Top Ten Zapotec Artifacts

Top Ten Zapotec Artifacts

       The Zapotec civilization arose in the Mexican valley of Oaxaca around 500 B.C. It reached its height of artistic and political influence between 200 and 700 AD. As a society it was sharply divided along class lines, between nobility and more common folk. The Zapotec elite governed the territories they controlled from a large and architecturally impressive urban center known as Monte Albán, which supported a large population during its peak. Archaeologists use different phases of the site’s development to date and contextualize Zapotec artifacts. Monte Albán’s core was built upon a leveled mountain top with residential structures located upon terraces constructed down the hillside. By A.D. 700, Zapotec power waned and the population of Monte Albán began to desert the city. While the Zapotec state may have disappeared at this time, the people did not. Over 1200 years have passed since the artifacts featured here were formed and the descendants of the ancient Zapotec still live in their homeland, in the modern state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

  1. Funerary Urn (500-750 AD) 

    This massive funerary urn was part of a larger group of urns which may have contained offerings used during an interment ceremony for someone of elite status. Two other identical urns are known to exist and it is thought that there is another larger urn which also was part of this group. The figure depicted is wearing an elaborate headdress, ear spools and a pendant with tubular shells. Upon the figure’s face is a mask with feline, serpentine and crocodilian attributes. The urn measures 76.8 cm in height and resides in the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
  2. Gold Mask

    This is a small Zapotec cast gold mask found in Santo Domingo Convent in Oaxaca, Mexico.
    Links: Top 100 MasksTop 100 Gold Artifacts,
  3. Gold Ornaments

    These Zapotec laminate, hammered and pepoussé gold ornaments can be found at the Santo Domingo Convent in Oaxaca, Mexico.
    Links: Top 100 Gold Artifacts,
  4. Bat Urn (550-750 AD)

    The creature on this urn has the head of a bat and a human-like body. Urns like these did not contain human ashes, but were made to be buried with the elite in elaborate tombs. Bats, as well as jaguars, were central animals to the Zapotec and they symbolized mighty underworld (land of the dead) powers. In a religious context, it was believed that the bat was a fierce creature known for biting the heads off of their adversaries. For this reason, the bat became a symbol for Zapotec leadership. The urn stands 40 cm high and can be found in the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
  5. Chocolate Pot (100 BC–250 AD)

    This round vessel, with a bridge-spout, features the head of an opossum on its neck. The orientation of the spout on this vessel, which is higher than the lip and angled backwards, would not have allowed for effective pouring. The exact use of the spout on such pots is still debated. Matching vessel forms from Maya sites of the same time period are often called “chocolate pots.” Recent studies have determined that some such vessels contained residue consistent with use as containers for Maya cacao beverages. The froth of a cacao beverage was considered highly prestigious, suggesting that the spout was used for blowing frothing air into. To date, no residue tests have been performed on this vessel. The vessel has a diameter of 21 cm and is currently located in the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
    Links: Top Ten Chocolates, Top Ten Chocolate MakersTop Ten Cacao Regions,
  6. Necklace

    This is a Zapotec necklace found at Monte Alban.
    Links: Top 100 Necklaces, Top Ten Ancient Necklaces,
  7. Gold Ornaments

    These pieces are Zapotec laminate gold ornaments from the Santo Domingo Convent in Oaxaca, Mexico.
  8. Copper Axes

    Links: Top Ten Battle Axes,
  9. Links: Artifacts, Top 100 North American Artifacts, Top Ten Paintings by Diego Rivera,,,