An Update on Teotihuacan

By Cowgill, George L. | Antiquity, December 2008 | Go to article overview

An Update on Teotihuacan


Cowgill, George L., Antiquity


Introduction

Teotihuacan is a great ancient city, located 2250m above sea level in the cool and semi-arid uplands of Central Mexico (Figure 1). It flourished between about 100/1 BC and AD 550/650, long predating the Aztecs. During much of that time it covered 20[km.sup.2], with a population near 100 000 or possibly more. It is a key site for the study of the rise of urbanism and the creation ofstate societies.

Teotihuacan is much too large to be 'owned' by any one group, and investigations are steadily being carried out by scholars from many institutions, Mexican, US, Canadian, Japanese, French and others. I have tried to cover recent literature in English and Spanish, but I cannot claim to be comprehensive. Cowgill (1997; 2000a; 2003; 2007) are short overviews. Pasztory (1997), Carrasco et al. (2000), Sugiyama (2005) and Headrick (2007) are recent books in English. Collections primarily in Spanish include Brambila and Cabrera (1998), Manzanilla and Serrano (1999), Ruiz (2002), Ruiz and Soto (2004) and Ruiz and Torres Peralta (2005). Reports of projects sponsored by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies are at www.famsi.org. I have emphasised publications not mentioned in any of these sources, and only sparingly mentioned unpublished work in progress.

New projects: Pyramid of the Moon

The most noteworthy recent project at Teotihuacan (Figure 2) is that carried out at the Moon Pyramid between 1998 and 2004, directed by Saburo Sugiyama of Aichi Prefectural University and Arizona State University and Ruben Cabrera of the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH). Sugiyama and Cabrera explored the interior and exterior of this second-largest Teotihuacan pyramid (168 x 149m at its base and 46m high) and found seven construction stages. The earliest, a small platform 23.5 x 23.5m at the base, dating somewhere between 100 BC and AD 100, is currently the earliest well-known structure at Teotihuacan. The pyramid was subsequently greatly enlarged in a series of building stages, of which the latest, probably dating to around AD 350, is the one now visible. Four undisturbed major tombs were found, each with one or more sacrificed humans and many animal victims, as well as rich offerings of precious stone, obsidian and other materiais (Figure 3). One tomb included objects strongly suggestive of long-distance interactions with elites in the Maya lowlands. No evidence of durable structures was found on top of the successive construction stages of the pyramid. It seems their upper surfaces were large elevated platforms where rituals and other activities could be witnessed by crowds at ground level.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

These results were summarised in a special section of Ancient Mesoamerica (2007) and more recently in unpublished papers at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver. Sugiyama and Lopez Lujan (2006) is the catalogue for an exhibition of spectacular finds from the most recently discovered tomb.

Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent

Sugiyama (2005) describes and interprets finds at the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (also known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl), within the 16ha Ciudadela complex, mostly from excavations in 1988-89. It was probably built around AD 200, contemporary with later stages of the Moon Pyramid. It is the third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan (65 x 65m at the base and about 20m high) and it is notable for the cut stone apron-and-panel (talud-tablero) facades on all four sides, with three-dimensional sculptures of feathered serpents and other motifs. Nearly 200 bound sacrificial victims were found there in undisturbed mass burials. Many were young men with military accoutrements; others were young women and a few were older males accompanied by rich offerings. The soldiers might be captive enemies, but the quality of their attire and their emplacement--as if intended to protect the pyramid's contents--suggest to me that they may have been elite guards for a royal household.

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