Relational beings modeled in clay within the depths of the Sierra Mixe of Oaxaca, Mexico: Bridging Indigenous knowledge and archaeology

Leslie F. Zubieta


This article examines the possible roles of exceptionally preserved clay reliefs and sculptures within a cave in the Mixe (Ayuujk) territory of Oaxaca, Mexico, a region where early researchers proposed that no art existed. Deploying conceptual tools offered by the reactivation of ontological studies, it is suggested here that these multilayered things acted as a dynamic relational web between beings co-responsible for the world’s prosperity, social reproduction, and the fertility of the land. Early ethnographic accounts, anthropological work, historical documents, and first-hand interviews with Indigenous people provide an initial explanatory platform for investigating those figures’ functions in the past while also understanding their agentive nature, thus enriching our current knowledge of Ayuujk worldview and rituals. Ayuujk’s participation and collaboration in this research offers a glimpse into their values, culture, and practices today, and an opportunity to give members of the descendant community a voice in this archaeological inquiry.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/718085