Alfonso Caso y Andrade (1896-1970)
The man credited with one of the most important Mesoamerican discoveries in history started out lecturing on legal philosophy. After discovering a love of ancient regional architecture and writing systems, the Mexico City native began taking classes in anthropology. In 1925, Alfonso Caso y Andrade added an M.A. in the subject to his philosophy master's degree and law degree, all from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) [sources: Anthropology News; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Gaillard; Smithsonian].
Caso's exploration of early Oaxacan cultures led him to the monumental discovery and excavation of Tomb Seven at Monte Albán. By studying burial offerings there, he proved that the Mixtec people succeeded the Zapotec as masters of the city. His finding further enabled him to define five major phases of the ancient capital's history, beginning in the 8th century B.C.E., that lined up with the history of other sites. These endeavors, combined with his contributions to cracking the Mixtec Codices, marked his best-known accomplishments in anthropology [sources: Anthropology News; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Gaillard; Smithsonian].
But Caso's influence extended far beyond the sciences. He was also a teacher, attorney, administrator, archaeologist and advocate for Mexico's American Indians. He also served as rector of UNAM and director of the National Museum and of the National Institute of Anthropology and History [sources: Anthropology News; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Gaillard; Smithsonian].