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Zapotec State

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
231

Zapotec State

OLogy Series
anthropology

Thousands of years before the Aztecs, a native people called the Zapotec founded one of Mexico's earliest civilizations in the Valley of Oaxaca (wa-HA-ka). The "golden age" of the Zapotec state was from A.D. 200-700. They were the first Central Americans to build a state ruled by nobles. Zapotec nobles also filled the highest levels of the priesthood and the highest ranks of the army.

The most powerful sacred force in the Zapotec religion was the lightning god Cociyo (ko-see-yo). Other forces were clouds, rain, hail, and:

wind

rocks

gravity

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Correct!

The Zapotec divided the universe into parts, such as the Sky and the Earth. Clouds, rain, hail, and wind were part of the forces of the Sky, while earthquakes were a force of the Earth.

Zapotecs called themselves "the cloud people" because they believed that:

messages could be found in the sky

their nobles were descendants of beings who lived in the clouds

people were born in the sky

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Correct!

They also believed that nobles returned to the clouds when they died. In contrast, the ancestors of Zapotec commoners were believed to have emerged from the Earth or to have been turned into humans from trees or jaguars.

There are no Zapotecs living today.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Today, there are more than 300,000 descendants of the Zapotec people living in central Mexico. Many still speak Zapotec.

Zapotec “commoners” may have never seen their ruler's face.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Zapotec kings wore masks, perhaps to reinforce the myth that they were supernatural beings who descended from the lightning god Cociyo.

Population: more than 500,000
Golden Age of the Empire: A.D. 200-700
Location: Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico
Capital: Monte Alban
Common foods: maize, beans, squash, turkey, nuts, berries
Cool fact: The Zapotec used a ritual calendar with 260 days that had names like frog, water, or earthquake. People were named after the day on which were born.

Image credits: AMNH Charles Spencer.