DECEMBER, 1969: When it was proposed in 1930 that I carry out the excavations at Monte Alban the fundamental objectives were to generate data which would provide more complete knowledge regarding Zapotec writing and calendar systems, begin architectural studies of monumental structures, and study ceramic sequencing. It was also proposed that I do some excavation in tombs to obtain information about religion, clothing, and adornment of the Zapotecs as well as samples of Zapotec and Mixtec lapidary art and goldsmithing…Tomb 7 at Monte Alban was discovered during the first field season. At that time the author worked on his own under an exploration concession granted by the Secretary of Education through the Department of Monuments, under the direction of Jose Reygadas Vertiz. Architect Ignacio Marquina was the Director of Prehispanic Monuments, and both gave all kinds of assistance in order to make excavation possible. During this first field season I counted on the support of two institutions, the Panamerican Institute of Geography and the National University…In addition the Secretary of Education assigned as my aide Mr. Martin Bazan, in charge of the archaeological zones in the state of Oaxaca…For the first time private parties contributed economic support, including D.W. Morrow, Eleazar del Valle, Rafael E. Melgar and J. Velasquez Uriarte…I cannot end this introduction, having mentioned the people who participated in the exploration of the tomb, without adding the humble but indispensible collaboration of the workers who carried out the excavations. I have to thank them for, besides their work and enthusiasm, the honor they demonstrated when through their hands passed, extracted from the earth which had filled the tomb, the small gold and jade counters, the smallest pearls, and the innumerable pieces of turqouose from the mosaics on which their ancestors had labored. To mention them is a pleasant obligation.
On January 6, 1932, we began exploration of the mound of Tomb 7…As it was a saturday, a day on which we paid the workers, I had left Licenciado Valenzuela in charge in order to go down to Oaxaca to collect the funds. When I came back up accompanied by my wife, on arriving where Valenzuela was he said the word "Guelaguetza", which signifies "offering" or "gift," and hung on me the jade collar and showed me the conch trumpet…Valenzuela and I had carried out an early inspection of the tomb, a surface survey walking along the stones which stuck irregularly out of the ground, and it permitted us to make a preliminary inspection without destroying artifacts or human bones. On illuminating the earth in the tomb one could see shining points of the pearls, the gold counters, and the innumerable little plates of turquoise which formed at one time rich mosaics…On leaving the tomb we were absolutely convinced of the enormous artistic and scientific wealth we had discovered, and I thought I had no record or notice that anywhere in America had discovered a treasure of this nature" (Caso 1969: 11, 45).
SUMMER, 1987: "During the archaeological field season in the zone at Mitla, Oaxaca, my activity concentrated on aspects of conservation and maintenance there, as this was my specialization within archaeology and because it was all the chronic budget shortfall at the National Institute of Anthropology and History permitted, a common condition during those years. One of the priorities in my project was reinforcing with iron frames those pre-Columbian lintels which carry the back wall of the Catholic church. Here it is worth remarking that at the moment of the Conquest Mitla was still a living community, so the conquistadors decided to humble the old religion by building the church building on top of a pre-Columbian Zapotec palace. Currently the fact that the lower part of the structure is from the pre-Columbian era while the upper part is colonial makes us…INAH's personnel…responsible for safeguarding and conservation of both monuments.
With this in mind and having discussed with municipal authorities our work plan for the season I proceeded to evaluate the nature of the damage found in both buildings. This consisted of cracks in the colonial walls of the church as well as in the pre-Columbian lintels, cracks clearly related to the tremendous weight of the more recent structure on the older one. I decided, together with the team of architects from INAH's Oaxaca Regional Center who provided technical support, to put in place the frames previously mentioned. To do this it was first necessary to remove the accumulated earth fill and stones from the areas where the frames would be placed. To do this I went with my group of masons and helpers to begin removal of this layer in order to uncover the area where we would do the technical work. We were directly below the pre-Columbian lintel inside Dwelling 9, Patio C, of the Church or North Group.
Immersed in the work we suddenly heard a group of people approaching us, shouting and making signs for us to get out of there. They arrived at our worksite and shouted at me that I should take my people and leave, that we had no right to be excavating there, that we were thieves who wanted to steal from the church. These shouts were seconded by the wandering vendors who prowl the archaeological zone. I tried to calm the animus and explain what we were doing, that far from damaging their church we were going to reinforce it and had permission of the municipal authorities. In the midst of all the shouting I suddenly felt a gun barrel pressed against my head. One of the crowd threatened to kill me right there, stating bluntly that the mayor had no right to give permission to work in the church and that I headed a group of thieves. At that point my crew boss intervined, and speaking vigorously in Zapotec he thrust himself in front of the crowd, machete in hand, and dragged me away. As we moved away I could see a large crowd of vendors from the Artisans Market and a number of the custodians from the archaeological zone. After this incident obviously they did not permit us to finish our work, not even to touch the lintels, and the hostility was such that I decided that the principal responsibility of my crew chief would be to protect me. The rest of the field season I worked in Mitla under the protection of a bodyguard" (Robles 1987).
These two examples show us quite clearly how and to what degree the environment of archaeology and archaeological conservation in Mexico changed over a perioid of fifty years. The romanticism of the early period, the interest and respect our discipline could inspire, was demonstrated by the significant support forthcoming from the highest levels of government in the form of contracts for personnel and noteworthy budgets. Today this romantic science has become a devalued activity marked by threats to the physical integrity of the archaeologist, an atmosphere of conflict, minimal interest outside the profession, and little or no support from institutions. Today the professional practice of archaeology in Mexico is marked by painful cutbacks in budgets for research and a lack of additional positions for archaeologists in an era when urban growth, tourism development, and infrastructure construction puts the nation's archaeological heritage increasingly at risk. An analysis of this change, and in particular of the social conflicts associated with it, is a principal concern of this study.