Monte Albán is located atop the largest of a number of limestone-sandstone hills roughly 400 m. above the floor of the Valley of Oaxaca (1555 m.) to the northwest of the confluence ( latitude 17 o N., longitude 97 o E.) of the confluence of the Rio Atoyac and the Rio Salado. The capital of the state of Oaxaca, Oaxaca de Jáurez, is located immediately to the north of this confluence. (See Oaxaca: Lansat Image.)

Monte Albán commands sweeping views of all three arms of the Valley of Oaxaca -- the Etla Valley to the north, the Tlacolula Valley to the east and the Zimatlán-Ocotlán Valley to the south as well as neighboring hills Atzompa and El Gallo to the north -- sites of settlement contemporaneous with Monte Albán. From many locations in the Valley, such as San José Mogote in the Etla Valley, Monte Albán presents an imposing presence.

For most of the time it was occupied, settlement at Monte Albán, centered around an area of public architecture, the Main Plaza an artificially leveled, rectangular, hill-top area with with monumental structures along its central axis and around its periphery. Residential structures were located on hill-side terraces which may have contained small gardens as well. A similar pattern was repeated on a small adjacent hill to the southeast as well as on the larger and more distant Atzompa and El Gallo.


The history of Monte Albán and its role in the development of social complexity in the Valley of Oaxaca is most naturally discussed in terms of the phases identified in the regional chronology for the Valley.

In overview, the story goes like this. Settlement at Monte Albán first appears at the beginning of the

Monte Albán I (500-200 B.C.)

phase when it emerges as the regional capital of a state that politically integrates the entire Valley. During the

Monte Albán II (200 B.C. - 300 A.D.)

phase, the site begins to assume something of the appearance it presents today while the state is heads recovers from a “population boom” and engages in military and commercial ventures in neighboring areas. During the

Monte Albán III (300-750 A.D.)

phase, Monte Albán becomes involved in some way with the large and politically influential city of Teotihuacán in the Valley of México. Evidence of this connection are apparent in architecture at the site. This is also the last period of major construction at Monte Albán when most of the structures now visible were completed. During the

Monte Albán IV and V (750-1520 A.D.)

phases the Valley of Oaxaca participates in a pan-Mesoamerican reorganization of social structures and the public areas of Monte Albán itself are abandoned. The hill-sides and base of the hill continue to be occupied and used for high-status burials.

Unless otherwise indicated, this discussion is based on material drawn from: Winter ‘74, Blanton, ‘78 , Flannery and Marcus ‘90, Bernal ‘92, Blanton, et. al. ‘93. Robles-García ‘93.

A list of images used in this discussion of Monte Albán is available.

Colorado School of Mines
Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies
Dr. Joseph D. Sneed