9. Early State Development at San Martín Tilcajete
Authors: Jennifer Beckmann, Charles S. Spencer, Elsa M. Redmond
Over the past three decades, Dr. Charles Spencer and Dr. Elsa Redmond have completed archaeological field projects in the Tehuacán Valley and Cañada de Cuicatlán in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the western Venezuelan state of Barinas. Their research interests have covered such topics as the development of ancient Mesoamerican chiefdoms and early states, militarism and resistance, and water-management techniques and strategies. Having published extensively on these projects and research topics, Spencer and Redmond have since turned to a relatively unexplored area of the Oaxaca Valley.
Valley of Oaxaca with key archaeological sites
Map of San Martín Tilcajete
The San Martín Tilcajete Project
In 1993, Spencer and Redmond began a new project at the site of San Martín Tilcajete, a multi-phase occupation located in the Ocotlán/Zimatlán subregion of the Oaxaca Valley. Located in 1978 by the Oaxaca Settlement Pattern Project, the site remained unexcavated. Along with Dr. Christina Elson, who joined the project in 1995, they have conducted nine field seasons of comprehensive survey and excavation focused on three different sites: El Mogote, El Palenque, and Cerro Tilcajete. Spencer and Redmond directed excavations at El Mogote and El Palenque from 1995-1999. Elson directed excavations at Cerro Tilcajete from 1999-2001. Although the data analysis is still in progress, some preliminary results primarily focus on site development, the rise of militarism, and Tilcajete's resistance against Monte Albán's expansion. San Martín Tilcajete has a long history, with its first occupation pre-dating 750 B.C. Spencer and Redmond have chosen to focus on the Early to Late Monte Albán I periods (500-300 B.C. and 300-100 B.C., respectively), while Elson's work focuses on the Monte Alban II period (100 B.C.-A.D. 200)
It was during MAI that the Zapotec state developed in the Oaxaca Valley. Based in the Etla/Central subregion of the Oaxaca Valley at the urban center of Monte Albán, its rulers attempted to expand the territory of the state throughout the Valley, conquering and subjugating lesser-developed areas in a sporadic manner. The Ocotlán/Zimatlán subregion of the Oaxaca Valley, however, resisted subjugation by the state until the Monte Albán II period. The AMNH researchers thus seek to further understand how the Ocotlán/Zimatlán subregion stood up to Monte Albán's militaristic aggressions for centuries and what happened to Tilcajete once it finally was conquered. The archaeological evidence, from which some preliminary conclusions have been drawn, provides information regarding the development of the Ocotlán/Zimatlán subregion as a rival polity, as well as its strategies of resistance against the expansion of Monte Albán.
Selected Archaeological Evidence: El Mogote
Excavations at the 52.8-ha Early Monte Albán I settlement of El Mogote found a variety of informative structural remains. The large 2.2-ha plaza identifies the site as a key subregional center for the Ocotlán/Zimatlán area and a rival to Monte Albán. The plaza layout and the ceramic remains are distinct from Monte Albán's. El Mogote's plaza and buildings are oriented 17 degrees east of magnetic north. Its ceramic remains largely consist of locally-made wares, not the cremas made at Monte Albán. Thus it appears that El Mogote was the center of an independent polity.
El Palenque's 'Palatial Digs'
Between the Early and Late Monte Albán I periods, the El Mogote plaza was burned and abandoned, and the inhabitants of the site moved to El Palenque. A new 1.6-ha plaza was built in the same style and with the same orientation as El Mogote's. Excavations around the plaza in 1997-2000 uncovered an extraordinary palace and multi-room temple. The remains have been radiocarbon dated to 300-100 B.C. and are the earliest of their kind to be excavated in the Oaxaca Valley thus far.
of El Palenque
of the palace
of the temple
The layout of the palace is similar to later palaces, with eight rooms surrounding an interior patio. The palace and multi-room temple are both made with stone foundations and adobe bricks. The temple consists of two large rectangular rooms, with a smaller room at each end. In addition to these outstanding structural remains, an informative array of ceramic artifacts, lithics, and ecofacts were collected. El Palenque, too, was attacked and burned circa 100 B.C. The occupation then moved to Cerro Tilcajete. There, research uncovered that the MAII occupation shrunk to 24.5ha and was centered around a plaza much smaller than its predecessors. The palaces and temples found at Cerro Tilcajete conform to types known from Monte Albán. It is clear that by this time, the Ocotlán/Zimatlán subregion was under Monte Albán's control and served as a secondary center of the Monte Albán II state.
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