Letter from a Vagabond 24 March 2019 In the heart of the Zapotec…

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              Not long ago, I rose from a short nap, tired after four hours in the sun at Monte Alban, the vast, mostly unexcavated ruins of the Zapotec Indians; one of the great cities of Mesoamerica.  Around 500 BCE, the Zapotec, if I am remembering what my guide imparted, leveled off the top of the mountain and began building a temple complex and home to the ruling elite and flourished until about 900 CE, when it was apparently abandoned with the Zapotec moving their administrative center to Mitla, about 60 kilometers away at some point in the future.

Speculation is that Monte Alban grew as a fortress against some external threat.

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            They had a written language, among the first in Mesoamerica, and Zapotec is still spoken today in a variety of places, including parts of southern California.

They had a multitude of gods, most of them bloodthirsty from what I have been able to gather.  The first writing happened on the danzantes stones, which have many sacrificed men carved into them.  Like the Maya, they played a game with a rubber ball sent through a metal circle and archeologists are still working out whether the winner or the loser lost their head to appease the rain god.

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The Zapotec created an empire, traded with the Olmec, Teotihuacan and Mayacivilizations and the Teotihuacan and the Zapotecs were particularly close.  There were defined spaces in each of their capitals for the other.

They seemed to have a thing for male genital mutilation. They mutilated the conquered and the priests mutilated themselves for the gods.

In 1930, the greatest treasure in Mesoamerica was discovered by a Mexican archeologist, Alfonso Caso as he began to uncover Monte Alban.

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 They were astronomers, keeping track of when the rain would come, and kept detailed carved records of medical issues, with slabs showing operations, difficult births and painful deaths.

No one knows why they faded away around 900 CE though it corresponds with the decline around then of other Mesoamerican civilizations.

When I stood in the ruins of Tyre, I didn’t feel as foreign as I did today.  Tyre is part of our collective western history; Monte Alban is not.

When I was dropped off, I went immediately to Casa Oaxaca for something to eat as I had had nothing all day, having the most luscious duck tacos in a black mole sauce! OMG!

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Now, despite the nap, I am still weary and will probably have a quiet evening around the hotel and its environs.  Here in Oaxaca, I sleep early, rise early.

While here, I have worked on a long piece of writing I have been avoiding, written a poem and been nurtured by the valley that gave rise to the Zapotecs.

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