by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
One Summer In Mexico – Part Four
Saturday, July 4, 1970
Colonia San Bartolo Tenayuca in the suburban town of Tlalnepantla de Baz, Estado de México
Dr. Román Piña-Chan wanted me to see the restored ruins of Tenayuca, after visiting Ttlatelolco, because he thought the architects had done a good job of both presenting the final appearance of the pyramid and explaining earlier stages of its evolution. If the reader recalls, I could not make any sense out of Tlatelolco because the restored ruins consist of a series of parallel foundation walls. Tenayuca means “walled place” in Nahuatl. Tenayuca was a settlement on the former shoreline of the western arm of Lake Texcoco. It was located approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) to the northwest of Tenochtitlan (the heart of present-day Mexico City).
In its final form, created by the Mexica, the pyramid is 17 meters (55.75 ft.) tall, 52 meters (170.5 ft.) wide and 60 meters (197 ft.) long. It is approximately the same dimensions and geometrical form as the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee National Historical Park. There may be a connection!
In 1970, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia described Tenayuca as “the first Mexica (Aztec) pyramid.” It was restored to perfection for the benefit of the attendees to the 1968 Olympics and out of national pride.
Fifty years later, someone has anonymously written in the Wikipedia article on Tenayuca that it was the first place, where the Chichimecas lived, when they arrived in the Valley of Mexico. The Mexica were a barbaric Chichimeca tribe, so that is merely a slightly change from the orthodoxy of five decades ago. Another person has anonymously added more paragraphs afterward, which conflict with the first paragraph. That is typical of Wikipedia articles on Native American archaeology. Competing factions of the profession battle each other over the contents of articles.
The latter paragraphs tell readers that it is now known that Tenayuca was a town long before the Chichimecs arrived. Someone else may have built the original pyramid.
The Instituto Nacional de Antropologia E Historia (INAH) website provides even more updated information and questions. The Chichimecs were primitive hunter-gatherer tribes that had no tradition of building mounds. There is no way that they could have captured the Valley of Mexico then suddenly begun building stone-faced mounds, aka pyramids. Furthermore, the artistic themes of the sculptures and artifacts during the construction of the first pyramid around 1000 AD, are different than Mexica traditions.
The INAH now knows that the first “pyramid” at Tenayuca was a earthen pyramid, which was very similar in appearance to the earliest forms of the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee National Historical Park or the earliest stages of the Pyramid of the Sun at Chichen Itza . . . when the city was occupied and ruled by the Itza. These types of roughly square truncated pyramids were also constructed in northern Georgia, south-central Tennessee and western North Carolina during the first phase of Etula’s (Etowah Mounds) occupation. This architectural evidence suggests that there was a cultural connection between the original occupants of Tenayuca and people living in northern Yucatan and Georgia around the period 900 AD to 1150 AD.
The architectural sculptures at Tenayuca particularly interested me. Along the sides of the front steps were carved a series of symbols. They appeared to be some sort of religious symbols or perhaps a primitive writing system, but did not resemble Maya glyphs. I photographed the coiled snake – and the serpents that swam around the periphery of the pyramid then made slides of the symbols along the stairway. When I got back home to Georgia, I even painted those symbols on the concrete blocks of my basement bedroom.
Next readers will see my notes from July 4, 1970 then return to describe a astonishing discovery I made in 2017 that connects the Tenayuca Pyramid with the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia.
Fast forward 47 years to the mountains of North Georgia
In writing the book, The Nacoochee Valley . . . Ancient Crossroads of the Americas, I came across a stunning photograph of the earliest burial underneath the famous Nacoochee Mound. The photo was made by archaeologist George Heye in 1915. The skeleton was buried in a fieldstone sarcophagus. Leaning against the ribs of the skeleton was either a sacrificial knife or an ornamental knife identical to one of those portrayed in the first phase of Tenayuca’s construction. The knife appears to be small to have been worn as a necklace and badge of office.
This is not speculation or theory. We have a very obvious cultural connection between whoever was living in Tenayuca in the period from 600 AD to 1000 AD and the appearance of “stone box sarcophagi” and large scale cultivation of corn in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia . . . 1330 miles / 2141 kilometers to the northeast . . . around 1000 AD.
What is really odd about this coincidence is that George Heye never mentioned this unusual artifact in the book that he wrote about the the Nacoochee Mound. As far as we know, it has never been put on display by the American Museum of Natural History, which evolved from the Heye Museum. Furthermore, no Georgia archaeologist has ever commented on the significance of this knife. Perhaps they are afraid to. The Truth Is Out There Somewhere!