dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Hall of Teotihuacán

I rarely go to Mexico City without paying a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology.  It is the crown jewel of the more than 100 museums in the city.  It is arguably one of the greatest museums in the world... definitely one of the world's greatest archaeological museums.

Because the museum is so large, on my last several visits I have concentrated on just one hall and have taken more time studying the displays and artifacts and reading the descriptive information. On my most recent trip I spent more than an hour in the hall devoted to the ancient city of Teotihuacán. 

The vast ruins of Teotihuacán are located about 30 miles to the north of Mexico City.   1600 years ago it was a thriving metropolis with a population of more than 100,000 people.  (Some estimate that it may have had as many as 250,000 people.)  It was the first great city in the Americas, and was probably one of the largest cities in the world at that time.  No one knows who founded Teotihuacán or why the city was eventually abandoned.  When the Aztecs migrated into central Mexico centuries later, they were so impressed by its ruins that they thought that the place had surely been built by the gods.  And so they gave it the name by which we know it today... Teotihuacán, the Place of the Gods.

As you enter the Teotihuacán Hall of the museum, you are immediately struck by the life-size reconstruction of a portion of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.

The façade is covered with images of two of their principal gods. 

These images have long been identified with the Aztec gods Queztalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, and Tlaloc, the rain god.  We don't know what the people of Teotihuacán actually called these gods, but they may indeed have been the prototypes of the deities which were worshipped by later tribes such as the Aztecs.

The religion of Teotihuacán included the practice of human sacrifice.  Within the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, archaeologists found the remains of decapitated sacrificial victims.  A reconstruction of the excavation is on display in the museum.

This monumental sculpture is thought to represent the Goddess of the Waters.

There is also a reconstruction of the entrance to one of Teotihuacán's palaces... the Palace of the Feathered Butterfly.

The walls of the city's palaces and temples were covered with mural paintings which have deteriorated through the centuries.  Here is a fragment of an original mural.

From what remains of the murals, archaeologists have been able to recreate how these paintings must have appeared in their original vibrant colors.

It was long assumed that this mural was of the rain god.  (Notice the drops of water dripping from the headdress and the hands of the deity.)  Archaeologists now believe that it is a representation of a fertility goddess, which they call the Great Goddess of Teotihuacán.

The hall is filled with artifacts that attest to the artistic skill of the Teotihuacán civilization.

This elaborate necklace includes human teeth.  (There was no explanation, but I have to wonder if the teeth came from sacrificial victims. Were the people alive when the teeth were pulled?  Ouch!)

Many masks such as this one have been found.  It was once thought that they were funerary masks, but they were not found in gravesites.
Teotihuacán was an important center of trade and manufacturing.  Their trade network stretched across most of Mesoamerica.
Their most important products were obsidian tools...

and beautiful pottery.

Teotihuacán pottery has been found as far away as the lands of the Mayas.

This painted conch shell is evidence of trade with coastal regions.

Teotihuacán was a cosmopolitan city. The population included immigrants from many different parts of Mexico.  There was, for example, an entire neighborhood of Zapotecs from Oaxaca.  This sculpture of a Zapotec god is one of many objects found in that section of the city.

Around A.D.550, Teotihuacán, after centuries of glory, fell into decline.  No one knows the reason for the city's downfall.  There is evidence that many of the temples and palaces were looted and burned.  We also know that at that time there was a period of severe drought and famine.  Some scholars believe that there might have been a revolt by the poor against the ruling classes that led to the collapse of the civilization.    


  1. Very interesting morning reading!


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where there were no such impressive indigenous cities, but then no human sacrifice either.

  2. I think historical and anthropological records will show that those involved with building these Pyramids were my Ancestors.

    Your article leaves out holes that have already been answered. The Olmecs built those. The Olmecs were from West Africa. :)