Atzompa Archaeological Site

Residences of high social society, housing units, plazas, among other architectural wonders, are located in the Atzompa Archaeological Site, to which only a few have taken the opportunity to explore.

The ruins of Atzompa on the top of Cerro El Bonete, are located 8 kilometers north of Monte Alban, in the town of Santa María Atzompa near the city of Oaxaca. This town is famous for its festivals of calends, its glazed green ceramic pottery and large earthenware pots for celebrations, called apaxtles.

Atzompa was formally open to the public after six challenging years of rescue and restoration work. This archaeological zone is an urban component of the majestic polygon of Monte Albán and constitutes a cultural gem of incalculable historical value. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987, and receives more than 700 thousand visitors a year.

For the archaeologist Nelly Robles García, graduated from INAH and PhD from the University of Georgia, United States, the great importance of Atzompa “lies in the fact that, through their punctual exploration work, they are able to understand the reasons for Monte’s growth. The findings in Atzompa explain to us the scope of the expansion and consolidation of the centralized control system that Monte Albán exercised over the rest of the Zapotec sites in what is now Oaxaca, in the same way it opens up new research perspectives to integrate to the spatial analysis of the city in its different epochs “.

The monumental complex of Atzompa, possibly founded in the year 650 and abandoned in 850, exhibits a nucleus divided into four main terraces. Within the area, 438 habitational terraces, 30 mounds, 13 plazas, a shrine, and 3 ball courts have been located and documented, one of which measures 45 m long and 22 m wide. Its 2 palaces, the Casa Oriente and the House of the Altars, its 8 housing units and rock quarry sectors for the construction of the site, make this set the second largest in the Central Valleys.

The discovery of a ceramic furnace and a Zapotec funerary complex composed of three burial chambers also revealed important aspects of the intimate life of its inhabitants. One of these bedrooms is beautifully decorated with mural paintings related to the ball game. Inside the tombs, in addition to valuable offerings, urns and vases, the remains of a high society resident were found.

The Royal Burial at Atzompa

The burial accompanied by an offering of a high society Zapotec resident was discovered by archaeologists exploring the third tomb of Atzompa, in Structure 6. After the discovery of an unpublished funerary complex, composed of three burial chambers, comparable to the funerary enclosure of Pakal in Palenque, Chiapas, the investigators managed to enter the third tomb, where they found a red vessel with a human face. Unlike other mortuary spaces discovered, this held a preserved human remains and an offering in excellent condition.

Chamber One, with a dimension of 2.5 m wide by 1.80 m high at its highest part and 4.5 m deep, has a vaulted ceiling built with huge slabs resting on the walls. These walls of carved stone have remains of stucco. Niches were found on each side of the vault.

It is the oldest chamber of the funeral structure, filled with interspersed layers of earth and stones to preserve the deposited elements. Inside were found bone remains of vertebrae, ribs, bones of the hand, sternum, pelvis and skull, suggesting that it may be an adult male.

A fragmented skull was found along with a black tubular container and a bowl, placed as an offering on one side of the main skeleton. At the bottom of the tomb was found an anthropomorphic clay urn, decorated with a character wearing earmuffs and headdress. This piece stands out because it allows to appreciate the red pigment that was used for its decoration, possibly extracted from cinnabar or hematite.

Under the slab roof of Chamber Two, mural paintings related to the ball game were discovered. The delicate mural consists of a border framed by two lines in blue that delimit the spiritual space of the ball game, as a sacred representation of the movement of the stars. Small white circles with points and curved lines represent the ball that was used. In the background, glyphs with the central part partially destroyed can be seen. The specialists suspect that the name of the person who occupied the sepulcher would have been written.

The third tomb was built with blocks of stone and is on a lower level. It shows a ceiling-vault made with slabs leaning on a kind of cornice of the wall. Inside the vault were vestiges of mural painting and a stone slab that perhaps used as a door to the tomb.

At first the structure only contained a grave. But the population growth of Atzompa led to the construction of two other tombs. Once finished, they sealed the first space and built a stairway to access the rear chambers. The significance of this funerary complex, more than 1,100 years old, lies in its proximity to one of the most important palaces of Atzompa, the so-called Casa de los Altares.

Where is the Atzompa Archaeological Site

Map and directions for the Atzompa Archaeological Site in Oaxaca