Pyramid of the Moon

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The Pyramid of the Moon

The Pyramid of the Moon is the second largest pyramid in modern-day San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico, after the Pyramid of the Sun. It is located in the western part of the ancient city of Teotihuacan and mimics the contours of the mountain Cerro Gordo, just north of the site. Cerro Gordo may have been called Tenan, which in Nahuatl, means "mother or protective stone." The Pyramid of the Moon covers a structure older than the Pyramid of the Sun which existed prior to 200 AD.

The Pyramid's construction between 100 and 450 AD completed the bilateral symmetry of the temple complex.[1] The pyramid is located at the end of the Avenue of the Dead, connected by a staircase, and was used as a stage for performing ritual sacrifices of animals and humans upon. It was also a burial ground for sacrificial victims. These burials were done in order to legitimize the addition of another pyramid layer over the existing one. The passing of several rulers, and rapid changes in ideologies, led to the Pyramid of the Moon’s exponential expansion between 250 and 400 AD. A platform atop the pyramid was used to conduct ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, the goddess of water, fertility, the earth, and even creation itself. This platform and the sculpture found at the pyramid's bottom are thus dedicated to The Great Goddess.

Opposite the Great Goddess's altar is the Plaza of the Moon. The Plaza contains a central altar and an original construction with internal divisions, consisting of four rectangular and diagonal bodies that formed what is known as the "Teotihuacan Cross."

Comparison of approximate profiles of the Pyramid of the Moon with some notable pyramidal or near-pyramidal buildings. Dotted lines indicate original heights, where data are available. In its SVG file, hover over a pyramid to highlight and click for its article.

Background and history[edit]

Between 150 BC and 500 AD, a Mesoamerican culture built a flourishing metropolis on a plateau about 22 km2 (8.5 sq mi).[clarification needed] The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is a subject of debate, therefore "Teotihuacan" is the name used to refer to both the civilization and the capital city of these people[2]. Teotihuacan was a highly influential civilization in Mesoamerica. The city was home to a religious complex which was the religious center of all of Mesoamerica. The people who lived there constructed a city conducive to religious life and worship by incorporating cosmology into every aspect of the urban plan.

During the initial phase of Teotihuacan, called Tzacualli (0–150 AD), ingenious building systems were developed to erect the monumental bases of the Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun. The Teotihuacan metropolis has a planified urbanization with main axis, and a huge palace surrounded by 15 monumental pyramids. It was said by the Aztecs to have been surmounted by a huge stone figure related to the moon. This figure was uncovered (weighing 22 metric tons and was somehow lifted to the top of the pyramid) and it represents the Great Goddess as a water deity.[3] Scholars[who?] have suggested that the water that flows through her hands is living water and represents a life-giving force and fertility.

Beginning in 1998, archaeologists excavated beneath the Pyramid of the Moon. Tunnels dug into the structure have revealed that the pyramid underwent at least six renovations; each new addition was larger and covered the previous structure.

As the archaeologists burrowed through the layers of the pyramid, they discovered artifacts that provide the beginning of a timeline to the history of Teotihuacan. In 1999, a team led by Saburo Sugiyama, associate professor at Aichi Prefectural University in Japan and adjunct faculty at Arizona State University,[4] and Ruben Cabrera of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, found a tomb apparently made to dedicate the fifth phase of construction. It contains four human skeletons, animal bones, jewelry, obsidian blades, and a wide variety of other offerings. Archeologists estimated that the burial occurred between 100 and 200 AD.

Another tomb dedicated to The Great Goddess was discovered in 1998. It is dated to the fourth stage of construction. It contained a single human male sacrificial victim as well as a wolf, jaguar, puma, serpent, bird skeletons, and more than 400 other relics which include a large greenston and obsidian figurines, ceremonial knives, and spear points.


Basic structure[edit]

The pyramid is shaped like many of the other pyramids of Mesoamerica. The outer layer of the pyramid, which is currently visible features a talud-tablero shape[2]. It has 7 layers of buildings built on top of each other. It is 43 meters tall. Its base is 147 meters in the West to East direction by about 130 meters in the North to South direction. Given the name and contents of the pyramid, it is hypothesized that there the symbolism of the moon may have been associated with water, the rainy season, femininity, fertility, and even earth.


Among Mesoamerican cultures it is common to use the urban planning of their city to echo their cosmological and mythological beliefs regarding the order of the universe. The positioning of this pyramid plays into the narrative of Teotihuacan[5].

The Pyramid of the Moon was deliberately placed at the end of the Avenue of the Dead and at the foot of Cerro Gordo[5]. This central position makes the processional nature of the Walk of the Dead rather clear. This mimicking of natural structures in human temples has been seen throughout Mesoamerican culture. The relation between the mountain, pyramid, and road has been theorized to resemble a connection between the road and the watery underworld, whereas the mountain serves as a sort of anchor to the earth. Also significant in the larger plan of the city is the orientation of all of the buildings. The North-South axis of the city emphasizes the cosmological and astrological ideologies of the city, since there was a connection between this orientation and the ritual 260-day calendar. The East-West was the worldly structure of the city used for the sake of symmetry. Connecting the Pyramid to the Avenue of the Dead is a public plaza, located at the base of the pyramid[6]. This plaza was viewed as the ritual/sacred site, while the pyramid was seen as a structure built on top of it.

Building layers[edit]

This pyramid has 7 different layers of buildings which were constructed on top of each other in order to update the building's religious power over time. Building 1 is the oldest monument in Teotihuacan, from approximately 100 CE. The structure was a square pyramidal platform with talud side facades that were about 23.5 meters long. Building 2 was a minor enlargement that covered the entire previous structure, while correcting its orientation, which was slightly unaligned from the true East-West axis of the Pyramid of the Moon Complex. Building 2 was also in talud style whose East-West walls were about 29.3 meters long. Building 3 covered the construction before it, but didn’t expand much. Building 4: was a substantial enlargement which rendered the building’s East-West width is 89.2 meters and its North-South length is 88.9 meters. This building was completed in approximately 250 CE. Building 5 was somewhat expanded, the architectural style of the building was the main shift. The East-West size didn’t change, but the North-South wall grew to 104 meters. The style used was talud-tablero on both the main body and an additional adosada platform. This design still used the pyramid as a stage for ritual, rather than a house for a temple. Building 6 grew to be East-West 144 meters while North-South remained the same. This building was constructed to contain Burials 5 and 4 in approximately 350 CE. Building 7 is the final structure, which is still visible today, but was built in about 400 CE. A distinct shift in architectural style between the first three buildings may be indicative of an ideological shift[6].


Ritual sacrifice[edit]

This pyramid had several religious functions. The main function of the pyramid was public ritual sacrifice.  Archaeologists have found a great number of sacrificed remains in the foundations of the pyramid[5]. Among the sacrificial victims were felines, birds of prey, snakes, humans, and more. These sacrifices can be carefully cataloged and examined when looking at the different burials within the different layers of buildings. Thus far, archaeologists have found a total of 5 rectangular burial offering complexes within the 7 layers of the pyramid. Sacrificial and inanimate offerings were carefully selected to represent large ideas of Teotihuacan cosmology (such as authority, militarism, human and animal sacrifice, femininity) rather than the worship of a single ruler or deity[6].


Within the layers of the pyramid are 5 burial complexes which contain sacrificial materials and remains. Burial 2 was built during the construction of Building 4, meaning it was on the outside of Building 3. It contained a single seated corpse of a man facing west, as well as dozens of animals including pumas, eagles, falcons, crows, owls, rattlesnakes, and mollusks. Beyond these living offerings were crafted objects made of precious materials such as obsidian, jadeite, Guatemalita, shell, fiber, slate, and pyrite and greenstone. Burial 3 was similarly complex and rich, containing 4 corpses of humans foreign to Teotihuacan, wolves, pumas, a jaguar, a hawk, many seashells, and assorted artifacts made of the materials listed above. Burial 3 was created during the construction of Building 5. Burial 4 was constructed along with Building 6 and contained 17 human skulls and other offerings. Burial 5 was at the center of building 6 and contained 3 human corpses who were wearing jewelry that identified them as upper-class foreigners. The corpses were accompanied by animals which represented their alter egos, two pumas and a golden eagle. Burial 6 was a ritual deposit in the center of Building 4. It was created during the first half of the third century and contained twelve adult male sacrificial victims, artifacts carefully placed around the victims, and fragments of about 43 animals[6].

Given the contents of these burials, Archaeologists, Leonardo Lopez Lujan and Saburo Sugiyama, have theorized that these burials are cosmograms, representations of the heavens which were carefully laid out by priests according to predetermined patterns. Archaeologists also have concluded that human sacrifice to sanctify buildings was common throughout Mesoamerican time and geography[6]. In Teotihuacan, the preferred victims were sub-adult and adult males who were not from Teotihuacan. The animals used in the burials were all carefully selected, they included felines, canids, birds of prey, and rattlesnakes, all of which are carnivorous and can be associated with warfare[6].

Other functions[edit]

The pyramid was also used for rituals other than sacrifices. Mesoamerican cities used plazas as the core of social life; in the case of the Pyramid of the Moon, the public plaza was also used for astronomical observation and calendar-related activities[7]. The complex contained small pyramidal structures, rooms, porticoes, patios, corridors, and low platforms. Moon plaza served as a supra-regional ceremonial, political and socioeconomic center.

Archeologists have examined the different layers of the pyramid and found a great number of these contained artifacts and remains which can be examined, and even presented to the public. Some of the artifacts found by archaeologists were made of greenstone, obsidian, and ceramic, all of which were carefully crafted in Teotihuacan. These artifacts included figurines and serpent knives[6].

Panoramic view of the Pyramid of the Moon

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Miller, Mary Ellen. 2012. Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec. London, UK: Thames & Hudson Australia P/l.
  3. ^ Walker, Charles, 1980 Wonders of the Ancient World, p. 150-3
  4. ^ "Discoveries At Teotihuacan's Pyramid Of The Moon Help Unlock Mysteries Of Western Hemisphere's First Major Metropolis". ScienceDaily. Arizona State University, College Of Liberal Arts & Sciences. September 21, 1999.
  5. ^ a b c Cowgill, George L. (2016). Ancient Teotihuacan : early urbanism in Central Mexico. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521870337. OCLC 965908977.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Robb, Matthew H. (ed.). Teotihuacan : city of water, city of fire. ISBN 9780520296558. OCLC 981118156.
  7. ^ Brittenham, Claudia, Annick Daneels, Jesús Galindo Trejo, Rebecca B. Gonzáles Lauck, Verónica Hernández Díaz, Mary Ellen Miller, Gustavo A. Ramírez Castilla, et al. 2010. Pre-Columbian architecture in Mesoamerica. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 19°41′59″N 98°50′38″W / 19.6996°N 98.8440°W / 19.6996; -98.8440