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The only official boundary-setting carried out at the Archaeological Zone of Mitla took place in 1985 by technical staff from the SRPMZA-INAH under the supervision of Nelly Robles Garcia (Figure 27) (Archaeological Section Archive, INAH CRO).

By now it should be clear that the nature of the urban setting of this archaeological zone is such that a key issue is the loss of all sense of the original spatial relations between the monumental structures and residential areas. This cancels any possibility of understanding the logic and organization of this important pre-Columbian site through simple observation. The official technical file for Mitla assembled by SRPMZA emphasizes:

The archaeological site of Mitla presents a special set of issues, the most difficult of which is that urban sprawl has divided and invaded practically every corner of the site…in effect dividing it into 5 areas with archaeological remains…it is not now possible to have an intergrated perspective on the site, as instead what one finds is 5 segments bounded by modern streets, with small pieces of unoccupied land which consist of the structures themselves and adjoining spaces which serve as future areas for research (Monzon en SRPMZA 1991: 8-9).
It is worth noting that it was William R. Holmes who in 1895 described and in effect formalized the conceptualization of the archaeological zone of Mitla on the basis of its clusters of monumental structures (Holmes 1897).This was the defining criterion for conservation programs on the part of INAH for nearly a century. It continues to be the vision held by most tourists, planners, and other social actors associated with Mitla, most of whom rarely move outside the immediate confines of the Hall of the Columns and the North group. Although officially the five clusters were recognized, in reality maintenance and protection was given to just one until 1985, the year in which some preliminary activities of the proposed Mitla Project were initiated. This proposal envisioned the recovery of all five clusters with the goal of creating a more integrated appreciation of the site (Robles and Moreira 1990).

However, an assessment of all the findings in Mitla beyond the monumental structures, whether through planned research or fortuitous discovery, gives us a very different perspective on the site, where a broader view of archaeological protection and boundary-setting (Figure 28) would inevitably affect contemporary interests such as housing, commerce, cultivation, and even water supply. The first technical study, in 1982-83, proposed a broader boundary which would include the five clusters of monumental architecture with in it, each of which would in turn be contained in a more rigorously-defined space exclusively for archaeological protection (Archives of INAH CRO, 1985). In turn, this proposal in reality is a single aspect of a larger vision of the prospect for conservation of the archaeological zone in its current urban context (Robles and Moreira 1990). This larger vision implies considering the five monumental clusters within a "Mitla Monuments Zone" which recognizes the historical and cultural value not only of the pre-Columbian structures, but also the religious and domestic architecture of the colonial period as well as the vernacular architecture of today, for which reason "we define the Mitla Monuments Zone as the area where concentrations of architecture from the pre-Columbian and colonial periods still survive" Robles and Moreira 1990: 80).

The Mitla Monuments Zone consists of the following elements:

Pre-Columbian: five groups with distinctive characteristics, with three organized around patios and two based on mounds with central plazas.

Colonial: two catholic churches located on top of pre-Columbian construction; the Mitla church built on Patio C of the North group, and the chapel of the Calvary on the summit of Mound 37 of the Adobe group.

Contemporary: the urban sector which surrounds A and B, including both dwellings and the commercial facilities and infrastructure supporting tourism.

The Monuments Zone, in effect, has received architectural contributions from each historical period. To the pre-Columbian monuments were added the religious buildings of the colonial period, and more recently the growth of the community has created the existing urban complex. This means the proposed boundary of the Zone needed to respect existing streets, with the boundaries protecting the five monumental groups alining with individual street blocks within the urban framework. The spaces within the larger boundary but between the monumental clusters would be treated as the immediate context of the latter, and as such woiuld be subject to some regulation in styles of construction, height, color, signage, openings, and other urban features (Robles and Moreira 1990:80).

In conjunction with the Monuments Zone it was proposed to create a specific area for urban expansion and an ecological reserve (Robles and Moreira 1990, map P-1). In thinking about the removal of housing from the areas dedicated to the monumental clusters it was fundamental to propose where, in an orderly manner, families leaving these areas could be relocated. The general idea was to create an urban growth zone on the south side of Mitla, where there is less conflict with archaeological materials, and provide it with the appropriate urban services to reduce resistance to relocation. The ecological reserve would cover the rock outcroppings, i.e. the foothills of the Sierra Mixe, on the north side of the Monuments Zone. During the pre-Columbian period these outcroppings had both defensive and resource uses. More recently it has served as a catchment area for summer season run-off, for informal recreation, and other environmental purposes, but now is filling rapidly with new housing.

The thinking behind the original work carried out by Robles and Moreira in 1982-83 and later published by INAH in 1990 was a significant advance in conceptualizing and treating conservation issues in an archaeological zone. In 1987 the proposal received Mexico's National Prize in Salvage, Restoration, Conservation, and Dissemination of Archaeological Heritage, granted by INAH to the best study in the field. Perhaps its most important contribution has been to link issues of conservation of cultural heritage in complex settings to solutions which recognize the relationship of these issues to other urban elements and to patterns of economically attractive land use in contemporary Mitla. The principal impediment to put this into practice is that existing law makes no provision for grouping historical periods in a single monumental zone. Nor is there sensitivity to the significance of contemporary land use in solutions to heritage conservation.

In 1991 the SRPMZA-INAH finally decided to create the technical file on which to base the official boundary-setting of the Mitla Archaeological Monuments Zone. For this it accepted the boundary proposal of Robles (1985) which it describes as: "…consisting of 4 internal blocks corresponding to the groups of archaeological remains discussed (one block includes the North group and the Hall of Columns group). In addition there is a general boundary encompassing these and adjacent spaces…" (Monzon 1991: 58). Nevertheless, with respect to a proposal for a Monuments Zone it took the position that "…this is too ambitious as it includes a large number of modern properties which means that, if it is not possible to offer housing alternatives to the owners, it becomes difficult to initiate population transfers of such magnitude" (Monzon 1991: 59). Monzon approved the proposed urban growth zone and ecological reserve, but apparently did not understand the linkage between the possible relocation and the urban growth zone proposal. Finally the proposed Official Declaration of the Archaeological Monuments Zone of Mitla:

would respect the map drawn up in 1985, in the sense that it maintains the 5 blocks now mentioned; besides it should consider for fieldwork the location of the specific boundaries of each block and plan the installation of cyclone fencing as well as assigning custodians for each group…For this it would be advisable to take into account the proposals which Robles and Moreira offer with respect to internal and external planning for each monumental group, including access, green spaces, and installation of a security booth (Monzon 1991: 59).

It is fundamental to understand that with this the boundary-setting of the SRPMZA-INAH returns to the vision of defining an archaeological zone on the basis of the monumentalist criteria which prevailed in Mexican archaeology for so many decades, and that the proposal to take into account all historical periods evidently was not understood by the SRPMZA staff. Finally, Monzon's text suggests that should the plots which invade the spaces reserved for the monumental structures be acquired by INAH, "the situation of the area with respect to land use and tenure would consist of two levels, which would be:

AREA 1: Federal Property. Core area of archaeological monuments. This is a space which is owned by the national government and under the responsibility and custody of INAH. The land is not used except as necessary for protection and maintenance. Construction is prohibited.

AREA 2: Restricted Area. Land use is restricted and subject to current regulations, as well as subject to the results of archaeological excavation or expert review which INAH carries out for regulatory purposes". (Monzon 1991: 66).

Here the goal of archaeological zoning, without addressing it as such, appears obvious. And here a fundamental shortcoming of INAH, that it has neither adequate authority nor resources to implement effective protection, once again becomes apparent. The proposal of an outer boundary encompassing four internal blocks of monumental structures and intermediate spaces was finally approved, becoming the basis of the official boundary of the Archaeological Monuments Zone of Mitla, according to a decree published December 7, 1993, in the Official Diary and signed by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. According to this decree the Archaeological Monuments Zone consists of 38.86 hectares. The official technical file, on deposit with the SRPMZA, is E14D58-20-001. The declaration includes all the monumental areas proposed previously, but provides no legal protection to non-archaeological properties (i.e., colonial and vernacular architecture) for the contextual value they offer.

In the case of creating official protection for Mitla it is very clear that the legal section of INAH does not necessarily support the more thorough proposals based on academic research in the field and which therefore offer the guarantee of some relationship to reality. In addition, one sees quite clearly how the criteria for conservation of archaeological heritage which show a steady advance at the international level disappear in a national context. For Mexico this means that the institution which has responsibility for such conservation operates with a focus providing little latitude for academically-based proposals, and for updating the preparation and professional understanding of its research and administrative staff. In this respect the policies and practices for boundary-setting in archaeological zone protection in Mexico share many characteristics with protected natural areas. Perez Gil comments in a recent article:

The traditional concepts regarding protected areas as applied in Mexico are outdated and impractical. The traditional areas have failed to protect resources and, even worse, have not been adequately appreciated by local residents or have been considered a wasted investment. Through the search for innovative approaches and through the experience and knowledge acquired, around the world there are new schools of thought and new conservation theories, and one waits for their impact on Mexican protected areas in terms of economics, legislation and regulation, management, innovative organizational restructuring, operations, priorities, planning, and design". (Perez Gil Sacido 1995: 37).

It is also important to point out that even when within INAH there have been proposals for boundary projects based on new conceptual frameworks there has been little interest on the part of the research staff. They do not see it as a topic worth studying or writing about in significant national or international journals, and thereby commenting on work carried on outside the country. On this point I am in agreement with Perez Gil in the sense that while this professional activity is not recognized with the seriousness and respect it merits, improvisational tendencies will continue and the same mistakes will continue to be made. These in turn will be very difficult to correct and those errors will have severe repercussions and irreversible effects on the natural and cultural heritage (Perez Gil Salcido 1995:38).

Equally important would be a periodic updating of the legal framework on which to base new academic approaches and to avoid in other cases what happened in Mitla. In this sense the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic, and Historical Zones and Monuments was approved in 1972, and since that time has received a single revision, in 1986, through a decree which provides for a temporary expansion of the law under which "…are protected fossil vestiges or remains of living creatures which lived within the national territory in the past, and whose study, conservation, restoration, recovery or use obeys a paleontologic interest…" (Diario Oficial, 13 de enero de 1986). This decree covers a grave gap from the past—the original law did not mention such finds—and includes the definition of new fields of archaeological research, but in no way touches the criteria for boundary-setting which concern us.

It is also urgent to note the impact on protected areas occasioned by changes in the law regarding land tenure in Mexico. Recently these changes have shown a tendency to develop at a far faster rate than the institutional programs for protecting natural and cultural heritage. This is the topic which we explore in greater detail in the following chapter.