Crowning a hill with a view to the peaks of the Sierra Juárez, the funerary pyramid at Atzompa rises 6.6 meters (21.6 feet). Inside lie the three chambers, one above the other, connected by a central staircase.
The rooms display the usual features of Zapotec tombs, but here, strangely, they appear in a stand-alone structure. At other Zapotec sites such chambers have been found under the floors of palaces.
The stone pyramid stands at one end of a large plaza near one of the site's three ball courts—a surprising number for a community of only several thousand people. The nearby site of Monte Albán, with a population of more than 20,000 at its height, had only two such spaces.
Archaeologists believe that Atzompa was once closely linked to Monte Albán, and perhaps was even one of its neighborhoods. This new discovery may be evidence of Atzompa asserting some independence. The elite families who lived there may have begun to create their own architecture, and their own traditions, to show their power as the larger community declined.
(Also see "Thighbones Were Scepters for Ancient Zapotec Men?")