MONTE ALBAN I (500-200 B.C.)

The Valley wide ceramic distinction of two sub-phases (Early I or Ia and Late I of Ic) is clearly present at Monte Albán possibly together with a transition phase (Ib) between them.

EARLY I (500-350 B.C.)

This phase marks the first occupation of Monte Albán. There is virtually no evidence of human presence at this location prior to this time.

This occupation is evidenced by three, spatially distinct, sherd scatters, interpreted as residential barrios, located around the area which was subsequently leveled to become the Main Plaza. It is frequently suggested that these barrios are associated with (inhabited by people from) each of the three different arms of the Valley. This would be consistent with an explanation of the appearance of a settlement at Monte Albán as a “disembodied” regional capital, deliberately founded on previously unoccupied, neutral territory for the purpose of uniting three, previously independent social units.

By the end of this phase some 5000 people lived at Monte Albán. Though there was probably some rainfall agriculture on the terraces and evidence of irrigation (a mortared masonry dam impounding runoff from the hill in a barranca and transporting it about 2 km through a canal to a piedmont area near the modern village of Xoxcotlán) it likely that most of the food for these people came somewhat further away.

Indeed, since there is no reliable, year-round water supply , water must have been carried from sources in the flood plain 400 m lower. This suggests that (at least during the dry season, lavish use of water for purposes other than drinking (e.g. bathing) was not the rule (except perhaps among the elite).

LATE I (350-200 B.C.)

Settlement during this phase expanded to occupy most of the main hill and adjoining hills as well. Substantial construction occurred at the North Platform over the Patio Sur de Monticulo A site of an Early I structure. Leveling of the Main Plaza may have begun during this phase, though it is not completed until Monte Albán II. Construction of what is taken to be a large defensive wall along the more gently sloping western and northern sides of the main hill appears to have begun.

By the end of this phase, about 17,000 people lived on and immediately around Monte Albán.


During Early I, households appear to have resided in household unitssimilar to those observed in earlier phases at Tierras Largas and San Jsoé Mogote. These consisted of a one-room structure surrounded by graves (tombs are rare) and bell-shaped underground pits presumably used for food storage. Ovens or hearths, presumably used for food preparation , refuse middens, drainage ditches (presumably) and other types of pits are sometimes present. (See Fig. MA.2.)

Some household units were located a bit closer together (15 m) than those of earlier periods elsewhere. Walls were constructed of adobe and caliche-like blocks on stone foundations rather than the waddle-and-daub construction common in earlier phases elsewhere. In this and subsequent phases, buildings are oriented along cardinal directions.

The similarity of Early I residential architecture to that of earlier phases in other parts of the Valley supports the view that the first residents of Monte Albán came from elsewhere in the Valley, rather than from somewhere outside.

During Late I, household open household units similar to those in Early I are present , but there is one known example of a somewhat more elaborate semienclosed structure similar to the Houses 16 -17 from the earlier San José phase at San Jsoé Mogote.


Remains of public architecture from Monte Albán I are difficult to see because they are covered by the remains of structures from later times. It appears that the area subsequently occupied by the Main Plaza was largely unoccupied. However, the remains of structures apparently constructed during this phase have been found underlying later construction in three locations around the main plaza (See Fig. MA.3). These are
Building of the Danzantes
A pyramidal , rubble cored platform begun in Early I, underlying Mound L faced with large rectangular slabs of pre-Cambrian gneiss on which are carved human figures called danzantes similar to Monument 3 at San José Mogote.

Patio Sur de Monticulo A
A sloping wall from Early I, resting on bedrock beneath the southeast corner of the North Platform underlying a Late I wall with stucco molding.

Structure inside Mound K
A 6m high sloping wall (Late I ) and two rubble filled columns inside Mound K located in System IV.

There is also some evidence of Monte Albán I public architecture at a few places outside the Main Plaza.


About 20 burials from the Monte Albán I phase are known. Of these, 6 are in tombs. The tombs are rectangular, structures without doors, roofed with horizontal stone slabs. They contained pottery, including fish, duck and frog and conch-shell effigies, a conch shell trumpet ( Tomb 43, Early I) possibly indicating high status and pottery effigies of Cocijo -- the Zapotec “rain god”. Tomb 15associated with the structure under Mound K contained a 2-year old child interred with conch shell effigies. Burials not in tombs also contained pottery, but less than those in tombs.


Carved stones, such as Stellae 12 and 13 exhibiting hieroglyphic writing, including dates in the 260 day ritual calendar expressed in bar-dot numerical notation appear during this phase.

Material specific to this period is drawn from: Flannery and Marcus ‘83b, Marcus ‘83a, Flannery and Marcus ‘83a.

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