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|Location||Teotihuacán, State of Mexico, Mexico|
|Periods||Late Preclassic to Late Classic|
|Official name||Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan|
|Criteria||Cultural: i, ii, iii, iv, vi|
|Inscription||1987 (11th Session)|
Teotihuacan // (Spanish: Teotihuacán) (Spanish pronunciation: [teotiwa'kan] (listen); modern Nahuatl pronunciation (help·info)) is an ancient Mesoamerican city located in a sub-valley of the Valley of Mexico, which is located in the State of Mexico, 40 kilometers (25 mi) northeast of modern-day Mexico City. Teotihuacan is known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the first millennium (1 AD to 500 AD), Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth-largest city in the world during its epoch.
The city covered eight square miles; 80 to 90 percent of the total population of the valley resided in Teotihuacan. Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead, and its vibrant, well-preserved murals. Additionally, Teotihuacan exported fine obsidian tools that are found throughout Mesoamerica. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 AD. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD. Its collapse might be related to the extreme weather events of 535–536.
Teotihuacan began as a religious center in the Mexican Highlands around the first century AD. It became the largest and most populated center in the pre-Columbian Americas. Teotihuacan was home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate the large population. The term Teotihuacan (or Teotihuacano) is also used for the whole civilization and cultural complex associated with the site.
Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented; evidence of Teotihuacano presence can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The later Aztecs saw these magnificent ruins and claimed a common ancestry with the Teotihuacanos, modifying and adopting aspects of their culture. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is the subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi, or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state since they find cultural aspects connected to the Maya as well as Oto-Pamean people. After the collapse of Teotihuacan, central Mexico was dominated by more regional powers, notably Xochicalco and Tula.
The city and the archeological site are located in what is now the San Juan Teotihuacán municipality in the State of México, approximately 40 kilometers (25 mi) northeast of Mexico City. The site covers a total surface area of 83 square kilometers (32 sq mi) and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is the most visited archeological site in Mexico, receiving 4,185,017 visitors in 2017.
The name Teōtīhuacān was given by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs centuries after the fall of the city around 550 CE. The term has been glossed as "birthplace of the gods", or "place where gods were born", reflecting Nahua creation myths that were said to occur in Teotihuacan. Nahuatl scholar Thelma D. Sullivan interprets the name as "place of those who have the road of the gods." This is because the Aztecs believed that the gods created the universe at that site. The name is pronounced [te.oːtiːˈwakaːn] in Nahuatl, with the accent on the syllable wa. By normal Nahuatl orthographic conventions, a written accent would not appear in that position. Both this pronunciation and the Spanish pronunciation [te.otiwaˈkan] are used, and both spellings appear in this article.
The original name of the city is unknown, but it appears in hieroglyphic texts from the Maya region as puh, or "Place of Reeds". This suggests that, in the Maya civilization of the Classic period, Teotihuacan was understood as a Place of Reeds similar to other Postclassic Central Mexican settlements that took the name of Tollan, such as Tula-Hidalgo and Cholula.
This naming convention led to much confusion in the early 20th century, as scholars debated whether Teotihuacan or Tula-Hidalgo was the Tollan described by 16th-century chronicles. It now seems clear that Tollan may be understood as a generic Nahua term applied to any large settlement. In the Mesoamerican concept of urbanism, Tollan and other language equivalents serve as a metaphor, linking the bundles of reeds and rushes that formed part of the lacustrine environment of the Valley of Mexico and the large gathering of people in a city.
As of January 23, 2018 the name "Teotihuacan" has come under scrutiny by experts, who now feel that the site's name may have been changed by Spanish colonizers in the 16th century. Archeologist Veronica Ortega of the National Institute of Anthropology and History states that the city appears to have actually been named "Teohuacan", meaning "City of the Sun" rather than "City of the Gods", as the current name suggests.
The first human establishment in the area dates back to 600 BCE, and until 200 BCE there were scattered small villages on the site of the future city of Teotihuacan. It is estimated that the total population of the Teotihuacan Valley during this time was approximately 6,000 inhabitants. During the period from 100 BC to 750 AD, Teotihuacan had evolved into a huge urban and administrative center with cultural influences throughout the broader Mesoamerica region.
The history of the city of Teotihuacan is distinguished by four consecutive periods, known as Teotihuacan I, II, III and IV.
Period I occurred between 200 - 1 BCE and marks the genesis of a real city. During this period, Teotihuacan began to grow into a city as farmers working on the hillside of the Teotihuacan Valley began to move down into the valley, coalescing around the abundant springs of Teotihuacan.
Period II lasted between 1 AD to 350 AD. During this era Teotihuacan exhibited explosive growth that caused it to be the largest metropolis in Mesoamerica. Factors influencing this growth include the destruction of other settlements due to volcanic eruptions and the economic pull of the expanding city. This influx of new residents caused a reorganization of urban housing to the unique compound complexes that typify Teotihuacan. This period is notable both for its monumental architecture and its monumental sculpture. During this period, the construction of some of the most well known sites of Teotihuacan, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, was completed. Further, the shift of political power from the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and its surrounding palace structure to the Street of the Dead Complex occurred in this period sometime between AD 250 and 350. Some authors believe that this represents a shift from centralized, monarchical political system to a more decentralized and bureaucratic organization.
Period III lasted from the year 350 to 650 AD and is the so-called classical period of Teotihuacan, during which the city reached the apogee of its influence in Mesoamerica. Its population was estimated at 125,000 inhabitants, or more, and the city was among the largest cities of the ancient world, containing 2,000 buildings within an area of 18 square kilometers. It was also during this high period when Teotihuacan contained approximately half all people in the Valley of Mexico, becoming a kind of primate city of Mesoamerica. This period saw a massive reconstruction of monuments; the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, which dates back to the previous period, was covered with a rich sculptural decoration. Typical artistic artifacts of this period were funeral masks, crafted mainly from green stone and covered with mosaics of turquoise, shell or obsidian. These masks were highly uniform in nature.
Period IV describes the time period between 650 and 750 AD. It marks the end of Teotihuacan as a major power in Mesoamerica. The city's elite housing compounds, those clustered around the Street of the Dead, bear many burn marks and archeologists hypothesize that the city experienced civil strife that hastened its decline. Factors that also led to the decline of the city included disruptions in tributary relations, increased social stratification, and power struggles between the ruling and intermediary elites. Following this decline, Teotihuacan continued to be inhabited, though it never reached its previous levels of population.
Origins and foundation
The early history of Teotihuacan is quite mysterious and the origin of its founders is uncertain. Around 300 BCE, people of the central and southeastern area of Mesoamerica began to gather into larger settlements. Teotihuacan was the largest urban center of Mesoamerica before the Aztecs, almost 1000 years prior to their epoch. The city was already in ruins by the time of the Aztecs. For many years, archeologists believed it was built by the Toltec. This belief was based on colonial period texts, such as the Florentine Codex, which attributed the site to the Toltecs. However, the Nahuatl word "Toltec" generally means "craftsman of the highest level" and may not always refer to the Toltec civilization centered at Tula, Hidalgo. Since Toltec civilization flourished centuries after Teotihuacan, the people could not have been the city's founders.
In the Late Formative era, a number of urban centers arose in central Mexico. The most prominent of these appears to have been Cuicuilco, on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco. Scholars have speculated that the eruption of the Xitle volcano may have prompted a mass emigration out of the central valley and into the Teotihuacan valley. These settlers may have founded or accelerated the growth of Teotihuacan.
Other scholars have put forth the Totonac people as the founders of Teotihuacan and have suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state since they find diverse cultural aspects connected to the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Maya peoples. The builders of Teotihuacan took advantage of the geography in the Basin of Mexico. From the swampy ground, they constructed raised beds, called chinampas, creating high agricultural productivity despite old methods of cultivation. This allowed for the formation of channels, and subsequently canoe traffic, to transport food from farms around the city. The earliest buildings at Teotihuacan date to about 200 BCE. The largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, was completed by 100 CE.
Year 378: Conquest of Tikal
In January 378, while Spearthrower Owl supposedly ruled in Teotihuacan, the warlord Sihyaj K'ahk' conquered Tikal, removing and replacing the Maya king, with support from El Peru and Naachtun, as recorded by Stela 31 at Tikal and other monuments in the Maya region.
In 378 a group of Teotihuacanos organized a coup d'etat in Tikal, Guatemala. This was not the Teotihuacan state; it was a group of the Feathered-Serpent people, thrown out from the city. The Feathered-Serpent Pyramid was burnt, all the sculptures were torn from the temple, and another platform was built to efface the facade ...
Year 426: Conquest of Copán and Quiriguá
In 426, the Copán ruling dynasty was created with K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' as the first king. The Dynasty went on to have sixteen rulers. Copán is located in modern-day Honduras, as described by Copán Altar Q. Soon thereafter, Yax K'uk' Mo' installed Tok Casper as king of Quiriguá, about 50 km north of Copán.
The city reached its peak in 450 CE, when it was the center of a powerful culture whose influence extended through much of the Mesoamerican region. At its peak, the city covered over 30 km2 (over 11+1⁄2 square miles), and perhaps housed a population of 150,000 people, with one estimate reaching as high as 250,000. Various districts in the city housed people from across the Teotihuacano region of influence, which spread south as far as Guatemala. Notably absent from the city are fortifications and military structures.
The nature of political and cultural interactions between Teotihuacan and the centers of the Maya region (as well as elsewhere in Mesoamerica) has been a long-standing and significant area for debate. Substantial exchange and interaction occurred over the centuries from the Terminal Preclassic to the Mid-Classic period. "Teotihuacan-inspired ideologies" and motifs persisted at Maya centers into the Late Classic, long after Teotihuacan itself had declined. However, scholars debate the extent and degree of Teotihuacano influence. Some believe that it had direct and militaristic dominance; others that adoption of "foreign" traits was part of a selective, conscious, and bi-directional cultural diffusion. New discoveries have suggested that Teotihuacan was not much different in its interactions with other centers from the later empires, such as the Toltec and Aztec. It is believed that Teotihuacan had a major influence on the Preclassic and Classic Maya.
Architectural styles prominent at Teotihuacan are found widely dispersed at a number of distant Mesoamerican sites, which some researchers have interpreted as evidence for Teotihuacan's far-reaching interactions and political or militaristic dominance. A style particularly associated with Teotihuacan is known as talud-tablero, in which an inwards-sloping external side of a structure (talud) is surmounted by a rectangular panel (tablero). Variants of the generic style are found in a number of Maya region sites, including Tikal, Kaminaljuyu, Copan, Becan, and Oxkintok, and particularly in the Petén Basin and the central Guatemalan highlands. The talud-tablero style pre-dates its earliest appearance at Teotihuacan in the Early Classic period; it appears to have originated in the Tlaxcala-Puebla region during the Preclassic. Analyses have traced the development into local variants of the talud-tablero style at sites such as Tikal, where its use precedes the 5th-century appearance of iconographic motifs shared with Teotihuacan. The talud-tablero style disseminated through Mesoamerica generally from the end of the Preclassic period, and not specifically, or solely, via Teotihuacano influence. It is unclear how or from where the style spread into the Maya region. During the zenith main structures of the site, including the pyramids, were painted in dark-red (maroon to Burgundy) colors (only small spots remain now) and were a very impressive sight.
The city was a center of industry, home to many potters, jewelers, and craftsmen. Teotihuacan is known for producing a great number of obsidian artifacts. No ancient Teotihuacano non-ideographic texts are known to exist (or known to have existed). Inscriptions from Maya cities show that Teotihuacan nobility traveled to, and perhaps conquered, local rulers as far away as Honduras. Maya inscriptions note an individual nicknamed by scholars as "Spearthrower Owl", apparently ruler of Teotihuacan, who reigned for over 60 years and installed his relatives as rulers of Tikal and Uaxactun in Guatemala.
Scholars have based interpretations about the culture at Teotihuacan on archeology, the murals that adorn the site (and others, like the Wagner Murals, found in private collections), and hieroglyphic inscriptions made by the Maya describing their encounters with Teotihuacano conquerors. The creation of murals, perhaps tens of thousands of murals, reached its height between 450 and 650. The artistry of the painters was unrivaled in Mesoamerica and has been compared with that of painters in Renaissance Florence, Italy.
Scholars had originally thought that invaders attacked the city in the 7th or 8th century, sacking and burning it. More recent evidence, however, seems to indicate that the burning was limited to the structures and dwellings associated primarily with the ruling class. Some think this suggests that the burning was from an internal uprising. They say the invasion theory is flawed, because early archeological work on the city was focused exclusively on the palaces and temples, places used by the upper classes. Because all of these sites showed burning, archeologists concluded that the whole city was burned. Instead, it is now known that the destruction was centered on major civic structures along the Avenue of the Dead. The sculptures inside palatial structures, such as Xalla, were shattered. No traces of foreign invasion are visible at the site.
Evidence for population decline beginning around the 6th century lends some support to the internal unrest hypothesis. The decline of Teotihuacan has been correlated to lengthy droughts related to the climate changes of 535–536. This theory of ecological decline is supported by archeological remains that show a rise in the percentage of juvenile skeletons with evidence of malnutrition during the 6th century, which is why there is different evidence that helps indicate that famine is most likely one of the more possible reasons for the decline of Teotihuacan. The majority of their food came from agriculture: They grew things such as maize, beans, amaranth, green tomatoes (tomatillos?), and pumpkins, but their harvest was not nearly sufficient to feed a population as big as it is believed have lived in Teotihuacan. This finding does not conflict with either of the above theories, since both increased warfare and internal unrest can also be effects of a general period of drought and famine. Other nearby centers, such as Cholula, Xochicalco, and Cacaxtla, competed to fill the power void left by Teotihuacan's decline. They may have aligned themselves against Teotihuacan to reduce its influence and power. The art and architecture at these sites emulate Teotihuacan forms, but also demonstrate an eclectic mix of motifs and iconography from other parts of Mesoamerica, particularly the Maya region.
The sudden destruction of Teotihuacan was common for Mesoamerican city-states of the Classic and Epi-Classic period. Many Maya states suffered similar fates in the coming centuries, a series of events often referred to as the Classic Maya collapse. Nearby, in the Morelos valley, Xochicalco was sacked and burned in 900 and Tula met a similar fate around 1150.
During the 1200s CE, Nahua migrants repopulated the area. By the 1300s, it had fallen under the sway of Huexotla, and in 1409 was assigned its own tlatoani, Huetzin, a son of the tlatoani of Huexotla. But his reign was cut short when Tezozomoc, tlatoani of Azcapotzalco, invaded Huexotla and the neighboring Acolhua lands in 1418. Huetzin was deposed by the invaders and Tezozomoc installed a man named Totomochtzin. Less than a decade later, in 1427, the Aztec Empire formed and Teotihuacan was vassalized once more by the Acolhua.
Archeological evidence suggests that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic city, and while the official languages used by Teotihuacan is unknown, Totonac and Nahua, early forms of which were spoken by the Aztecs, seem to be highly plausible. This apparent regionally diverse population of Teotihuacan can be traced back to a natural disaster that occurred prior to its population boom. At one point in time, Teotihuacan was rivaled by another basin power, Cuicuilco. Both cities, roughly the same size and hubs for trade, both were productive centers of artisans and commerce. Roughly around 100 BC however, the power dynamic changed when Mount Xitle, an active volcano, erupted, and heavily impacted Cuicuilco and the farmland that supported it. It is believed that the later exponential growth of Teotihuacan's population was due to the subsequent migration of those displaced by the eruption. While this eruption is referenced as being the primary cause for the mass exodus, recent advancements of dating have shed light on an even earlier eruption. The eruption of Popocatepetl in the middle of the first century preceded that of Xitle, and is believed to have begun the aforementioned degradation of agricultural lands, and structural damage to the city; Xitle's eruption further instigated the abandonment of Cuicuilco.
In the Tzacualli phase (c. 1–150 CE) , Teotihuacan saw a population growth of around 60 to 80 thousand people, most of which are believed to have come from the Mexican basin. Following this growth however the influx of new residence slowed, and evidence suggests that, by the Miccaotli phase, c. 200 CE. The urban population had reached its maximum.
In 2001, Terrence Kaufman presented linguistic evidence suggesting that an important ethnic group in Teotihuacan was of Totonacan or Mixe–Zoquean linguistic affiliation. He uses this to explain general influences from Totonacan and Mixe–Zoquean languages in many other Mesoamerican languages, whose people did not have any known history of contact with either of the above-mentioned groups. Other scholars maintain that the largest population group must have been of Otomi ethnicity because the Otomi language is known to have been spoken in the area around Teotihuacan both before and after the Classic period and not during the middle period.
Teotihuacan compounds show evidence of being segregated by class, of which three social strata could be distinguished. High elites, intermediate elites, and the laboring class's dwelling spaces differ in ways that are supportive of these class divisions. Residential architectural structures seem to be differentiable by the artistry and complexity of the structure itself. Based on the quality of construction materials and sizes of rooms as well as the quality of assorted objects found in the residency, these dwellings might have been lived in by higher status households. Teotihuacan dwellings that archeologists deemed of higher standard appear to radiate outwards from the Central district and along the Boulevard of the Dead, although there doesn't appear to be neat zonation into highly homogeneous districts.
The laboring classes, which in and of itself was divided, was constituted from farmers and skilled craftsmen to the outer rural population of the city. The inner situated craftspeople of various specialties were housed in complexes of apartments, distributed throughout. These encampments, known as neighborhood centers, show evidence of providing the internal economic backbone for Teotihuacan. Established by the elite to showcase the sumptuary goods that the resident craftsmen provided, the diversity in goods was aided by the heavy concentration of immigrated individuals from different regions of Mesoamerica. Along with archeological evidence pointing to one of the primary traded items being textiles, craftspeople capitalized on their mastery of painting, building, the performance of music and military training. These neighborhood communities closely resembled individual compounds, often surrounded by physical barriers separating them from the others. In this way, Teotihuacan developed an internal economic competition that fueled productivity and helped create a social structure of its own that differed from the internal, central structure. Aforementioned craftspeople specialized in performing typical actions which in turn left physical evidence in the form of bone abrasions. Based on the wear of teeth archeologists were able to determine that some bodies worked with fibers with their frontal teeth, insinuating that they were involved with making nets, like those depicted in mural art. Women's skeletons provided evidence that they might have sewn or painted for long periods of time, indicative of the headdresses that were created as well as pottery which was fired and painted. Wear on specific joints indicate the carrying of heavy objects over an extended period of their lives. Evidence of these heavy materials is found in the copious amounts of imported pottery, and raw materials found on site, such as rhyolitic glass shards, marble and slate. The residences of the rural population of the city were in enclaves between the middle-class residences or the periphery of the city while smaller encampments filled with earthenware from other regions, also suggest that merchants were situated in their own encampments as well.
In An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, Miller and Taube list eight deities:
- The Storm God
- The Great Goddess
- The Feathered Serpent. An important deity in Teotihuacan; most closely associated with the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (Temple of the Feathered Serpent).
- The Old God
- The War Serpent. Taube has differentiated two different serpent deities whose depictions alternate on the Feathered Serpent Pyramid: the Feathered Serpent and what he calls the "War Serpent". Other researchers are more skeptical.
- The Netted Jaguar
- The Pulque God
- The Fat God. Known primarily from figurines and so assumed to be related to household rituals.
Esther Pasztory adds one more:
- The Flayed God. Known primarily from figurines and so assumed to be related to household rituals.
The consensus among scholars is that the primary deity of Teotihuacan was the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. The dominant civic architecture is the pyramid. Politics were based on the state religion; religious leaders were the political leaders. Religious leaders would commission artists to create religious artworks for ceremonies and rituals. The artwork likely commissioned would have been a mural or a censer depicting gods like the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan or the Feathered Serpent. Censers would be lit during religious rituals to invoke the gods including rituals with human sacrifice.
Teotihuacanos practiced human sacrifice: human bodies and animal sacrifices have been found during excavations of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Scholars believe that the people offered human sacrifices as part of a dedication when buildings were expanded or constructed. The victims were probably enemy warriors captured in battle and brought to the city for ritual sacrifice to ensure the city could prosper. Some men were decapitated, some had their hearts removed, others were killed by being hit several times over the head, and some were buried alive. Animals that were considered sacred and represented mythical powers and military were also buried alive, imprisoned in cages: cougars, a wolf, eagles, a falcon, an owl, and even venomous snakes.
Numerous stone masks have been found at Teotihuacan, and have been generally believed to have been used during a funerary context, although some scholars call this into question, noting that masks "do not seem to have come from burials".
Teotihuacan was one of, or was, the largest population in the Basin of Mexico during its occupation. Teotihuacan was a large pre-historic city that underwent massive population growth and sustained it over most of the city's occupancy. In the 100 AD the population could be estimated around 60,000-80,000, after 200 years of the city's occupancy, within 20 km2 of the city. The population, eventually, stabilized around 100,000 people around 300 AD.
The population reached its peak numbers around 400 to 500 AD. During 400 to 500 AD, the Xolalpan period, the city’s population was estimated to be 100,000 to 200,000 people. This number was achieved by estimating compound sizes to hold approximately 60 to 100, with 2,000 compounds. These high numbers continued until the city started to decline between 600 and 700 AD.
One of Teotihuacan’s neighborhood, Teopancazco, was occupied during most of the time Teotihuacan was as well. It showed that Teotihuacan was a multiethnic city that was broken up into areas of different ethnicities and workers. This neighborhood was important in two ways; the high infant mortality rate and role of the different ethnicities. The high infant mortality rate was important within the neighborhood, and the city at large, as there are a large number of perinatal skeletons at Teopancazco. This suggests that the population of Teotihuacan was sustained and grew due to people coming into the city, rather than the population reproducing. The influx of people came from surrounding areas, bringing different ethnicities to the city.
Writing and literature
Recently[timeframe?] there was a big find in the La Ventilla district that contains over 30 signs and clusters on the floor of the patio. Much of the findings in Teotihuacan suggest that the inhabitants had their own writing style. The figures were made "quickly and show control" giving the idea that they were practiced and were adequate for the needs of their society. Other societies around Teotihuacan adopted some of the symbols that were used there. The inhabitants there rarely used any other societies' symbols and art. These writing systems weren't anything like those of their neighbors, but the same writings show that they must have been aware of the other writings.
The processing of obsidian was the most developed art and the main source of wealth in Teotihuacan. The employees of obsidian laboratories amounted to at least 12% of the total population, according to reliable assessments of archeologists and the multitude of archeological findings. The laboratories produced tools or objects of obsidian of various types, intended for commercial transactions beyond the geographical boundaries of the city, such as figurines, blades, spikes, knife handles, jewelry or ornaments etc. About 25% of the activity of the obsidian laboratories was devoted to the production of blades and deburring for external markets. A specific type of obsidian blades, with a razor-sharp edge, was a ritual tool for use in human sacrifices, with which the priests removed the heart from the victims of the sacrifice. Obsidian came mainly from the mines of Pachuca (Teotihuacan) and its processing was the most important industry in the city, which had acquired the monopoly in the trade of obsidian in the broader Middle American region.
Knowledge of the huge ruins of Teotihuacan was never completely lost. After the fall of the city, various squatters lived on the site. During Aztec times, the city was a place of pilgrimage and identified with the myth of Tollan, the place where the sun was created. Today, Teotihuacan is one of the most noted archeological attractions in Mexico.
Excavations and investigations
In the late 17th century Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645–1700) made some excavations around the Pyramid of the Sun. Minor archeological excavations were conducted in the 19th century. In 1905 Mexican archeologist and government official, in the regime of Porfirio Díaz, Leopoldo Batres led a major project of excavation and restoration. The Pyramid of the Sun was restored to celebrate the centennial of the Mexican War of Independence in 1910. The site of Teotihuacan was the first to be expropriated for the national patrimony under the Law of Monuments (1897), giving jurisdiction under legislation for the Mexican state to take control. Some 250 plots were farmed on the site. Peasants who had been farming portions were ordered to leave and the Mexican government eventually paid some compensation to those individuals. A feeder train line was built to the site in 1908, which allowed the efficient hauling of material from the excavations and later to bring tourists to the site. In 1910, the International Congress of Americanists met in Mexico, coinciding with the centennial celebrations, and the distinguished delegates, such as its president Eduard Seler and vice president Franz Boas were taken to the newly finished excavations.
Further excavations at the Ciudadela were carried out in the 1920s, supervised by Manuel Gamio. Other sections of the site were excavated in the 1940s and 1950s. The first site-wide project of restoration and excavation was carried out by INAH from 1960 to 1965, supervised by Jorge Acosta. This undertaking had the goals of clearing the Avenue of the Dead, consolidating the structures facing it, and excavating the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl.
During the installation of a "sound and light" show in 1971, workers discovered the entrance to a tunnel and cave system underneath the Pyramid of the Sun. Although scholars long thought this to be a natural cave, more recent examinations have established the tunnel was entirely manmade. The interior of the Pyramid of the Sun has never been fully excavated.
In 1980-82, another major program of excavation and restoration was carried out at the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent and the Avenue of the Dead complex. Most recently, a series of excavations at the Pyramid of the Moon have greatly expanded evidence of cultural practices.
In late 2003 a tunnel beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent was accidentally discovered by Sergio Gómez Chávez and Julie Gazzola, archeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). After days of heavy rainstorm Gómez Chávez noticed that a nearly three-foot-wide sinkhole occurred near the foot of the temple pyramid.
First trying to examine the hole with a flashlight from above Gómez could see only darkness, so tied with a line of heavy rope around his waist he was lowered by several colleagues, and descending into the murk he realized it was a perfectly cylindrical shaft. At the bottom he came to rest in apparently ancient construction – a man-made tunnel, blocked in both directions by immense stones. Gómez was aware that archeologists had previously discovered a narrow tunnel underneath the Pyramid of the Sun, and supposed he was now observing a kind of similar mirror tunnel, leading to a subterranean chamber beneath Temple of the Feathered Serpent. He decided initially to elaborate clear hypothesis and to obtain approval. Meanwhile, he erected a tent over the sinkhole to preserve it from the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Teotihuacán. Researchers reported that the tunnel was believed to have been sealed in 200 CE.
Preliminary planning of the exploration and fundraising took more than six years.
Before the start of excavations, beginning in the early months of 2004, Dr. Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, from UNAM Institute of Geophysics, determined with the help of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and a team of some 20 archeologists and workers the approximate length of the tunnel and the presence of internal chambers. They scanned the earth under the Ciudadela, returning every afternoon to upload the results to Gómez’s computers. By 2005, the digital map was complete. The archeologists explored the tunnel with a remote-controlled robot called Tlaloc II-TC, equipped with an infrared camera and a laser scanner that generates 3D visualization to perform three dimensional register of the spaces beneath the temple. A small opening in the tunnel wall was made and the scanner captured the first images, 37 meters into the passage.
In 2009, the government granted Gómez permission to dig. By the end of 2009 archeologists of the INAH located the entrance to the tunnel that leads to galleries under the pyramid, where remains of rulers of the ancient city might have been deposited. In August 2010 Gómez Chávez, now director of Tlalocan Project: Underground Road, announced that INAH's investigation of the tunnel – closed nearly 1,800 years ago by Teotihuacan dwellers – will proceed. The INAH team, consisted of about 30 people supported with national and international advisors at the highest scientific levels, intended to enter the tunnel in September–October 2010. This excavation, the deepest made at the Pre-Hispanic site, was part of the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of archeological excavations at Teotihuacan and its opening to the public.
It was mentioned that the underground passage runs under Feathered Serpent Temple, and the entrance is located a few meters away from the temple at the expected place, deliberately sealed with large boulders nearly 2,000 years ago. The hole that had appeared during the 2003 storms was not the actual entrance; a vertical shaft of almost 5 meters by side is the access to the tunnel. At 14 meters deep, the entrance leads to a nearly 100-meter long corridor that ends in a series of underground galleries in the rock. After archeologists broke ground at the entrance of the tunnel, a staircase and ladders that would allow easy access to the subterranean site were installed. Works advanced slowly and with painstaking care; excavating was done manually, with spades. Nearly 1,000 tons of soil and debris were removed from the tunnel. There were large spiral seashells, cat bones, pottery, fragments of human skin. The rich array of objects unearthed included: wooden masks covered with inlaid rock jade and quartz, elaborate necklaces, rings, greenstone crocodile teeth and human figurines, crystals shaped into eyes, beetle wings arranged in a box, sculptures of jaguars, and hundreds of metallized spheres. The mysterious globes lay in both the north and south chambers. Ranging from 40 to 130 millimeters, the balls have a core of clay and are covered with a yellow jarosite formed by the oxidation of pyrite. According to George Cowgill of Arizona State University, the spheres are a fascinating find: "Pyrite was certainly used by the Teotihuacanos and other ancient Mesoamerican societies. Originally, the spheres would have shown [sic] brilliantly. They are indeed unique, but I have no idea what they mean." All these artifacts were deposited deliberately and pointedly, as if in offering to appease the gods.
One of the most remarkable findings in the tunnel chambers was a miniature mountainous landscape, 17 meters underground, with tiny pools of liquid mercury representing lakes. The walls and ceiling of the tunnel were found to have been carefully impregnated with mineral powder composed of magnetite, pyrite (fool's gold), and hematite to provide a glittering brightness to the complex, and to create the effect of standing under the stars as a peculiar re-creation of the underworld. At the end of the passage, Gómez Chávez’s team uncovered four greenstone statues, wearing garments and beads; their open eyes would have shone with precious minerals. Two of the figurines were still in their original positions, leaning back and appearing to contemplate up at the axis where the three planes of the universe meet – likely the founding shamans of Teotihuacan, guiding pilgrims to the sanctuary, and carrying bundles of sacred objects used to perform rituals, including pendants and pyrite mirrors, which were perceived as portals to other realms.
After each new segment was cleared, the 3D scanner documented the progress. By 2015 nearly 75,000 fragments of artifacts have been discovered, studied, cataloged, analyzed and, when possible, restored.
A recent discovery of a 1800-year-old bouquets of flowers was made in 2021. The flowers, which were found in the tunnel beneath a pyramid dedicated to the feathered serpent deity Quetzalcóatl, date to between roughly 1 and 200 C.E. It is the first time such a well-preserved plant matter has been discovered at Teotihuacan.
Monuments of Teotihuacan
The city of Teotihuacan was characterized by large and imposing buildings, which included, apart from the complexes of houses, temples, large squares, stadiums and palaces of the rulers, nobles and priests. The city's urban-ceremonial space is considered one of the most impressive achievements of the pre-Columbian New world. The size and quality of the monuments, the originality of the residential architecture and the miraculous iconography in the colored murals of the buildings or the vases with the paintings of butterflies, eagles, coyotes with feathers and jaguars, suggest beyond of any doubt a high-level civilization, whose cultural influences were spread and transplanted into all the Mesoamerican populations. The main monuments of the city of Teotihuacan are connected to each other by a central road of 45 meters wide and a length of 2 kilometers, called "Avenue of the Dead " (Avenida de los Muertos), because it is believed to have been paved with tombs. East is the imposing "Pyramid of the Sun " (Piramide del Sol), the third largest pyramid in the world. It has a volume of 1 million cubic meters. It is a gradual pyramid, with a base dimensions of 219.4 x 231.6 meters and a height of 65 meters. At the top of the pyramid there was a huge pedestal, where human sacrifices were made. At the north end of the city, the Boulevard of the dead ends in the "Pyramid of the Moon " (Piramide de la Luna), surrounded laterally by platforms-ramps and lower pyramids. In the southern part is the "Temple of Cetzalkokal " (Quetzalcoatl), dedicated to God in the form of a winged serpent, which gives life and fertility. Sculpture representation of the God Ketzalkokal and twelve Heads of winged snakes adorn the two sides of the uphill scale of the temple.
The city's broad central avenue, called "Avenue of the Dead" (a translation from its Nahuatl name Miccoatli), is flanked by impressive ceremonial architecture, including the immense Pyramid of the Sun (third largest in the World after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza). Pyramid of the Moon and The Ciudadela with Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl are placed at both ends of the Avenue while Palace-museum Quetzalpapálot, the fourth basic structure of site, is situated between two main pyramids. Along the Avenue are many smaller talud-tablero platforms as well. The Aztecs believed they were tombs, inspiring the name of the avenue. Scholars have now established that these were ceremonial platforms that were topped with temples.
The Avenue of the Dead is roughly 40 meters wide and 4 km long. Further down the Avenue of the Dead, after a small river, is the area known as the Citadel, containing the ruined Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl. This area was a large plaza surrounded by temples that formed the religious and political center of the city. The name "Citadel" was given to it by the Spanish, who believed it was a fort. Most of the common people lived in large apartment buildings spread across the city. Many of the buildings contained workshops where artisans produced pottery and other goods.
The urban layout of Teotihuacan exhibits two slightly different orientations, which resulted from both astronomical and topographic criteria. The central part of the city, including the Avenue of the Dead, conforms to the orientation of the Sun Pyramid, while the southern part reproduces the orientation of the Ciudadela. The two constructions recorded sunrises and sunsets on particular dates, allowing the use of an observational calendar. The orientation of the Sun Pyramid was intended to record “the sunrises on February 11 and October 29 and sunsets on April 30 and August 13. The interval from February 11 and October 29, as well as from August 13 to April 30, is exactly 260 days”. The recorded intervals are multiples of 13 and 20 days, which were elementary periods of the Mesoamerican calendar. Furthermore, the Sun Pyramid is aligned to Cerro Gordo to the north, which means that it was purposefully built on a spot where a structure with a rectangular ground plan could satisfy both topographic and astronomical requirements. The artificial cave under the pyramid additionally attests to the importance of this spot.
Another example of artificial landscape modifications is the course of the San Juan River, which was modified to bend around the structures as it goes through the center of town eventually to return to its natural course outside of Teotihuacan.
Pecked-cross circles throughout the city and in the surrounding regions served as a way to design the urban grid, and as a way to read their 260-day calendar. The urban grid had great significance to city planners when constructing Teotihuacan, as the cross is pecked into the ground in the Pyramid of the Sun in specific places throughout Teotihuacan in precise degrees and angles over three km in distance. The layout of these crosses suggests it was there to work as a grid to the layout of Teotihuacan because they are laid out in a rectangular shape facing the Avenue of the Dead. The direction of the axes of the crosses don’t point to an astronomical North and South direction, but instead point to their own city’s North. Numerology also has significance in the cross pecking because of the placement and amount of the holes, which sometimes count to 260 days, the length of the ritual calendrical cycle. Some of the pecked-cross circles also resemble an ancient Aztec game called, patolli.
These pecked-cross circles can be found not just in Teotihuacan, but also throughout Mesoamerica. The ones found all share certain similarities. These include having the shape of two circles, one being inside of the other. They are all found pecked on the ground or onto rocks. They are all created with a small hammer-like device that produces cuplike markings that are 1 centimeter in diameter and 2 centimeters apart. They all have axes that are in line with the city structures of the region. Because they are aligned with the structures of the cities, they also align with the position of significant astronomical bodies.
The Ciudadela was completed during the Miccaotli phase, and the Pyramid of the Sun underwent a complex series of additions and renovations. The Great Compound was constructed across the Avenue of the Dead, west of Ciudadela. This was probably the city’s marketplace. The existence of a large market in an urban center of this size is strong evidence of state organization. Teotihuacan was at that point simply too large and too complex to have been politically viable as a chiefdom.
The Ciudadela is a great enclosed compound capable of holding 100,000 people. About 700,000 cubic meters (yards) of material was used to construct its buildings. Its central feature is the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, which was flanked by upper-class apartments. The entire compound was designed to overwhelm visitors.
Threat from development
The archeological park of Teotihuacan is under threat from development pressures. In 2004, the governor of Mexico state, Arturo Montiel, gave permission for Wal-Mart to build a large store in the third archeological zone of the park. According to Sergio Gómez Chávez, an archeologist and researcher for Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) fragments of ancient pottery were found where trucks dumped the soil from the site.
More recently, Teotihuacan has become the center of controversy over Resplandor Teotihuacano, a massive light and sound spectacular installed to create a night time show for tourists. Critics explain that the large number of perforations for the project have caused fractures in stones and irreversible damage, while the project will have limited benefit.
In May 2021, the Secretariat of Culture announced that a construction crew had been bulldozing the northern outskirts of the city ruins in order to develop the land for an amusement park, despite three-months worth of orders from the government to stop work. The report detailed that at least 25 archeological structures were in immediate danger.
Mexican Government Response
On May 31st, 2021, 250 National Guard troops and 60 agents of the Attorney General’s Office were sent to the Teotihuacán site to seize parcels of land intended for illegal construction and to forcibly stop further destruction of historical sites. The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) had suspended authorization for those projects in March, yet construction work with heavy machinery and looting of artifacts had continued. The seizure of the land came a week after the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) warned that Teotihuacán was at risk of losing its UNESCO World Heritage designation.
Courtyard of the Palace of Quetzalpapálotl
Detail of a collective burial of those sacrificed humans as part of the rites of consecration for the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (phase Miccaotli, c. AD 200) In this case, all buried bodies had their hands tied behind their backs. The necklace is made of pieces that simulate human jaws, but other subjects buried wore necklaces with actual jaws.
Detail of the murals of the palace of Atetelco, dated in Xolalpan phase (c. 450–650).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Teotihuacán.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Teotihuacan.|
- Teotihuacan Research Guide, academic resources and links, maintained by Temple University
- Teotihuacan Teotihuacan information and history
- Teotihuacan article by Encyclopædia Britannica
- Teotihuacan Photo Gallery, by James Q. Jacobs
- 360° Panoramic View of the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon , by Roland Kuczora
- Lidar scans of the Teotihuacán Valley reveal how the landscape was engineered centuries ago. Gizmodo Sept 21, 2021