Teotihuacan Essay Research Paper TeotihuacanThe ancient world

Teotihuacan Essay, Research Paper Teotihuacan The ancient world of Mesoamerica entered a long period of change that soon led to the development a mammoth city that would serve as a regional center for more than 600 years. Beginning in about 1000 B.C. the majority of the people in the Valley of Mexico relocated to one of two primary sites, that of Cuicuilco in the southwest corner and Teotihuacan in the northeast.

Teotihuacan Essay, Research Paper


The ancient world of Mesoamerica entered a long period of change that soon led to the development a mammoth city that would serve as a regional center for more than 600 years. Beginning in about 1000 B.C. the majority of the people in the Valley of Mexico relocated to one of two primary sites, that of Cuicuilco in the southwest corner and Teotihuacan in the northeast. By about 300 B.C., Cuicuilco dominated the region, but its heyday would soon diminish. (Sabloff 2000, p 60)

For the next two hundred years the dominion would begin to shift towards the side of Teotihuacan, a city that would undergo rapid growth never seen before on such a large scale. This was in part due to final demise of Cuicuilco influence from the eruption of Xitli in 50B.C. (Weaver 1981, p 104) This smothered their fields and soon thereafter swallowed the entire site. This was catastrophic because it destroyed their means of survival by wiping out agricultural land, which not only served as a source of subsistence but also as an economic base. Eventually the entire city was covered over, thus ending its years of prestige and aiding the development of its major rival. (Sabloff 2000, p 61)

This event transformed Teotihuacan into the central city of the region, and soon masses began to flood in. Within a very short period the population was believed to consist of between 80-90% of the total population of the Valley of Mexico. This fluxuated but by the time of Christ, many were moving into the area again and soon began the construction of this great city. (Weaver 1981, p 189) The reasons for this immigration are unknown but surveys have proven that the city was populated as the countryside was depopulated. This resettlement policy, whether forced or ‘encouraged’, soon provided the state with enough manpower to bring this center into it excellence. This let the state relocate some of the residents onto the most productive agricultural lands to provide a subsistence base for the community. (Sabloff 1981, p 221) The political advantage of this widespread influence if quite apparent. This would permit the state to have direct control over the urban population as well as those it chose to send out to work in best agricultural lands. Also, most important, this control minimized the threats to the state by eliminating any other strong centers that may rise up against it. These both helped to secure the continuation of their rapid development into a site with no contemporaneous equal, and also one that would be remembered and admired through the present day. (Sabloff 1981, p222)

Even though Teotihuacan has made such a lasting impact on all those who marvel at its grandeur and scale over the past two thousand years, this site in still far from understood. There are many mysteries surrounding this area even after decades of excavations and research. Archaeologists and anthropologists alike struggle to gain a clearer picture of this great Mesoamerican city, although continuing work at the site has provided a wealth of information about the region, occupants, and lifestyles of those who were touched by it.

The location of this great metropolis is a subvalley of the Valley of Mexico. In its northwestern region, the area it occupies is considered to be a highly strategic because it controls access to the valley. This proved to be quite beneficial for aiding and accelerating the development of the Teotihuacan culture. The valley of Mexico is home to obsidian sources, permanent springs, lake systems, irrigable agricultural lands, deposits of salt and limestone, the later was extremely important for construction of the majority of the structures found at this site.

Beginning in the early 1960’s, the Mexican government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) launched an excavation project along the “Street of the Dead”. Their labors were fruitful and provided a sturdy foundation on which future anthropologists could base their efforts. The archaeological digs uncovered many of the temples, public buildings and other structures that lined this major avenue. After these had been completed, a monumental layout emerged that would prove invaluable to the future research involving this significant site. (Sabloff 1981, p.198)

In 1962 Rene Millon started his own archaeological project with the University of Rochester with the goal of producing a detailed map of Teotihuacan. For many years before the Teotihuacan Mapping Project, the true extent of this major ancient Mesoamerican city had not fully been conceived. Previous excavations led to the conclusion that the city’s center, an area consisting of temples, plazas and the Street of the Dead, was the total area covered by this site. After this project the boundaries were extended when another major avenue was uncovered, the east-west axis. (Renfrew 2000, p.90) His photogrammetric map showed that this city was over 9 square miles and was fully urbanized. Around 1 A.D. it was laid out on this newly discovered grid plan that had an unusual feature, all structures were oriented to 15 degrees 25 minutes east of true north. This suggests that there was originally a detailed plan used by those who constructed Teotihuacan. (Coe 1984, p 90)

Millon decided to use several methods to gain more understanding of the site and to map it more definitively. He used a combination of aerial and surface survey, as well as excavation, to produce a grid map of 147 squares. The use of a plane proved to be very important since many of the structures could be more easily identified as “irregular” from the air than from the thick vegetation below. Once the grid pattern was established, a team of anthropologists walked side by side in order to define the city limits and also collected many surface artifacts. After this intensive survey effort Millon discovered that this city had in fact been laid out in an organized plan, with four main quadrants divided by the two great avenues. (Ibid) Aside from the major pyramids, most of the city consisted of residential compounds, a term devised from their size and internal design.

Excavations and surveys also played an important role in uncovering and identifying a sample the 2000 compounds where the ancient Teotihuacanos resided. The apartment compounds were one-story and were surrounded by stonewalls usually constructed from stone or abode and covered with concrete and plaster. The surveys produced results from which Millon estimated an average size of 60m by 60m per room, although numerous were much larger or smaller than this estimate. These compounds divided into rooms, patios, and passages similar to some of apartment buildings of today. Another interesting feature is that each compound has at least one temple platform located near the center of the main courtyard and drainage networks made before floors and patios were in place. They served to channel and collect rainwater and possibly guide it to a compound reservoir. (Sabloff 1981, p 203)

It is very important to note that this huge residential area was not constructed over a long period of time but rather was a single operation that took place primarily between 300-400 A.D. Since most of the structures differ somewhat, it has been suggested they were not in fact built by the state or even a proposed uniform plan. On the other hand, these areas could have been helpful to a state society, since they could potentially provide money through taxes, labor, and a way for the general population to be under the watchful eye of the state. Further research has provided that these were most likely constructed under some type of authority and regulation. (Sabloff 1981, p 209)

From analyzing the compounds Millon has suggested social stratification from the location of these compounds, also aided by further excavations and artifacts. He concluded that along the Avenue of the Dead was the most desirable and elegant living area, located toward the north. As one moved further and further from this section the desirability declined until it reached the outskirts, which was allotted for the lower class housing. Class differentiation was devised from studying the amount of space granted to each individual family unit.

Michael Spence, working on Millon’s excavation team, was also able to gain insight to residential preference. Through examination of non-metric skeletal remains, genetics played an important role in deciding this partiality. He discovered that the males within a compound were more closely biologically linked than the women, suggesting a patrilocal residence where the women moved into the man’s lodging after marriage. This possibly also suggests some sort of gender indifferences as well. (Durham 1997, p 138)

These apartment compounds can provide a plethora of information about the life of their occupants. One very important feature determined from analysis of numerous excavated artifacts was that this city was very cosmopolitan and the residents of the compounds were either related by kin or commercial interest. (Coe 1984, p 92) Also, Millon used the dimensions to calculate an estimate of Teotihuacan’s population, which was probably around 125,000 up to 200,000 in its peak. This is quite remarkable since no other city in Mesoamerica had seen such proportions up to that time, and only six other cities worldwide were larger by 600 A.D. (Sabloff, 1981, p 208)

Sifting, screening and floatation were employed by team member Emily McClung de Tapia in regards to plant analysis and were practiced by David Starbuck on fauna remains, both providing direct data on the Teotihuacano’s diet at the time. Tapia’s material ranges from about 100-750 A.D. and was collected from the floors of the compounds, as well as being identified in some mural depictions. From the carbonized remains, seeds, fibers, and other remains prove that plants played some sort of role in ancient life, but to what degree each did that will not be known until further research has been conducted. All we can tell is that a wide range of plants were utilized by these people. Starbuck also found interesting finds, but these were primarily skeletal remains of fish, dogs, deer, waterfowl, and rabbit. The fish bones suggest that these people were exploiting the lakes to the south, as well as the remains of the fowl and turtles.

The excavations also uncovered many remains within numerous compounds that suggest a commercial relation as well. One of the most significant was that it had a nearby source of obsidian. (Sabloff 1997, p62) This volcanic rock, found only in the highland areas containing volcanoes, was used primarily to make tools and weapons. This was very valuable at the time and control over the sources would provide great power and source of a valuable trade item. There are two main kinds of obsidian, gray and green. Of the studies preformed on artifacts through modern techniques like trace analysis, numerous sources have been identified in Guatemala and Mexico. The gray was more common and came from more than 15 identified sources. Green obsidian was found to have only one source, Pachuca, Hidalgo, making it much more desirable and proved to be a sign of higher status individuals. (Weaver 1981, p 205)


(Weaver 1981, p 205)(Sabloff 1997, p62)