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Oaxaca is one of the most child friendly places you will ever visit.  Kids are welcome most everywhere — it’s part of the culture — and there is much for them to see and do, including El Quinto Sol, an archaeological museum for children.P1020037

I’ve been meaning to write about this colorful, yet hidden, gem since a friend and I discovered it in 2008 on an early Sunday morning ramble.  It was closed for remodeling, but we managed to peek in and vowed to return.

Of course, we didn’t write down the address or name and all I remembered was that it was somewhere south of the zócalo.  It took several expeditions once I moved to Oaxaca before I found El Quinto Sol again.

According to the museum’s brochure, this delightful and educational museum was the brainchild of Oaxaqueño, Manuel Ramirez Salvador and first opened March 19, 2000 in order to teach, preserve, and appreciate the “great heritage bequeathed by our Mesoamerican ancestors.”

Not only a museum, there is also a fabulous “old school” toy store, El Cri-Cri, named for the “grillito cantor” (the singing cricket), a character created by the beloved Francisco Gabilondo Soler.  There are no plastic, battery-powered games and toys in sight and I guarantee those “of a certain age” will be reminiscing and exclaiming, “Ooh, I used to have one of these!” and “Ahh, I always wanted one of those!”

By all means, pay El Quinto Sol a visit — even if unaccompanied by a child.

Address:  Xicotencatl No. 706 (at the corner of La Noria)
Telephone:  951.514.3579
Hours:  Monday through Friday,  9:00 AM – 2:00 PM and 4:00 – 6:00 PM
Saturday, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM.  Closed on Sunday

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Almost a year after our first visit to the newly opened Atzompa archaeological site, yesterday, we returned.  The beautiful paved road up from Santa María Atzompa (elevation 1,580 meters) now brings one to a parking lot right across from the entrance, making for less of a haul up the hill for those less mobile or challenged by the altitude — at the top it is almost 300 meters above the village below — even we were huffing and puffing.

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Atzompa was part of Monte Alban and one of its largest settlements.  At the top of the stairs (above), is the largest (45 meters by 22 meters) of the 6 ball courts found among the Monte Alban communities.

Ball court

Investigations of the Atzompa site first began in 1940 by Jorge R. Acosta, who was part of the Monte Alban Project.  However, in 2007 the National Institute of Anthropology and History began formal explorations using a team of architects, archeologists, topographers, and restorers.

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Though the path is currently difficult to see, make sure to go around to the left of the building above to see the north quadrant.  Informational placards in Spanish and English are now in place throughout the site and most of the facts in this post are taken from them, but, of course, I neglected to take a photo of the placard for the building below!

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Residents from the land cooperatives in the surrounding communities have been hired to do much of the field and lab work.  Not a bad setting to work…

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One can, in the words of The Who, “see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles…”

Green valley with mountain range in distanceExcept for the birds, insects, lizards, and workers, we had this spectacular setting to ourselves — I think we only saw 3 other visitors the entire time we were there.  Perhaps when the second entrance on the Monte Alban side opens, it will attract more attention.  In the meantime, the peace and tranquility are a gift in these chaotic times.

Oaxaca–The Year After has more from yesterday’s visit.

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At long last, and with not much fanfare, the Atzompa archeological site is open to the public!

Panoramic view of Atzompa archaeological site.

The winding road, cut into the side of the mountain, has been visible for a while and we could see platforms when we were up at Monte Alban (about 5 miles away) two weeks ago.

Winding road on side of mountain.

It’s a bit of a hike up a newly paved road from the small (temporary?) parking area under the pine trees, but we eventually reached the site and the ball court.

Ball court with mountains in background

It is small, but the setting is spectacular.

Ruins in foreground with mountains in back.

One can see a recreation of the 1,000+ year old Zapotec kiln that was uncovered 8 feet down — offering proof of continuity to today’s renown potters of Santa María Atzompa.

Kiln with shade covering.

Then there is the vegetation….  The architecture of native trees adds to aura of this ancient site.

Tree in front of side of pyramid

And, the white flowers of one of the trees has attracted the tiniest hummingbirds I’ve ever seen.

Hummingbird sitting on branch

Nopal cactus, in full fruit (tunas) at this time of year, dot the landscape.

Nopal cactus loaded with red fruit "tunas"

Archaeologists and their crews continue their work excavating and restoring, and much is blocked from amateur exploration, including the 1,100-year-old burial chamber.  Darn!

Workers restoring a building

The only “facilities” available at the site, thus far, are bathrooms (which were a trip, but I won’t go into it).  Lest you worry about comida for the workers, it arrived by motorcycle and was waiting in insulated boxes in the parking area.

6 motorcycles with soft insulated boxes.

Aside from those working at the site, we had the place to ourselves… no tour groups and no vendors.  We were left alone to listen to the birds and insects and imagine a highly developed culture, alive with the ancestors of the energetic, creative, and spiritual people we are privileged to live among.

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Fifteen hundred years may have passed since Monte Albán was in full bloom as the center of Zapotec civilization.  However, the flowering continues…

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Monte Albán on an early October morning.

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… there you are.

Green grass, stone structure, blue sky with wispy clouds

Monte Albán on a picture perfect autumn morning.

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Buried treasures continue to be found in Oaxaca.  Mexico’s INAH (National Anthropology and History Institute) reported this week another burial chamber has been uncovered at the nearby Santa María Atzompa archaeological zone.

Current findings in the tomb include this urn, which they date to sometime between 650 CE and 850 CE.

Red urn shaped like a human face.

Photo: Red anthropomorphic urn (EFE/INAH)

Here is an English language article that reports on these latest discoveries from the site.

Mexican Archaeologists Discover Ancient Zapotec Tomb

Published at 10:06 pm EST, August 16, 2012

The tomb of a high-ranking member of Zapotec society was found at a 1,200-year-old funerary complex in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

Archaeologist in Zapotec tomb

Photo: Burial and offering (INAH)

The funerary complex, which has three burial chambers, was found about three months ago at the Atzompa archaeological zone, the INAH said.

Archaeologists managed to get into the third pre-Columbian burial chamber, which contained human remains that are likely those of a male, INAH archaeology coordinator Nelly Robles Garcia said.

The remains will be analyzed to determine the age, nutrition and health of the individual, as well as whether there are intentional deformities of a cultural nature.

Archaeologists found a fractured skull belonging to another individual next to the remains, leading them to conclude that it may have been an offering.

A small, black tubular pitcher and pieces of a vessel were also found in the burial chamber.

A red urn with a human face on it and other items were found in the grave, archaeologist Eduardo Garcia said.

The vessel, which is estimated to date back to 650 A.D. to 850 A.D., is 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) tall, archaeologists said.

“We are dealing with a building where the remains of people with a very high status were placed. Who they were and what role they played in Zapotec society is still to be determined based on the findings that are being made and their later analysis,” Robles said.

Archaeologists found the building, which was designed exclusively as a burial site, in late April.

The tombs are located one on top of the other and, unlike previous discoveries, are not underground.

One of the burial chambers is decorated with a mural of a ball game, a theme not found before in Zapotec funerary practices.

Atzompa was a small satellite city of Monte Alban, the main center of the Zapotec state that dominated what today is Oaxaca.

“This discovery changes the perception we had in the sense that it was not as similar to Monte Alban as had been thought but, instead, developed its own architectural expressions, such as in the case of tombs and palaces,” Robles said.

For more on the Santa María Atzompa archaelogical zone, take a look at a January 2012 article I reprinted on an Ancient Zapotec kiln discovered there.  The site is scheduled to open sometime this year.

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News of this discovery was posted on Facebook this morning by Sam, my young Zapotec friend from Teotitlán del Valle, who is currently getting his Ph.D. in Sustainable Manufacturing at the University of Liverpool.  A global village, it is!

By the way, Santa María Atzompa (mentioned below) is where I experienced a Magical and Mystical October 31st.  The article and photo are from today’s, Hispanically Speaking News.

1,300 Year Old Kiln Used by Ancient Zapotecs Discovered in Mexico

Mexican archaeologists have discovered in the southern part of the country a kiln used by the ancient Zapotecs to make ceramics more than 1,300 years ago, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

Clay pot in ancient kiln

The pre-Columbian kiln was discovered in the Atzompa Archaeological Zone in Oaxaca state, which will be opened to the public this year, INAH said in a communique.

It added that this is one of the best preserved ceramic kilns ever found in the Zapotec area, and noted Oaxaca’s long tradition in making pottery.

According to Wednesday’s communique, the kiln “is a link between the pre-Columbian pottery tradition and the artisanal ceramics currently made in the community of Santa Maria Atzompa, establishing the connection between today’s inhabitants and their ancestors.”

Archaeologist Jaime Vera, head of the excavation, said the kiln “is thought to date back to the first years of the pre-Columbian settlement of the area, in other words, more than 1,300 years ago, which is deduced from the ceramics found with it.”

Another element that allows the kiln to be dated is the depth at which it was found – 2.2 meters (7 feet 2 1/2 inches) – “far below the layer of stucco that covered it, and which corresponds to that era, the archaeologist said, adding that further studies will be made to confirm its antiquity.

It was in the excavation period between March and December 2011 that the kiln was completely uncovered allowing its principal characteristics to be observed: a cylindrical adobe wall and shelves for placing the objects to be fired.

The kiln consists of a cylindrical adobe wall measuring 2.1 meters (6 feet 11 inches) from the surface to the firing shelves arranged in convergent lines toward the center, and a downdraft vent in the lower part approximately 20 centimeters (8 inches) wide,” Vera said.

He said that “while today’s kilns are not identical in dimensions or shelf arrangement, they do perserve certain basic elements and the function as a space for firing ceramics.”

The Atzompa Archaeological Zone, approximately 4 square kilometers (1 1/2 square miles), existed as a small satellite village of the Zapotec city of Monte Alban during the Late Classic period (650 B.C.to 900 B.C.) when the latter’s growing population expanded beyond its boundaries.

The work to provide the Atzompa Archaeological Zone with the necessary infrastructure will continue, since it is one of the pre-Columbian sites that will be opened to the public this year, INAH said.

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Yesterday’s trip to Zaachila began with the archaeological site, located right above the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Natividad.

View of Church of Nuestra Señora de la Natividad from Zaachila archaeological site

Zaachila, named for the pre-Columbian Zapotec king, Zaachila Yoo, was the last Zapotec capital, following the demise of Monte Alban.  It was eventually conquered by the Mixtecs, who were still there when the Spanish conquistadors appeared on the scene.

Entrance to Zaachila archaeological site

First excavated by archaeologist Roberto Gallegos in 1962, only a small fraction of the site has been uncovered.  However, visitors have access to two small tombs in mound A.

Facade of Tomb 2

Tomb 2 is the much less decorative of the two, though it apparently once held jewelry and other valuable offerings, many, of which can be found in the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City.

Interior of Tomb 2

According to the brochure available for purchase (10 pesos), Tomb 1 was constructed in the epoch III-A (250-650 CE) and reused in the Post-classic era (950-1521 CE).

Facade of Tomb 1

Seven figures adorn the walls of Tomb 1.

Figure of Yahui on far wall of Tomb 1

Figure of Búho (owl) on left wall of Tomb 1

Figure of Bújo (owl) on right wall of Tomb 1.

Figure on right wall of Tomb 1

Figure of Bezelao (a supreme god) on left wall of Tomb 1

Figures of 5 Flower and 9 Flower are also depicted but I couldn’t lean far enough over the barrier to photograph them.

The site recently reopened after being closed for several months.  Work continues…

Piles of stones under trees

The site is open Monday through Sunday from 8 AM to 6 PM.  A small museum collects the 31 peso admission fee, displays photos of many of artifacts removed from the site and on display in Mexico City, reproduction of parts of the Codex Zouche-Nuttall (housed in the British Museum), and photographs from other archaeological sites in Oaxaca.

For more information on the Mixtec Group Codices, take a look at the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies website.

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