The Peoples of America

General Editors: Alan Kolata and Dean Snow

This series is about the native peoples and civilizations of the Americas, from their origins in ancient times to the present day. Drawing on archaeological, historical, and anthropological evidence, each volume presents a fresh and absorbing account of a group’s culture, society, and history.

Accessible and scholarly, and well illustrated with maps and photographs, the volumes of The Peoples of America will together provide a comprehensive and vivid picture of the character and variety of the societies of the American past.

Already published:

The Tiwanaku: A Portrait of an Andean Civilization

Alan Kolata

The Timucua

Jerald T. Milanich

The Aztecs

Second Edition

Michael E. Smith

The Cheyenne

John Moore

The Iroquois

Dean Snow

The Moche

Garth Bowden

The Nasca

Helaine Silverman and Donald A. Proulx

The Incas

Terence N. D’Altroy

The Sioux

Guy Gibbon

Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos: Ancient Peoples of Southern Mexico

Arthur A. Joyce

To Christine


Map of Mesoamerica showing sites and obsidian sources mentioned in the text
Photo of Tututepec showing the colonial church and the sacred hill of Yucu Dzaa
The Mexican state of Oaxaca showing geographical regions, rivers, and mountain ranges
PEMA excavations at Monte Albán
Excavations at the site of Cerro de la Cruz in the lower Río Verde Valley
Ceramic phases in Oaxaca
View of the Valley of Oaxaca
View of the Nochixtlán Valley with the Yanhuitlán church in the foreground and the archaeological site of Cerro Jazmín in the background
View of the lower Río Verde Valley
Modern lama-bordo terracing in the Nochixtlán Valley
INAH excavations in front of the Cueva del Diablo (Devil’s Cave) near Mitla
Archaeological sites of the Archaic through early Middle Formative periods (8000–700 BC) in Oaxaca
Idealized plan of Formative-period house with associated burial, oven, midden, and bell-shaped pit features
Group of Tierras Largas-phase figurines from the site of Hacienda Blanca, Valley of Oaxaca
Early Formative public buildings from Area C at San José Mogote
Olmec-style artifacts from Oaxaca: (a) photo of hollow baby figurine from Etlatongo; (b) fire-serpent and were-jaguar motifs
Early and Middle Formative figurines from the Valley of Oaxaca: (a) Guadalupe-phase female figurine; (b) San José-phase female figurine; (c) San José-phase figurine, possibly male; (d) costumed figure with ritual attire including a zoomorphic mask and necklace, San José phase
Burials from the Tomaltepec cemetery: (a) Burial 20 with ceramic offerings; (b) Burial 57 with ceramic offerings
Archaeological sites of the later Formative (700 BCAD 300) in the Valley of Oaxaca
Idealized reconstruction of Rosario-phase buildings and Monument 3 on Mound 1 at San José Mogote
Photo of the Main Plaza at Monte Albán, looking south. The North Platform is in the foreground and the South Platform in the background
The Main Plaza at Monte Albán: (a) Danibaan and Pe phases (500–100 BC); (b) Nisa phase (100 BCAD 200)
Carved-stone monuments from Building L-sub: (a) in situ monuments; (b) elder from the upper rank; (c) young adult from the first rank in the lower row of Building L-sub; (d) rain-god impersonator; (e) decapitation; (f) monuments D-139 and D-140 with hieroglyphic inscriptions
Late/Terminal Formative monumental art from the Valley of Oaxaca: (a) viborón frieze from the North Platform at Monte Albán; (b) Building J “conquest slab” from Monte Albán; (c) Dainzú ballplayers (d) Monte Albán Monument J-41
Late/Terminal Formative-period ceramics from the Valley of Oaxaca: (a) cocijo urn; (b) comal; (c) G-12 combed-base bowl
Archaeological sites of the Late/Terminal Formative in the Mixtec highlands and the lower Río Verde Valley
Plan of the civic-ceremonial center of Monte Negro
Late Formative burials from Monte Negro: (a) Burial VIII-4B; (b) Burial IX-5; (c) Tomb 1; (d) Tomb 40
Plan of Huamelulpan: (a) site plan; (b) plan of the Grupo de la Iglesia
Ceramic urn from Huamelulpan with rain-god imagery
High-status house from Huamelulpan
Yucuita Monument 1
Plan of upper-terrace excavations at Cerro de la Cruz
Late Formative cemetery beneath Structure 1 at Cerro de la Cruz
Plan of Yugüe
Plan of the Mound 1 acropolis at Río Viejo
Terminal Formative bone flute from the Yugüe cemetery
Classic-period archaeological sites of Oaxaca
The Main Plaza of Monte Albán: (a) Pitao phase (AD 350–500); (b) Xoo phase (AD 500–800)
High-status residential complex showing the location of the tomb (Tomb 104)
Tomb 104: (a) plan of tomb; (b) painted murals showing ancestors
The iconographic program of Lord 13 Night
Xoo-phase genealogical registers from the Valley of Oaxaca: (a) Slab 6-6059, unknown provenance; Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia; (b) Monte Albán Stela MA-VGE-2
Photo of System M, a temple-patio-altar complex on the Main Plaza of Monte Albán
Plan of the site center at Cerro de las Minas
Ñuiñe urn from Cerro de las Minas Tomb 5
Plan of commoner residences at Cerro de las Minas 233 Figure 7.11 Classic-period carved stones from the Mixtec highlands: (a) carved slab from Yucuñudahui Tomb 1; (b) Cerro de la Caja Monument 7; (c) Cerro de la Caja Monument 2; (d) Tequixtepec Monument 17; (e) stone sculpture of a human head
Plan of Río Viejo
Yuta Tiyoo-phase carved-stone monuments from Río Viejo: (a) Monument 8; (b) Monument 11; (c) Monument 14; (d) Monument 6; (e) Monument 15
Postclassic-period archaeological sites in Oaxaca
Early Postclassic carved-stone monuments from Río Viejo: (a) Monument 3; (b) Jamiltepec Monument 1 (originally located at Río Viejo)
Plan of Operation RV00 A at Río Viejo
Scenes from the Mixtec codices: (a) the meeting of Lord 8 Deer and Lady 9 Grass at Chalcatongo; Codex Nuttall, codex page 44; (b) Lord 8 Deer and followers arrive at Tututepec showing the placement of sacred objects in the temple; Codex Colombino-Becker, codex pages 5 and 6; (c) the nose-piercing rite of Lord 8 Deer; Codex Nuttall, codex page 52; (d) the murder of Lord 12 Movement; Codex Nuttall, codex page 81
Tututepec Monument 6
Residence A at Tututepec
Photo of the Palace of the Six Patios at Yagul
Plans of Late Postclassic high-status residences in the Valley of Oaxaca: (a) Palace of the Six Patios at Yagul; (b) Group of the Columns at Mitla
Photo of stone mosaics at Mitla


The coastal and highland valleys as well as the rugged mountains of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca are today one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse areas of the Americas. Archaeological research has shown that this present cultural diversity extends far back into the pre-hispanic era. In this book I synthesize archaeological, ethnohistoric, ethnographic, iconographic, and epigraphic evidence to trace the prehispanic history of three of Oaxaca’s ethnolinguistic groups: the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos. These groups occupy much of what is now the western half of Oaxaca, and their prehispanic past is better known than that of other Oaxacan peoples. Archaeological research on the Mixtecs and Zapotecs began in the late nineteenth century and has continued as a major research focus in Mesoamerican archaeology up to the present day. Intensive research on the Chatinos of the southwestern coastal region of Oaxaca began in the mid-1980s and has been the focus of my field research beginning in 1986. This research shows that prehispanic Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos lived in socially complex societies with writing, cities, powerful rulers, elaborate architectural and artistic traditions, and sophisticated agricultural technologies. Their archaeology addresses many key research problems such as the origins of agriculture, the development of social complexity, ancient urbanism, and societal collapse, among many others.

My approach to Oaxaca is based on a consideration of contemporary social theory and reflects the current trend in archaeology toward theoretical perspectives drawn from poststructural, feminist, and subaltern theories. Because my approach to Oaxacan archaeology differs from most of the current research in the region, I have described my theoretical perspective in some detail. This makes Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos more heavily theorized than other books on ancient Oaxaca, but I have tried to discuss theory in an accessible manner that will make the book of interest to advanced undergraduates as well as graduate students and professionals. While theory can be daunting for students, it is essential because our understandings of the past are dependent on our theoretical frameworks. Making theory explicit is therefore crucial. I have also tried to discuss the many differences of opinion and debates in Oaxacan archaeology in an inclusive and fair-minded fashion, even when I disagree with my colleagues. I feel strongly that debate can produce productive tensions that drive research, but I also think that debate in Oaxaca has not always been of this productive kind. I hope that this book opens up dialog and constructive engagements on Oaxaca’s ancient past.

Like most archaeological interpretations, my arguments are based on fragmentary evidence and analogy, as well as on theoretical positions that will undoubtedly evolve with time. Certainly my own perspectives have changed over the years (e.g., A. Joyce 1991a; Joyce & Winter 1996), and the nature of archaeology as a science is such that we deceive only ourselves if we believe that a particular past is largely understood. In his discussion of the advantages of processual archaeology relative to earlier cultural historical approaches, Kent Flannery (1967:122) argued that “The process theorists assume that ‘truth’ is just the best current hypothesis, and that whatever they believe now will ultimately be proved wrong, either within their lifetime or afterward. Their ‘theories’ are not like children to them, they suffer less trauma when the theories prove ‘wrong.’“ I heartily agree with Flannery’s insights here and it is sage advice for archaeologists of any theoretical persuasion. Respectful differences of opinion yield productive tensions that drive research and hopefully our understanding of past people.

Many people and institutions have supported me as I carried out the research discussed in this book and as I wrote the book itself. There have been numerous people who have aided me through years and while I cannot hope to mention everyone here, there are some that deserve special recognition.

I am grateful to Wiley-Blackwell and the two editors at the press who have worked with me on the book, Rosalie Robertson and Peter Coveney, as well as their assistants, Julia Kirk and Deirdre Ilkson. I thank Nik Prowse and Leah Morin who worked on editing and proofreading, as well as Guy Hepp who worked on the index. I wish to thank Alan Kolata who first invited me to contribute a volume to the Peoples of America series. While writing the book, I was supported by an ACLS/SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies Fellowship, a Faculty Fellowship from the Council on Research and Creative Works at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a Summer Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks. I would especially like to thank my colleagues who read the entire manuscript and provided thoughtful and constructive comments: Jeff Blomster, Michelle Butler, Guy Hepp, Mary Pye, Cynthia Robin, and Marcus Winter as well as one anonymous reviewer. The following kindly read sections of the book manuscript and I thank them for their input: Doug Bamforth, Stacy Barber, Cathy Cameron, John Clark, Frank Eddy, Byron Hamann, James Hester, John Hoffecker, Steve Lekson, Marc Levine, Mark Mitchell, Payson Sheets, Javier Urcid, and Paola Villa. I would also like to thank Eric Berkemeyer who drafted many of the figures in the volume along with Jeff Blomster, Byron Hamann, Ray Mueller, and Javier Urcid who graciously provided a number of previously unpublished illustrations and photos. I thank the following colleagues for providing figure permissions: Andrew Balkansky, Stacy Barber, John Clark, Gabriele Daublebsky, Emily Jean Dendinger, Peggy Gough, Jorge Juárez, Lina Kopicaite, Marc Levine, Simon Lord, John Monaghan, John Neikirk, Heather Orr, Hilary Parkinson, María del Perpetuo Socorro, John Pohl, Jill Rheinheimer, Iván Rivera, María de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, Francisco José Ruiz Cervantes, Javier Urcid, Al B. Wesolowsky, and Marcus Winter.

In Mexico I have been supported by many institutions and colleagues during my research in Oaxaca. I would like to thank the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia; especially the presidents of the Consejo de Arqueología: Lorena Mirambell, Mari Carmen Serra Puche, Norberto González Crespo, Joaquín García-Bárcena, and Roberto García Moll. I would like to thank the directors of the Centro INAH Oaxaca, María de la Luz Topete, Ernesto González Licón, Eduardo López Calzada, and Enrique Fernández Dávila who have supported my research. I would like to thank my colleagues in the Centro INAH Oaxaca, especially Marcus Winter, Nelly Robles, Raúl Matadamas, and Roberto Zárate. I would also like to thank the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) who granted me guest-investigator status in 2008 and 2009. Many other colleagues in Oaxaca have been generous with their support over the years including Laura Arnaud Bustamante, Manuel Hermann, Alicia Herrera, Robert Markens, Cira Martínez, Iván Rivera, and Michael Swanton.

I would like to thank the people of Oaxaca who have supported my research since 1986.I greatly appreciate all of the local and regional officials and land owners in the municipios of Santiago Jamiltepec and Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo who have given us permission and have facilitated our field research. I would like to especially thank all of the people of San José del Progreso, Río Viejo, La Boquilla, Yugüe, and Tututepec on the Oaxaca coast who have worked with us for the past 22 years. I also want to thank my friends in the lower Río Verde region especially Doña Heriberta Avelino, Don Salomón Reyes, and Don Jaime Rodríguez, as well as the Borrozo, Castillo, Cruz, García, Herrera, Iglesia, and López families. In Oaxaca City, I would especially like to thank Cicely Winter and everyone at the Casa Arnel who have welcomed us now for more than 20 years.

Funding for my archaeological and paleoenvironmental field research in Oaxaca has been provided by grants from the following organizations: National Science Foundation (grants 8716332, 9729763, and 0508078), NASA (NNX08AO31G), Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (#99012), National Geographic Society (grant 3767-88), Wenner-Gren Foundation (GR. 4988), Fulbright Foundation, H. John Heinz III Charitable Trust, University of Colorado Norton Fund and Innovative Grant Program, Vanderbilt University Research Council and Mellon Fund, Explorers Club, Sigma Xi, and Rutgers University.

In the United States, I would like to thank the University of Colorado at Boulder, especially all of my colleagues and students who have supported my work over the years. In particular, I would like to thank Doug Bam-forth, Cathy Cameron, Linda Cordell, Jim Dixon, Darna Dufour, John Hoffecker, Carla Jones, Steve Lekson, Dennis Mcgilvray, Russ Mcgoodwin, Payson Sheets, and Matt Sponheimer. One of the most rewarding parts of being an academic has been my interactions with graduate students. My current and former students have challenged me to think in new and creative ways and I would especially like to thank Stacy Barber, Michelle Butler, Jamie Forde, Jeff Glover, Jessica Hedgepeth, Byron Hamann, Guy Hepp, Scott Hutson, Sarah Jennings, Stacie King, Marc Levine, Mark Mitchell, Tina Stenson, Errin Weller, and Andy Workinger. Many of these students have gone on to or are about to embark on successful careers in academia and I am proud of them.

Other friends and colleagues who have contributed to my ideas over the years and whom I would like to thank include: Pepe Aguilar, Wendy Ashmore, Jeff Blomster, Donald Brockington, Bruce Byland, Sal Capaldo, John Clark, Nicole Couture, Marcia-Anne Dobres, Mike Elam, Alex Geurds, Michelle Goman, David Grove, Gerardo Gutiérrez, Annabeth Headrick, Steve Houston, Maarten Jansen, John Janusek, Laura Junker, Steve Kowalewski, Peter Kroefges, Naomi Levin, Michael Lind, Geoff and Sharisse McCafferty, Bill Middleton, John Monaghan, Ray Mueller, Heather Orr, Michel Oudijk, Tom Patterson, John Pohl, Lucia Pou, Mary Pye, Carlos Rincón, Cynthia Robin, Ron Spores, Lauren Sullivan, Mary Thieme, Nancy Troike, Javier Urcid, Laura Van Broekhoven, Marcus Winter, and Robert and Judith Zeitlin.

Finally, I want to say a special thank you to my family who has supported me through all the work and stress, including months away from home in the field. Without the love and support of my wife, Christine, and Pepe as well as that of the Pacheco family, I would not have been able to complete this book and my life would not be as rich and happy.