distribution of public structures Blanton (1989, no. 17) examines the cycles of Monte Albán's power. Two authors use the settlement data to examine land use and population distribution (Nicholas 1989, no. 18 and Kowaleski 1982, no. 23). The evolution of the Zapotec state from a chiefdom and the archaeological evidence for statehood is examined by Marcus and Flannery (1996, nos. 26 and 27).

Ceramics gathered during the survey of the valley are described and classified by Kowalewski et al. (1978, no. 11) to help date the sites. Feinman (1982, nos. 24 and 25) used the ceramic data to look for evidence of administrative control over ceramic manufacture and distribution. Kuttruff (1978, no. 12) presents a descriptive catalog of the figurines and urn fragments that were recovered from the site of Monte Albán. Kuttruff and Autry (1978, no. 13) conducted test excavations on a terrace at Monte Albán and they focus on describing the artifacts found within a Monte Albán II tomb on the terrace. Appell (1982, no. 22) summarizes ethnohistoric data for the Postclassic but this data can be used to help reconstruct the political institutions of the Preclassic.

For further information on individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Administrative-ceremonial institutions - use "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Agricultural potential - use "TILLAGE (241)"

Ball courts – use "RECREATIONAL STRUCTURES (345)"

Bajío – a flat place or flat lands; use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"

Barranca – a ravine or hole caused by water erosion - use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)" or "ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY (318)" when man-made

Building materials - use "CONSTRUCTION (331)"

Burned daub - use "MASONRY (333)"

Cabecera – capital - use "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Cajete – a flat bowl of unburnished clay in which pulque is sold - use "UTENSILS (415)"

Cañada – a canyon or deep, narrow valley, frequently with a stream running through it -  use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"

Caves – use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"; for use as dwellings - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Comales -  use "UTENSILS (415)"

Danzates – it means dancers in Spanish; carved stone monuments - use "MNEMONIC DEVICES (211)" or use "LITHIC INDUSTRIES (324)" with use "VISUAL ARTS (5311)"

Jade – when found in an archaeological site use "MINING AND QUARRYING (316)," use "ORNAMENT (301)" for ornaments, and use "LITHIC INDUSTRIES (324)" for worked jade

Military leagues - use "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)"

Milpa agriculture - use "TILLAGE (241)"

Mojonera – a landmark - use "MNEMONIC DEVICES (211)"

Molcajete – a vessel for grinding chili - use "GENERAL TOOLS (412)"

Mounds - use "PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)" with "RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)" for unspecified mounds; use "MISCELLANEOUS FACILITIES (368)" for mound distribution

Paramountcy – a form of regional political-spatial organization - use "FORM AND RULES OF GOVERNMENT (642)"

Piedmont orientation or piedmont strategy - use "TILLAGE (241)" with "LAND USE (311)"

Sahumadores – also known as censers, incensarios, braziers, or braseros. They were used to burn incense, such as copal, or other organic materials. In the Valley of Oaxaca they were shaped like small, solid handled frying pans. Use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)"

Secret passageways/staircases/tunnels - use "RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)" with "STREETS AND TRAFFIC (363)"

Shatter zone – uninhabited area between sites - use "LOCATION (131)"

Synoikism - the bringing together of many settlements to form a single polity; - use "URBAN AND RURAL LIFE (369)"

Tecomate – a gourd-shaped vessel - use "UTENSILS (415)"

Tepetate – a type of soil, often called "caliche" or a local type of limestone - use "SOIL (134)"

Tezontle – volcanic rock - use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"

Tzompantli - a wooden rack for displaying skulls, usually human - use "APPARATUS (417)" for descriptions of the rack itself; use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)" for the displayed skulls

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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