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Ancient Middle America

Spring 2019 Calendar

 map: topographic
  map: Mesoamerica and Its Cultural Areas
 Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica

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Ancient Mexico Map Thumbnail
Ancient Mexico Map


Living Stones
Where Archaeology Begins

Carving of Quetzal.coat.

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Teotíhuacán: The City of the Gods

27 min., 2002, DVD 121

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan
Teotihuacán, Mesoamerican Photo Archives -- ©David R. Hixson

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Teotihuacán HomePage

Abstract Terms / Concepts Notes
Cultures Sites Individuals Bibliography /

"Reputedly the first great city of the Western hemisphere, Teotihuacán, the City of the Gods, is also one of the most mysterious. Who lived there? What were its inhabitants like? Why did their culture collapse? Archaeologist Rubén Cabrera Castro, site co-director, leads the way down the Avenue of the Dead - and inside both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, normally closed to the public. The city’s political, religious, commercial, and artistic influences on subsequent societies are considered. A virtual fly-over reveals Teotihuacán’s carefully planned layout."

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Terms / Concepts:

  • zocalo = center plaza of Mexico City

  • talud - tablero construction

  • colors

    • green
      • symbolized fertility
      • symbolized fields
      • symbolized jade
      • represented everything precious

    • reds
      • represented blood, life itself
      • represented the beating heart

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  • the world was destroyed four times before, and was created a fifth time at Teotihuacán

  • Teotihuacán was created in the image of the universe, both in its horizontal and vertical dimensions

  • between the 5th and the 7th centuries A.D. Teotihuacán was at its most glorious

    • at that time the city had a population of around 100,000
    • at that time it was one of the 6th leading cities of the world
    • its prestige was enormous

  • the Teotihuacanos carried out the first great urban revolution in America

  • the Teotihuacán architects defined the basic style of Mesoamerican cities

    • symmetry
    • orthogonality

      • involving right angles or perpendiculars
        • orthogonal projection: "The two-dimensional graphic representation of an object formed by the perpendicular intersections of lines drawn from points on the object to a plane of projection." --

  • Teotihuacán got its wealth through trade

    • obsidian
    • jade
    • pottery
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  • The priests were the most powerful social and political element of the Teotihuacán world

    • their images can be found everywhere
    • strong and well-established central authority
    • their influence extended to every corner of the empire
    • a powerful religious elite based their power on war on sacrifice
      • including human sacrifice

  • there were three kind of cults

    1. a local community cult devoted to the jaguar and canine deities which represented the powerful animals of the region

    2. the cult of the powerful god Quetzal-Maripoza

      • born of the marriage between a bird and a butterfly

        • Eagle carving in the Palace of Quetzal Mariposa.

          Eagle Carving
          Palace of Quetzal Mariposa

    1. the cult based upon the state and the civilization

      • mostly devoted to Tlaloc, the master of rain and storms
        • particularly venerated in this region where water was so rare
        • the god of sustenance
          • represented i the form of a stylized mask with big round eyes

    • the main deity of pre-Columbian mythology was Quetzalcoatl, the plumed-serpent

      • the Quetzal is a bird from  the tropical forest
      • mythical god
      • image is linked to the creation of the earth and the sun
      • master of the earth and water
      • this is the civilizing hero who led men to perfect the arts, and move beyond the bestial to the world of morality
      • symbolizes the Holy Spirit, man's ideal

      • his temple stands in the courtyard, in the Citadela

        • in both size and function, this is one of the city's most important architectural complexes
        • this was the seat of government from which the city's religious and political power was exerted
        • archaeologists have recently discovered several groups of skeletons
          • the bodies were laid out just like the ones under the Pyramid of the Moon
          • the skeletons were placed next to one another in groups of 3, 4, 18 and 20
            • these numbers formed the basis of the Mesoamerican astronomical and religious calendars

              Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl
              Palace of Quetzalcoatl, Citadela
              The Rain God (Tlaloc) and Quetzalcoatl
              are classic fertility symbols

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  • In the eighth century A.D. the city fell to ruin

    • we do not know why
    • sometime around A.D. 750 the holy city of Quetzalcoatl was demolished
    • but even after its destruction, when it was nothing more than a pile or ruins swamped by vegetation, it continued to exert a powerful influence

      • from the Gulf to the Yucatan peninsula its town planning was taken as a model
      • its architectural style was imitated
      • its religious beliefs were perpetuated
      • the archetypal civilized city, Teotihuacán marked the start of a period of Mesoamerican urban models to which Mexico City still belongs

  • Pyramid of the Sun

    • all of the major buildings were aligned to the east-west axis of the Pyramid of the Sun
    • excavations of an underground cave directly below the Pyramid of the Sun, in the form of a four-leaf clover suggest that this is the place where the world was begun
      • it is perfectly oriented to the cardinal directions
    • 243 steps to the temple base at the top
    • built as a single project

  • Pyramid of the Moon

    • actually five pyramids built on on top of the other, each corresponding to a stage in its evolution
    • skulls were found in its interior
      • perhaps a sacrificial warrior

  • Avenue of the Dead

        Teotihuacan, Avenue of the Dead.

  • Citadela

    • Temple of Quetzalcoatl

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Sites / Locations:

  • Teotihuacán (Teotihuacanos)

    • was abandoned more than 500 years before the arrival of the Aztecs
    • Aztec mythology was built around this mysterious city

  • Tula, Hidalgo (Toltecs)

  • Lake Texcoco

  • Tenochtitlán (Aztec)
    • "The Venice of the Americas"

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  • Rubén Cabrera Castro

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