• Environment and Geography

    The Mixtec culture flourished in the present-day State of Oaxaca, Mexico, a tropical zone with a hot temperate climate, summer rainy season and winter dry season. The geography varies from coastal to sierra, and includes forests and arable lands. The Mixtec people lived mainly in the highlands of the cloud-covered Oaxacan sierra, earning them the nickname of “Cloud People”.

  • Economy and Technology

    The Mixtec economy was based on maize, which they grew in terraced fields watered by irrigation canals. They developed an ideogrammatic writing system and had two calendars, one for civil events and the other for ceremonial ones.

  • Art

    The Mixtecs were highly skilled in different forms of artistic expression. They made outstanding pieces with semiprecious stones such as jade, rock crystal, opal and obsidian. These included decorative items and small figurines in the form of deities, ancestors and animals, mostly rabbits and turtles. They also created mosaics out of turquoise. They worked gold into a variety of adornments such as brooches, rings, necklaces, nose ornaments and squash-shaped plates. In wood, they made ceremonial artifacts such as masks and knives. Their pottery was primarily polychromatic and consisted mainly of three-legged vessels decorated with animals, mythological figures, or flowers and multicolored borders. Other ceramic pieces include cups and bowls with long bases finished with a serpent head painted red and white, similar in style to their murals. The most common Mixtec iconographic motifs are deities and their insignias, animal emblems (serpent, jaguar, deer, rabbit, spider, etc.), sun and moon discs, bands of stars, skulls, skeletons and figures representing natural elements such as water and fire. These types of images are frequently found in Mixtec pictographic manuscripts or codices that narrated historic events and religious themes.

  • Social Organization

    The Mixtec people were divided into chiefdoms that united occasionally against with other groups such as the Aztecs. There are some indications that they did have a leader: Some Mixtec codices refer to “Eight Deer Jaguar Claw”, an individual who introduced into Mixtec society a bureaucratic system like that of the Toltecs. This person was apparently able to unify the Mixtec people into a single kingdom, which dissolved after his death.

    Mixtec society was highly stratified, with an upper class of lords, governors and local leaders, a landholding class called macehuales, landless peasants, and slaves. Birth order and lineage were important, and trades were handed down from generation to generation. The Mixtec capital was the center of power, while the central authorities selected nobles to rule over each community.

  • Religion and Funerary Practices

    Music appears to have played a central role in Mixtec ceremonies, judging by the large number of instruments such as rattles, graters, conchs and drums that have been found among the grave goods of these people.

    The Mixtecs reused the Zapotec tombs of Monte Albán for burying their nobles, who were laid to rest with a rich array of gold jewels and vessels. These underground tombs had a rectangular or cruciform layout and some contain evidence of human sacrifice.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The Mixtecs lived in great cities, one of the largest of which was Mitla, an urban center with buildings decorated with mosaic friezes and tight-fitting stonework. Buildings were grouped into sectors around a central courtyard and had flat roofs held up by columns. Other cities display evidence of fortifications as well as large plazas, platforms with sunken patios, rows of pyramids and playing fields. Peasants lived in the suburban zone in homes grouped two or three together around a central courtyard and built on mounds.

  • History

    The Mixtec culture originated from the same groups as the Zapotecs, and the two cultures developed in parallel under the influence of the Toltecs until 1200, when they became independent. At that time they were highly active, expanding their reach towards the coast and to the north in a desire to conquer new territories. Eventually they were invaded by the Aztecs and Mexicas. Some of their artifacts display influences from cultures as far away as present-day Costa Rica and Panama.