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Kent Flannery

Mexico: Valley of Oaxaca

Since 1966, the Valley of Oaxaca in Mexico's southern highlands has served as a laboratory for testing theories of sociocultural evolution. A consortium of scholars from the Universities of Michigan, Purdue, Georgia, and Southern Illinois; the Field Museum; and the American Museum of Natural History are investigating the valley's development from the Ice Age to the Spanish Conquest of AD 1521. Many University of Michigan students, graduate and undergraduate, have participated in surveys and excavations in Oaxaca.

Among the sites excavated by Kent V. Flannery are Cueva Blanca—a cave occupied by hunters and gatherers as far back as 10,000 BC—and Guilá Naquitz (above), a rockshelter occupied during the beginnings of agriculture, 8000–4000 BC. Guilá Naquitz has produced the oldest gourds, squash, runner beans, and corn ever directly radiocarbon dated, and research continues on those plants today.

Among the sites excavated by UMMAA’s Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus is San José Mogote, the oldest permanent agricultural village in the valley (founded prior to 1500 BC). This village has produced the largest sample of houses known for the Early and Middle Formative periods (1500–500 BC). It has also produced Mexico's oldest known defensive palisades and ceremonial buildings (1300 BC), early use of adobes (850 BC), the first evidence for Zapotec hieroglyphic writing (600 BC), and early examples of architectural terracing, craft specialization, and irrigation (1150–850 BC). The workman in the photo above cradles a jade statue from a temple at San José Mogote (AD 20).

The UMMAA has published 16 books on the archaeological discoveries in Oaxaca, and research there is projected to continue well into the 21st century. Find the books by searching on "Oaxaca" on the Museum's publications website.

Read more about the Oaxaca Project at Archaeological Research in Oaxaca, Mexico.