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  • Writer's picturejanie cravens

To all the archaeological buffs (and other curious sorts).


The 50-foot-long limestone and stucco relief contains one of the lengthiest examples of Zapotec writing in the Oaxaca Valley

Smithsonian Magazine (online) just published an interesting article about Monte Alban and Atzompa (thanks to Lee Harris for the alert!) -- If you cannot open the link below you may have to subscribe at

Also, Mexico News Daily had this to say: The frieze – which contains a series of Zapotec and Mixtec glyphs depicting the Mixtec year of the lizard, numerals, personages and a quetzal, among other things – has a well conserved section measuring 15 meters. The glyphs carved onto it constitute the longest Zapotec text of its kind known to exist in the Oaxaca Valley

Reading all this made me ruminate about the meaning of Los Danzantes (the dancers) that we see at Monte Alban. When I first visited them (30 years ago) I bought the idea conveyed in the name - that they were in some kind of ecstatic dance. Ten years later under Pablo Marsch's tutelage I learn they are not dancing, but perhaps writhing in pain. Maybe they were medical experiments, maybe they were war captives being tortured. Lately I've heard theories that they might be victims of an epidemic.

War captives?

Building L, located on the western edge of the plaza, features carved stone slabs with images of naked, sometimes mutilated figures. The slabs, of which some 300 are known, are called Danzantes, or dancers, because of their distorted and awkward postures. Although Building L was subsequently altered and many stones removed, enough remains of the original presentation to see a massive gallery of stacked rows of stone depicting Monte Albán’s captives and victims. It served as a powerful reminder of Monte Albán’s authority to residents of the valley and to visitors from the farthest reaches of Mesoamerica.

Medical Victims?

Looking at the Danzantes, it is most likely that they symbolise death, because the eyes are closed and they closely resemble lifelessly limp, tangled and contorted corpses. For reasons stated earlier, this doesn’t mean these are defeated enemies, but the only other people who were honoured with stone effigies are heroes and they wouldn’t be pictured nude, deformed and slumped in agonising death. With more than 300 anonymous gravestones of sickly looking humans, it would make more sense if they represented an epidemic.

Looking at one of the most famous of the Danzantes, there are a number of clues that suggest disease might be the subject, rather than trophies of war. Firstly, it’s a woman; secondly, she has some sort of deformity around the genital area; thirdly, there is a curious image in the womb of a man who wears a hat and earring, which is most likely meant to symbolise that someone important died in her womb.

Adios for now as I will spend Sunday afternoon reading Los Danzantes theories on the internet. If you find some great ones, email me! Hugs, Janie

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