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The character of the data on which this research is based probably will generate a certain degree of nervousness among planners, archaeologists, and other specialists in the field owing to the obvious absence of material extracted from government agencies, e.g., census data, typologies, official statistics, graphs and tables, and the official results of national programs. On the other hand, it gives most weight to primary ethographic materials, field observation, and on-site verification of maps addressing land tenure, land use, and boundaries. Such approaches and the data they generate are not part of "standard" research or conservation practice, as these generally depend on data published or collected by government agencies, and the boundary maps published by these agencies e.g., INEGI, INAH, or SRA. Rarely does orthodox research practice pay much attention to margins of error or overlapping boundaries frequently found on such maps, and which are the hidden basis of conflicts between communities or between comunities and government agencies. This is unfortunate, as a lack of understanding of the significance of boundary-setting in relation to community resource use and social dynamics leads researchers and government practitioners to reduce to a set of technical considerations issues which for the communities involved are central to their identity and survival.

A fundamental concern in this project has been to narrate facts, describe situations, and listen to the testimony of people who as individuals or organized groups feel themselves affected by official practices intended to protect the archaeological sites in question. I try to understand, through the application of ethnographic techniques, the depth of social issues generated through the presence and official control of archaeological resources in combination with a range of other factors. Ideally this exercise will enable us to reassess the possibility of a convergence of interests with these individuals and groups in a participatory process which brings closer the ideal of protection of archaeological sites for the collective good and assures that communities feel they are heard in decisions with respect to cultural heritage. The challenge is to reach this objective without damaging the individual or collective interests or resources which in many cases represent the only significant asset, however acquired, these people possess. In this repect a major element in the research design and process centers on the identification of these actors, the spaces they occupy, their basis of power and influence, and their sense of their interests, on the premise that to the extent we understand them, whether as isolates or in relation to other actors or issues, we will come closer to understanding the contemporary social context of archaeological heritage which concerns us.

Organizing the Research


This research was carried out in two parts: (A) fieldwork, and (B) documentary review. Fieldwork meant approaching different communities, organizations, and individuals for informal interviews with different actors in different positions: heads of households; leaders of political, business, and religious groups; ejido and communal lands commissioners, municipal authorities; public employees in a range of professional and administrative roles; and scholars. Interviews were generally arranged through key informants (Young and Young 1961: 141), who also played an extremely important role in helping to identify sincere resposes and accurate data. Interviewing meant stepping outside my official role, displaying an open mind which encouraged interviewees to express freely their concerns and ideas. It also meant using local language and references, as these contributed to building levels of confidence and shared understanding, similar to the methods of Rapid Rural Appraisal (Grandstaff 1990; RPA Trainers Workshop 1991; Rhoades 1987). My status as a Oaxaca native and as someone recognized in the local research community also was important, as I shared with informants a common background in the cultural, historical, and environmental contexts important for the research.

Although several communities in Oaxaca have been studied extensively by ethnographers (Parsons 1936; Beals 1945; De La Fuente 1957; Malinowski and De La Fuente 1957; Butterworth 1962, 1970; Nahmad, 1965, 1995; Selby 1966; Diskin 1967; Cook 1968; MacLowry 1970; Waterbury 1970; Chance 1971; Kearney 1972, among others), for the specific areas addressed in this project there is a paucity of relevant prior research. The ring of settlements around Monte Alban has been touched only tangentially, although many themes found there have been explored in other urban anthropology studies carried out in the economically distressed neighborhoods of the city of Oaxaca (Butterworth 1970, 1973; Higgins 1974, 1983, 1986; Murphy 1991, 1994; Selby, et al, 1990; Winter, et al, 1990; Rees, et al, 1991), and in the analysis of social inequality in the city (Stepick and Murphy 1980; Murphy and Selby 1985; Murphy 1987; Murphy and Stepick 1991). Mitla is the focus of one of the pioneering ethnographies on Oaxaca (1936) and of some other studies centered on commerce (Beals 1979: 165). Many of the categories of analysis used here draw on these previous studies.

Another aspect of fieldwork was a series of intensive ground surveys of the areas officially designated as the "Archaeological Monuments Zone of Monte Alban" and the "Archaeological Monuments Zone of Mitla", according to the Public Registry of Archaeological Zones and Monuments of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (1993). Fortunately the Monte Alban surveys coincided with the 1995 formation of an interagency commission charged with a review of existing conditions within the official boundary, a charge which involved a ground survey by officials from various agencies, with elected officials from communities surrounding the archaeological zone, and leaders of organized groups when they wished to be there, or with trusted informants.

For the surveys of Mitla personal experience of more than ten years, coupled with intimate knowledge of the site, community leaders, and key informants, proved essential. For example, in Mitla some interviews had to be repeated several times, as given the delicate relations of INAH with the community it was obvious in many cases the early responses were distorted. If personal experience proved an asset in many ways, both the people I wanted to interview and I myself had to overcome the less pleasant moments of that experience. Ground verification of the maps used in distributing agrarian lands was accomplished in the company of the Ejido Commissioner and officials from the Office of the Agrarian Solicitor.

The other component of the project was documentary research. This included both review of published material and a great emphasis on archival work. Through exhaustive analysis of the technical archives of the Archaeological and Juridical Sections of INAH's Oaxaca Regional Center it became possible to approximate the social reality which forms the developmental context of institutional conservation. Files of applications for construction permits, documents on the suspension of construction projects, atttempts to regulate land use, agreements with different muncipal, agrarian, or agency officials, plans for development projects, and above all documentation showing the genesis and behavior of social organizations were used as primary materials in assessing the social character of conflicts which have confronted both archaeological zones.

It is important to note that this is probably the first time that such data have been utilized for academic research related to archaeology, as generally these files have been stored only with the idea they may be of some use in processing legal cases INAH may handle. Nevertheless, they proved themselves fundamental in the search for materials to be analyzed in the course of this research.

The presentation of this project takes the form of a comparative study of the social dimensions of site conservation and management at Monte Alban and Mitla. Not only are these two sites of great academic importance in studying the cultural development of Oaxaca, and in appreciating the economic implications of their great contributions to the tourism industry, but because they represent two realities, two types of social universe which make it possible to contrast key issues in protected archaeological areas. In the case of Monte Alban we will see the dynamics of conflict associated with the urbanization of a middle-size city, while in the case of Mitla we are dealing with a mixed urban-rural environment marked by a strong sense of ethnic identity.

The social context currently surrounding Monte Alban includes its marginal neighborhoods (Murphy and Stepick 1991: 64), settlements subsidized by the government (Murphy and Stepick 1991: 69), ejidos, communal lands, and private properties. Each category of land use and tenure generates specific social groups identifiable by their geographic location, membership in defined social strata, and their degree of rootedness in and possession of land.

This is not the case in Mitla, which presents a uniform context and a settlement pattern which surrounds and invades the archaeological zone. It does not present great social differences, as it is an ethnic community still structured socially according to ancient custom (Parsons 1936). The social groups discussed in the course of this text appear to be formed in large measure around a territorial base presumed to have significant value in terms of access to or control over those areas of the archaeological zone open to the public. It becomes difficult to differentiate among groups which overlap in a small space. Through participation in the day-to-day dynamics of the community, where systematic observation begins to shed light on what at first appears to be turbulent, unpatterned activity, one learns to appreciate the larger and purposive forces at work. As an example of this, on my arrival in Mitla in 1984 I was capable of seeing only two groups of people with economic interests in the archaeological zone, but through my participation, experience, interviews, and greater understanding of the complexity of the community, today I can see at least fourteen different categories of actors seeking access to the same resource.

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