It is evident that when talking about archaeological remains there exist a multiplicity of conceptualizations at several historic, economic, and social levels and that these will define the attitudes of different social actors. As an example, for a high level official of the federal government in Mexico City and for a Zapotec peasant the same archaeological object will have completely different meanings. There exists a comparable discontinuity between the Spanish conquistador who sought only to extract material riches from Indian monuments and then destroy them, and the contemporary protector of cultural heritage who defends to the bitter end the continuity and authenticity of the archaeological monument against any agent which could damage or alter it.
Field experience in the practice of conservation archaeology reveals a substantial range of interpretation as to the significance and value of archaeological sites. These are grounded in the nature of the appropriation different social groups make of archaeological materials as different resources. Thus, the archaeological site which for an academic is a research site for a tourist guide is a source of livelihood, for a campesino a field to cultivate, and for a newly-arrived resident in a community the only place to establish a homesite. The physical spaces archaeological zones occupy, therefore, are defined in different manners by different social groups. In this sense the interpretation may range from archaeological site to tourist center, place of employment, tillable ground, community lands, ejidos, sources of construction materials, infrastructure right-of-way, private property, and "the only piece of land" certain social sectors may ever own.
Archaeological Zones as Collective Resources
The broadest argument for the defense and protection of the archaeological heritage is that it forms part of a universal heritage given its significance for human history in general. The most relevant sites for understanding this history, and whose disappearance would be an irreparable loss for the entire world, are enrolled on the World Heritage List (UNESCO 1978). This List, a tangible result of the UNESCO Convention of 1972, seeks to avoid the disappearance of such sites and to conserve the most significant legacy of past civilizations, and the most inspiring of natural landscapes (UNESCO 1978). It is, of course, a high distinction for any site to be included on this universal listing, which by 1987 had reached 288 sites and has grown considerably in recent years.
Monte Alban has had World Heritage Site status since its declaration by UNESCO in 1987. Its importance, both historical and as an archaeological monument, was decided by the designated bodies (INAH, ICOMOS) through its nomination for World Heritage status via a proposal and supporting documentation prepared in 1984 (Archaeology Section Archives, INAH CRO). This distinction indicates the importance and great interest the site enjoys at the international level. At the national level it is considered one of the most significant and attractive sites in Mexico due to its impressive monumental architecture and spectacular location. It attracted a noteworthy list of 19th century European and American travelers, e.g., Eduard Muhlenfordt (1830), Juan Bautista Carriedo (1833), Johan von Muller (1857), Desire Charney (1884), and William Henry Holmes (1895), whose descriptions and graphics even today serve as useful academic references (Robles 1993: 70).
At the local level Monte Alban constitutes one of the great sources of pride for the heirs of the Zapotec culture. Although it is obvious the mestizo culture which prevails in the Valley of Oaxaca today lost its direct cultural relation with Monte Alban, the monumental quality of the site represents a tangible sample of a splendid past that must have been better. From this pride springs a certain effusive display among Oaxacans at the level of culture and politics; the slogan "Oaxaca: Heritage of Humanity" equally serves to give a particular touch to high level political discourse and to promote some form of business. But this is not true in terms of individual behavior, where despite a recognition archaeological resources are valuable and important, they are also nothing more than a piece of tillable land or a place to build living quarters, even where not permitted.
Mitla is the representative site of the postclassic period in the Valley of Oaxaca, with its most distinctive cluster of buildings corresponding to the period Monte Alban V (Caso, Bernal, and Acosta 1967; Kowalewski, et al, 1989). In a sense it bridges part of the period between the decline of Monte Alban and the arrival of the Spanish. Mitla's original configuration has been amply described (Alvarez 1900; Batres 1908; Muhlenfordt 1984; Holmes 1895; Caso 1936; Bernal 1956; Magadan 1984; Robles and Moreira 1990). In general terms it has been characterized as a city-state whose five groups or clusters of monumental buildings represent at least two periods of use, with two (South Group and Adobe Group) corresponding to early classic or Monte Alban IIIB, and three corresponding to Monte Alban V or what Alfonso Caso labelled the "Mixtec" period (the Arroyo, Columns, and North Groups).These monumental clusters constitute tangible evidence that a significant Zapotec community lived there at the time the Spaniards arrived, and they amazed Europeans such as Alonso de Canseco, Francisco de Burgoa, Francisco de Ajofrin, and Jose Antonio Gay (Magadan 1984: 65).
The pre-Columbian monuments of Mitla have a worldwide fame especially because of the aesthetic beauty of the architecture and ornamentation of the more recent or postclassic clusters. The group known as the Hall of the Columns has been the particular focus of millions of visitors such the beginning of the nineteenth century. The presence of friezes and tableros consisting of diverse geometric motifs assembled from tiny pieces of stone which contrast in the most complementary manner with enormous monolithic elements weighing several tons forming the lintels and columns, supports and burial chambers, have been among the visited tourist attractions in Oaxaca.