Monte Albán: Sacred Architecture

Works of Art


The hilltop location of Monte Albán was a defensive one and warrior imagery is extensive at the site. Building L, located on the western edge of the plaza, features carved stone slabs with images of naked, sometimes mutilated figures. Accompanying hieroglyphs probably name the figures, as well as towns conquered by Monte Albán’s rulers. The slabs, of which some 300 are known, are called Danzantes, or dancers, because of their distorted and awkward postures. Although Building L was subsequently altered and many stones removed, enough remains of the original presentation to see a massive gallery of stacked rows of stone depicting Monte Albán’s captives and victims. It served as a powerful reminder of Monte Albán’s authority to residents of the valley and to visitors from the farthest reaches of Mesoamerica.

Building J, a curious arrowhead-shaped structure on the centerline of the plaza, continued the strategy of war-related display seen in the earlier Building L. Focusing on more lengthy hieroglyphic texts rather than images of captives, the approximately fifty “conquest slabs” apparently name many of the places brought under Monte Albán’s control. Built during the site’s greatest period of expansion, ca. 100 B.C.–200 A.D., Building J does not follow the same alignment as the rest of the site plan, and must have had an astronomical significance.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2001


Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “Monte Albán: Sacred Architecture.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2001)

Further Reading

Marcus, Joyce, and Kent V. Flannery. Zapotec Civilization: How Urban Society Evolved in Mexico's Oaxaca Valley. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1996.