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The archaeological zone of Monte Alban is probably the best example in Mexico of the evolution of critera for protecting archaeological resources. As of 1926, even before the initiation of the archaeological project directed by Alfonso Caso, there were some early notions of boundary-setting for the site. Caso fixed the boundaries of the core area of Monte Alban, taking as criteria the presence of obvious monumental architecture in the Central Plaza, the presence of tombs on terraces adjacent to the plaza, and the palaces or temples themselves, with the resulting map published in his book Zapotec Stelae (Caso 1928: Figure 22). Clearly advanced for its time, this map provides a topographic rendering of the site and configuration of the monuments within it. It is the first time an archaeological team includes topographic experts to generate a clear image of the coverage, volumes, and proportions of the structures, even if only of the central plaza. Equally, it is the first time that an archaeologist worries about providing a site with effective protection, arranging through judicial contacts its declaration of the area surveyed as a Federal Zone.


Today Caso's boundary appears insufficient to us and unrealistic given the urban problems of Monte Alban. Nevertheless, his methodology is sufficiently rigorous and complete to give his project a character not only of archaeological research, but as one which provides the basis of legal protection once its cultural importance was demonstrated. And one needs to remember that the importance attached to domestic architecture in archaeology is hardly consistent with the monumental focus dominating the golden age of Mexican archaeology; it is a relatively recent import from the United States received through the influence of processual archaeology during the 1970s (Bender 1987; Winter 1972, among others).

Changes in archaeological thinking and in land use patterns around Monte Alban triggered consideration of altering the boundaries of the zone, and in October, 1976, the Directorate of the Public Registry of Zones and Monuments sent Eduardo Contreras Sánchez to carry out a survey "…to clarify the boundaries of the Archaeological Zone and its boundaries with the lands of the municipality of San Martin Mexicapam". In his report Contreras mentions that in 1972 the archaeological zone had been mapped with the purpose of better marking it for its protection, as

"…every day it is being invaded by people who have established new neighborhoods such as Monte Alban, Riveras del Atoyac, Lazaro Cardenas, and others on the north and east slopes of the hill. The invasion grows daily and the boundary lines which mark the zone have had to in some places pass between the streets and the houses of these neighborhoods to impede continuing invasion ." (Contreras 1976: Archives of CRO INAH)".
In the same report he states that as a consequence of decisions made at higher administrative levels the map made in 1972 did not include "..boundary monuments or markers which indicate the area so limited, as it has not been officially declared a Federal Zone, " and that the total area covers perhaps 1140 hectares. The 1976 project included verifying or confirming the area affected by San Martin Mexicapam via a new survey and boundary scheme. The resulting map was adopted as the "Monte Alban Federal Zone" by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform, even without the formal declaration which gives it legal validity, and it served as the basis of information for the Regional Development Plans under elaboration at the time by the municipalities bounding Oaxaca (Figure 23).

In November, 1976, the Oaxaca Regional Center initiated a proposal for a new boundary study of Monte Alban, this time with the research support of Mark Winter and execution by topographic engineer Francisco Cordero. This boundary study was ordered personally by President Luis Echeverria Alvarez on a visit to Oaxaca, as during his visit to Monte Alban INAH officials alerted him to the issue of the invasion of archaeological lands (Manuel Esparza, personal communication, 1995).

On this occasion the criterion was to include as parts of the archaeological zone the three monumental areas of the Main Plaza, Cerro del Gallo, y Atzompa. On the map these areas appear as three islands linked only by "bridges" (Figure 24). These areas with monumental architecture had considerable buffer around them, including the more obvious parts of dwelling and agricultural terraces. Toward San Juan Chapultepec there is a curious band of monumental structures which looks almost like another island, but which does not include terraces. The boundaries north and south of the Plaza are indicated by the big stone marker known as "La Mona" on the lands of Xoxocotlan, and by the tract known as "Seven Deer."

Analysis shows it quite clear that this boundary-setting obeyed the criterion of protecting only the monumental architecture, trying to avoid conflict with the issue of invasions by the new neighborhoods. Rather than a true attempt to protect the archaeological zone as an archaeological city, these boundaries were intended to avoid irritating the local population by taking the open spaces. In effect the criterion separated the technical assessment of INAH from the social issues involved at the expense of the integrity of the site . The boundaries encompassed a total area of 939 hectares, divided among the Main Plaza (698 hectares), Cerro del Gallo (24 hectares), and 2l7 hectares at Atzompa, a total area even smaller than the 1972 boundary-setting which Contreras mentions (Archaeology Section, Archive of INAH CRO).

Another obvious question about this project was the lack of attention to the relationships among volume, space, and function, considerations absent in the proposal. It is worth mentioning that by the date of this boundary-setting there existed a map produced (as of 1975) by Blanton which defines the outline of the pre-Columbian city from an anthropological perspective. It makes quite evident the presence of dwelling and cultivation terraces and above all their link to the centers of monumental architecture. Nevertheless it is clear this information did not influence the official boundaries of the site.

In December, 1984, there was yet another boundary-setting, this time under the auspices of the Department of Public Registry and under the technical supervision of Mark Winter of the Oaxaca Regional Center. This time the general criterion was to trace a boundary enveloping all the component elements of Monte Alban, taking into account all the area covered with archaeological remains as identified by Blanton (Nalda 1984, Archive of the INAH CRO). To accomplish this there was an outer boundary which includes the clusters of monumental architecture and all the dwelling and cultivation terraces, and three internal boundaries around the main clusters (Figure 25). The areas between the outer and inner boundaries had the status of archaeological and ecological reserves, as it was hoped to declare the site simultaneously an archaeological zone and national park (Nalda 1984, Archive of the INAH CRO). These proposed boundaries constitute a substantial advance in terms of site conceptualization and place Monte Alban at the forefront of thinking in Mexico by creating both ecological reserves and reserves for archaeological excavation in the future.

The purpose of this boundary-setting was to support a proposal before UNESCO to add to the list of World Heritage Sites a monumental area consisting of Monte Alban and the city of Oaxaca. This proposal specifically sought to protect as ample a setting as possible, building on the concept of cultural continuity. It included Monte Alban as an archaeological city stretching from 500 B.C. until 750 A.D. under the Zapotecs, and the city of Oaxaca in its colonial appearance starting in the sixteenth century. In effect this evoked the creation of a mestizo population through the fusion of the Spanish and Zapotecs. In this proposal, finally approved by UNESCO in 1985, one finds a marriage of concepts and criteria for conservation which at the time were completely novel to Mexican practice. On the one hand the holistic criterion which archaeological remains around the concept of an urban unit, without making distinctions between"monumental" and "minor", was new. In addition, to include in a single proposal the spaces of two cities with different cultural origins (pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial) but overlapping in a shared space, represented an important presentation of cultural continuity. In spite of all the positive qualities of this boundary-setting, it did not turn out to be the version used by INAH in setting official boundaries or in the definition as a Zone of Archaeological Monuments. Nor, in the end, were its technical materials utilized to define a strategy which would deter further invasions by the new neighborhoods surrounding Monte Alban.

The most recent effort to establish the boundaries of the Archaeological Zone of Monte Alban was that of 1992, carried out by the Sub-directorate of the Public Registry of Archaeological Zones and Monuments under the technical supervision of Blanca Paredes Gudiño. This boundary-setting was essentially a revision of that of 1984, as that had now suffered invasions in several sectors, especially on the west and southwest slopes (Figure 26). "…it was necessary to propose a boundary revision in a way which permits protection of the greatest part of the archaeological remains and at the same time leaves out those plots which are "supposedly private" (Paredes 1992, Archives of INAH CRO). This boundary revision required a general walking survey by staff of the Public Registry and by municipal and ejido officials to identify boundary markers in related to the properties affected (Paredes 1992, Archives of INAH CRO).

In the area north and east of Atzompa two boundary markers were relocated to exclude some small buildings and houses made of metal sheeting. On the northwest side of Atzompa and west of El Gallo, a sector which belongs to San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, there was no problem because the lands are under cultivation. To the west of Monte Alban the mayor of Xoxocotlan and the representative of its Communal Lands Committee removed two markers, while on the south side, which is ejido land, reports that near marker 39 the sons of an ejidatario wanted to subdivide and sell the land for construction led to a recommendation for increased surveillance. On ejido lands to the south of Monte Alban there was some significant shifting of markers given the extensive urban invasion of the area. Approximately 15 additional markers were laid out to provide maximum protection to the tract known as "El Paraguito", as this had begun to be invaded by public services such as sports fields, a chapel, and part of a new school. On the east slope of Monte Alban, in San Martin Mexicapam and San Juan Chapultepec, the boundary shifted, "…passing the location of the boundary markers behind the well-established construction complete with streets, electricity, and other services (Paredes 1992, Archives of INAH CRO). Lastly, markers 13 to 15 were routed around new structures (Paredes 1992, Archives of INAH CRO).

The obvious criterion in redefining the boundaries was to update the perimeter of 1984, excluding post-1984 construction. Here one can see very clearly the issue of urban growth on the east side of Monte Alban; if each time a new boundary is established and new construction permitted to penetrate, then the line shifts again to exclude new construction all one has accomplished is a staged compression of the archaeological zone, eventually ending with the space originally surveyed by Caso. One purpose of the new survey was to create an updated technical file in support of a presidential declaration of protection for the archaeological zone, while a second was to try to placate the local population by ceding some small areas having archaeological remains but already heavily invaded. The first objective was successful in 1993 when an official decree was published via which Monte Alban was officially recognized as an archaeological zone having a legal definition (Diario Oficial, 7 de diciembre de 1993). But the second objective failed, as with each day the population within the boundary increases, challenging the legal authority of INAH.

The total area included within the boundary line is 2,078 hectares. The sector centered on Atzompa consists of 378 hectares, the Cerro del Gallo is 32 hectares, and the central part of Monte Alban is 1,035 hectares, with the remainder connecting and buffer areas. That is, the area theoretically protected is almost double the largest previous zone, that surveyed in 1972 by Contreras.

According to the report prepared by Blanca Paredes, the archaeologist in charge of the project, to carry out the various tasks associated with boundary-setting INAH contacted in writing the municipal authorities, ejido officers, and members of the Common Lands Committees of each community around Monte Alban, plus all the state and federal agencies whose activities touch on land use, tenure, and regulation, soliciting their cooperation (Archives of INAH CRO, 17 de julio de 1992). Paredes reports that in several instances the same people contacted accompanied the topographic crew to locate the boundary markers (Paredes 1992, in Archives of INAH CRO).

Nevertheless, a month later, on August 5th, with work on boundary-setting in full swing, there was a major meeting of members of various neighborhoods along the south and southeastern boundary of the archaeological zone to comment on the on-going project. The smallholders of the area around "El Paraguito", plus residents of Insurgentes, Santa Cruz, Santa Elena, y Xoxocotlan, "…expressed their disagreement for the manner is which they had found out about the situation and the steps being taken by INAH, that is, moving the markers from their "original" position, and thereby affecting smallholders and part of the campus of the school 'Monte Alban' (Extra de Oaxaca, 7 de agosto de 1992:8A) Other residents stated: "we are here to express our disagreement about the way the Anthropology commission is putting up boundary markers which affect land legally donated for the construction of the school" (Extra de Oaxaca, 7 de agosto de 1992:8A). Even the same officials who had accompanied the official boundary team on its rounds now spoke against the process:

"the current problem, declared the representative of the Common Lands Committee of Xoxocotlan, is disagreement over the placement of boundary markers by INAH and which we cannot support, as we were invited in a hasty, disorganized manner and had to participate because it interested me to see what was happening and to know what was happening to the boundary markers" (Extra de Oaxaca, 7 de agosto de 1992:8 A).
This collective testimony communicates a sense of the way many of those who saw themselves affected by the new boundaries felt about the process and implications. Although INAH officials tried on a number of occasions to explain the boundary lines of the archaeological zone in no way affects ownership of the land, the general opinion about this was: "when INAH or anyone else in the world puts markers on boundary lines it means that is a tract controlled and directed, and from then on it is INAH which gives the orders, (deciding) where you can build and where not, whether you can sell, plow, or build a house" (Extra de Oaxaca, 7 de agosto de 1992:8A). This was especially irksome to people who see themselves as having ancestral rights to land which cannot be abridged by apparently capricious policy implementation or the illegitimate whims of bureaucrats in Mexico City, rights confirmed by "…(a map of Xoxocotlan) from the 1500s which shows Monte Alban belongs to it, and that it stretches to San Juan Chapultepec, San Martin Mexicapam, San Pedro, Cuilapan, Jalpan, San Agustin de las Juntas y San Antonio de la Cal" (Extra de Oaxaca, 7 de agosto de 1992:8A).

Information on such reactions and demonstrations by local residents appear as an annex to the report of Blanca Paredes, but never receives the same degree of attention and analysis as shown the technical data which confirm the presence of archaeological remains. No-one seems to grasp that no matter how detailed and expert the technical file supporting a presidential decree, the political authorities which make such decisions are highly sensitive to the concerns and reactions of the local communities, and failure to consider that may leave excellent professional work sitting unused on a shelf.

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