Monte Albán: Reliefs of the Danzantes --page 8 (of fifteen pages)

This is the first of three pages on the Danzantes.
500-200 BCE

See map.


Monte Albán's most famous sculptures

About 300 of these so-called Danzantes are known, about half of which were incorporated into the Temple of the Danzantes. Because some nineteenth century viewers saw these figures as swimming or dancing, they were called Danzantes (Dancers). But these bas relief nude male figures on large stone slabs are probably represented as dead. These are now viewed as the limp or distorted poses of the dead whose mouths are often open, whose eyes are closed, and whose genitals in some cases are mutilated with flowing blood in stylized patterns.

The bas-relief slabs seem to be isolated, with no attempt to relate figures to each other. Although the poses and figures are different, most are shown with a frontal or three-quarter body and a profile head. All are worked in the same manner--a single incised line with emphasis on the contour. Some details are indicated: earplugs or other jewelry and variations in hair style and beard; some figures are clearly old. Their physical features have been compared to those of Olmec figures--short stature with chunky physiques, round heads and low broad foreheads, full lips, down-turned mouths, wide noses, and slanting eyes. Some have accompanying glyphs probably indicating names and an early numerical system using bars and dots.

These figures are generally interpreted as victims of war and indicate the Zapotec need to proclaim their prowess in war. In addition, nudity was usually embarrassing in Mesoamerican cultures so their captives are humiliated as well.

The Danzantes photographed here are actually copies of the originals, now inside for safe keeping. See the pages on the Monte Albán Museum.

Continue to page 9 for the second page on the Danzantes.

Works consulted or quoted:
Andrew Coe. Archaeological Mexico. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2001.
Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz. Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs. Fifth Edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002.
Nelly M. Robles Garcia. Monte Albán: History, Art, Monuments. Mexico: Monclem Ediciones, 2004. [official guide]
INAH. Signage at the site.
Mary Ellen Miller. The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec. Third Edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

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© 2009 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.