The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca of southern Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows their culture goes back at least 2500 years. They left archaeological evidence at the ancient city of Monte Albán in the form of buildings, ball courts, magnificent tombs and grave goods including finely worked gold jewelry. Monte Albán was the first major city in the western hemisphere and the center of a Zapotec state that dominated much of what we know of as the current state of Oaxaca. The Zapotec writing system is thought to have been the first writings system of Mesoamerica and the predecessor of the writing systems developed by the Maya, Mixtec, and Aztec civilizations. Two principal deities in Zapotec religion include Cocijo, the rain god (similar to the Aztec god Tlaloc), and Coquihani, the god of light. It is believed that the Zapotec sometimes used human sacrifice in their rituals.
The Zapotec did not recognize a supreme being who was without beginning or end, which created everything but was not himself created, and yet he was so infinite and incorporeal that no images were ever made of him. This supreme being had, in turn, created a series of powerful supernatural forces including lightning, sun, earthquake, fire, and clouds. An important aspect of Zapotec religion was ancestor worship, especially the veneration of royal ancestors.
The Zapotec tell that their ancestors emerged from the earth, from caves, or that they turned from trees or jaguars into people, while the elite that governed them believed that they descended from supernatural beings that lived among the clouds, and that upon death they would return to such status. In fact, the name Zapotec "The Cloud People" resulted from this belief.
--view video clip of Monte Alban ruins--
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