The History of the Mixtecs

The Mixtecs

The Mixtecs of Postclassic times (10th - 16th c.), lived in three distinct regions in the state of Oaxaca: the Mixteca Baja in western and Northwestern Oaxaca, the coastal areas called the Mixteca de la Costa, and the high, fertile valleys of the Mixteca Alta. It was in the Mixteca Alta that Mixtec culture reached its highest level of development, and it was from there that their culture spread into the adjacent Valley of Oaxaca to co-mingle with the remaining Zapotecs. The Mixtec did not build a major ceremonial center in the valley, but instead, they occupied many well known Zapotec cities including Monte Alban, Mitla and yagul. Other lesser known, but historically important sites of possible Mixtec construction in this region include Coixtlahuaca and Tilantongo. At all these locations, the Mixtec developed an extraordinary art style in gold casting and codice illustration that was to influece all of Mesoamerica throughout the Postclassic years up to the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Monte Alban

Some of the finest examples of Mixtec craftsmanship were found in 1932, in Tomb 7 at Monte Alban. The tomb had been built for burial purposes by the Zapotecs during the Classic Period, and then re-used by the Mixtecs during the Postclassic time for internment of one of their important leaders. The ruler who was buried in the tomb was surrounded by a stunning collection of silver jewelry, rock crystal jewels and vases, and many different varieties of gold jewelry that had been created by using the "lost wax" process of gold casting. The Mixtecs had learned the art of metal casting from the gold workders of Panama and Costa Rica and excelled in this technique. Using gold, copper, and occasionally silver, they created an enourmous variety of exquisite jewelry. No finer gold work has ever been found in the Americas than the beautiful funerary offerings that were included with the dead leader at Monte Alban.

Although the Mixtec and Zapotec cultures mingled and overlapped in certain areas of Oaxaca during the Postclassic Period, each had a very individual development. The Zapotecs remained rooted in their Classic period religious traditions and the Mixtecs developed a secular rule. The Mixtecs were more aggresive than the Zapotecs, and they built numerous defensive sites on mountaintop locations. Toward the end of the Postclassic period, the Mixtecs banded together with the remaining Zapotecs to push back the encroaching Aztecs, but eventually, in the 15th century, the greater part of the Mixtec region fell to the forces of Tenochtitlan. At this time the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma conquered the city of Coixtlahuaca, where the richest tributes in the Mixteca Alta were stored. From that time on, the Mixtec rulers were allowed to retain their power, but they were required to send their people to the Aztec capital at tenochtitlan, bearing rich tributes to the Aztec Kings.

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