Around 1500 - 1400 B. C. permanent settlements -- hamlets and villages -- appear in the archaeological record for the first time in the Valley of Oaxaca. Emerging out of a long transition (beginning as early as 7000 B.C.) from the hunting-gathering life-style characteristic of the Archaic Period, gradually, over a period of about 1000 years (1500 - 500 B. C.), the sedentary, agriculture-based life-style associated with this village settlements comes to be typical of human activity in the Valley. This village lifestyle persists through later periods as the sub- stratum on which more complex layers of social organization are built. Indeed, it still survives today in rural parts of the Valley amid evidence of technological innovation such a pickup trucks and satellite dishes.

This period is also marked by the development of crafts and trade such as ceramic production, obsidian (apparently imported to the Valley) working and the production and export of ornamental mirror made from local iron ores.

In the overall Mesoamerican developmental chronology this period of the development of village life is termed the Formative Period -- usually sub-divided into the Early and Middle Formative. The term ‘formative’ is intended to suggest the basis for subsequent social and technological development is “formed” during this period. The period is also commonly referred to as thevillage stage. In the Valley of Oaxaca regional chronology it consists of the following phases not all of which are distinguishable throughout the Valley:

Tierras Largas (1500-1150 B.C.)
San José (1150-850 B.C.)
Guadalupe (850-600 B.C.)
Rosario (600-500 B.C.)

The initial Tierras Largas Phase marks the first appearance of semi-permanent villages in the Valley of Oaxaca and is roughly coextensive with the Red-on-Buff horizon known in the Central Highlands of Mexico. The San José Phase represents the Olmec horizon known throughout Mesoamerica. These horizons are defined by the appearance of stylistically similar artifacts (especially ceramics) over wide areas. The subsequent Guadalupe and Rosario Phases are marked by ceramic styles confined to the Valley of Oaxaca possibly indication the development of more localized cultural traditions. Manifestations of the long tradition of gray ceramics in the Valley of Oaxaca first appear in the archaeological record during this time. It is still maintained today in the “black pottery” produced (mainly for tourists) at the village of San Bartolo Coyotepec,

This period is characterized by slow increase and change in spatial distribution of estimated population, increase in both vertical and horizontal social complexity, possibly accompanied by changes in social integration structure as well as intensification of agricultural technology.


As you look at the material for this session, keep these questions in mind:

Unless otherwise indicated, this discussion is based on material drawn from: Blanton, et. al. ‘82, Kowalewski, et. al. ‘89, Flannery and Marcus ‘90, Bernal ‘92, Winter ‘92. Blanton, et. al. ‘93,

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