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Mixtecs, an indigenous people of western Mexico. Mixtec-speaking people presently occupy the northern and western portions of the state of Oaxaca and adjacent areas of Guerrero and Puebla. The traditional homeland is further subdivided into three climatic zones called the Mixteca Alta, the Mixteca Baja, and the Mixteca Costa. There are nearly a quarter of a million Mixtec people living today, most of whom subsist by farming. Nevertheless, depleted agricultural resources, particularly in the Mixteca Alta, have necessitated community out-migration to other parts of the country, including Mexico City, as well as to the United States.

Although the archaeology of the region is still in its infancy, Mixtec cultural evolution is defined by four phases following the emergence of early villages from the hunting and gathering bands of the Archaic Period. These are named Cruz (1500–200 bce), Ramos (200 bce–ce 300), Las Flores (ce 300–1000), and Natividad (ce 1000–1520). The Las Flores and Natividad phases correlate with the broader definition of the Mesoamerican Classic and Postclassic periods.

Pioneering work by Alfonso Caso and later archaeologists indicates that between 200 bce and ce 900, the developing city-states of the Mixteca Alta were dominated by Monte Albán, the Zapotec capital located in the Valley of Oaxaca. Prominent Mixtec communities surrounding the strategic Nochixtlan Valley were located at Yucuita, Yucunudahui, Cerro Jasmin, Jaltepec, and the Yucu Yoco-Mogote del Cacique complexes located between the modern communities of Jaltepec and Tilantongo.

Between 1000 and 1100, the region witnessed a dramatic shift in social organization. The large centralized Classic communities were abandoned and numerous small royal estates succeeded them during the Postclassic period. The precise reasons for such drastic settlement fissioning remain unexplained but were undoubtedly linked to the broader developments that were taking place throughout Mesoamerica at the same time.

Eight native historical manuscripts, called the Mixtec codices, record the foundation of powerful Postclassic kingdoms and their principal dynasties. According to these pictorial accounts, at least, Classic period centers were plagued by internal disputes among multiple ruling families. The succeeding period witnessed the rise of a factionalized secondary nobility, epitomized by the culture hero "8 Deer Jaguar Claw," whose biography is found in Codices Zouche-Nuttall, Bodley, and Colombino-Becker. At the time of the Spanish arrival in the region, Tilantongo had emerged as the highest-ranked of the Mixtec royal houses.

The Mixtecs were never subject to the devastation of the Conquest in the same way as were their bitter enemies, the Aztecs of the Triple Alliance. Between 1525 and 1530 many encomiendas had been awarded to conquistadores. Dominican friars constructed several churches, the most famous being the fortified monastery at Yanhuitlán. By 1545, conflicts between native caciques (nobles), Spanish encomenderos (high-ranking landholders), and the Dominican friars, however, threatened to destroy delicate social contracts. The church acted as mediator between opposing interests. Eventually, the power of the Spanish encomenderos was eroded, and Mixtec caciques continued to control much of the land until Mexican independence from Spain.

See alsoAztecs; Codices; Indigenous Peoples; Precontact History: Mesoamerica.


Alfonso Caso, Interpretation of Codex Bodley 2858 (1960).

Ronald Spores, The Mixtec Kings and Their People (1967).

Robert Ravicz and Kimball A. Romney, "The Mixtec," in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 7, edited by Evon Z. Vogt (1969), pp. 367-399.

Mary Elizabeth Smith, Picture Writing of Ancient Southern Mexico: Mixtec Place Signs and Maps (1973).

Ronald Spores, The Mixtecs in Ancient and Colonial Times (1984).

Additional Bibliography

Boone, Elizabeth Hill. Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Byland, Bruce E., and John M. D. Pohl. In the Realm of Eight Deer: The Archaeology of the Mixtec Codices. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

Evans, Susan Toby. Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Culture History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Fox, Jonathan, and Gaspar Rivera-Salgado. Indigenous Mexican Migrants in the United States. La Jolla, CA: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD/Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UCSD, 2004.

Monaghan, John. The Covenants with Earth and Rain: Exchange, Sacrifice, and Revelation in Mixtec Sociality. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Rossell, Cecilia, and María de los Angeles Ojeda Díaz. Las mujeres y sus diosas en los códices prehispánicos de Oaxaca. México: CIESAS: Porrúa, 2003.

Terraciano, Kevin. The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Velasco Ortiz, M. Laura. Mixtec Transnational Identity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2005.

                                      John M. D. Pohl