Alfonso Caso

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Alfonso Caso y Andrade (February 1, 1896 in Mexico City - November 30, 1970 in Mexico City) was an archaeologist who made important contributions to pre-Columbian studies in his native Mexico. Caso believed that the systematic study of ancient Mexican civilizations was an important way to understand Mexican cultural roots.[citation needed]

His notable discoveries include the excavations at Monte Albán, in particular "Tomb Seven", in which several gold pieces and offerings were found (now shown in the Regional Museum of Oaxaca). He also discovered many sites in the Mixteca (a region in the state of Oaxaca), such as Yucuita, Yucuñudahui and Monte Negro. As well as discovering new sites Caso also sought to interpret them, establishing the chronology of Monte Albán history, and deciphering Mixtec codices.

Throughout his life Caso wrote books about native Mesoamerican cultures, including those of the Olmec, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Aztec. He was one of the first to recognize the Olmecs as the earliest Mesoamerican civilization, declaring that they were the "cultura madre" (Mother culture) of Mesoamerica.[1] His argument has subsequently been debated by Mesoamerican archaeologists; it is currently unclear how the Olmec interacted with other Mesoamerican cultures.

Academic life[edit]

Caso received a master's degree in philosophy in 1918, became a lawyer in 1919, and an archaeologist in 1925. He studied in the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and eventually became a teacher there. He taught epistemology from 1918 to 1928, Mexican archaeology from 1929 to 1943, and general ethnology from 1930 to 1933. He also taught Philosophy of the Right in Jurisprudence (1918-1939) and Mexican archeology in the National School of Archeology. Caso became a member of the Colegio Nacional on April 8, 1943. He also won the National Science Prize.

One of the more notable events in the academic and political life of Alfonso Caso was his appointment as Rector of the UNAM for 1944-1945. During this period he formulated the "Organic University law" in which he established the autonomy of the UNAM. He also played the role of Secretary of National Goods and Administrative Examination (Spanish: Secretario de Bienes Nacionales e Inspección Administrativa) from December 10, 1946 to December 31, 1948.

Selected works[edit]

  • El teocallí de La Guerra Sagrada (monograph) (1927)
  • Las estelas zapotecas (1928)
  • La religión de los aztecas (1936)
  • Las exploraciones de Monte Albán, (3 volumes, 1931-1937)
  • Calendario y escritura de tas Antiguas culturas de Monte Albán (1947)
  • El mapa de Teozacoa1co (1949)
  • El pueblo del Sol (1953)
  • Interpretación del Códice Gómez de Orozco (1954),
  • Urnas de Oaxaca (1956)
  • Los calendarlos prehíspánicos (1967)
  • El tesoro de Monte Albán (1969)
  • Reyes y reinos de la Mixteca (2 volumes, 1977-1979).


  1. ^ "Esta gran cultura, que encontramos en niveles antiguos, es sin duda madre de otras culturas, como la maya, la teotihuacana, la zapoteca, la de El Tajín, y otras” (This great culture, which we encounter in ancient levels, is without a doubt mother of other cultures, like the Maya, the Teotihuacana, the Zapotec, that of El Tajin, and others". Caso (1942), p. 46.


Caso, Alfonso (1942). "Definición y extensión del complejo ‘Olmeca’ ". Mayas y Olmecas: segunda Reunión de mesa redonda sobre problemas antropológicos de México y Centro América (in Spanish) (bajo la presidencia honoraria del dr. Rafael Pascacio Gamboa, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. 27 de abril a 1o. de mayo de 1942 ed.). México, D.F: Talleres de la Editorial Stylo. OCLC 1872886. 
Gaillard, Gérald (2004). The Routledge Dictionary of Anthropologists. Peter James Bowman (trans.) (English translation of Dictionnaire des ethnologues et des anthropologues [1997] ed.). London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22825-5. OCLC 52288643. 
León-Portilla, Miguel (June 1973). "Alfonso Caso 1896–1970". American Anthropologist (Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association and affiliated societies) 75 (3): 887–885. doi:10.1525/aa.1973.75.3.02a00170. OCLC 1479294.