by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
One Summer In Mexico – Part Ten – July 13-19, 1970
San Juan de Teotihuacan, Estado de México
In this multi-part subsection of the main series of articles, you are going to see images that you will never, ever see yourself. Not only did I have a pass to walk a vast landscape that is now covered with suburban development, but I climbed to the top of the mountain overlooking Teotihuacan and discovered a “lost city” that the public still does not know, exists. The astronomical expansion of Mexico City has obliterated an ancient landscape that is now gone with the wind.
This famous archaeological zone is located approximately 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Mexico City. The site covers a total surface area of 83 square km (32 sq. mi) and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. Approximately, 4.3 million people visited Teotihuacan in 2019.
Etymology: Teotihuacan does not mean “Place of the Gods” as you are told in a legion of TV documentaries and books. It is the Hispanization of a Nahuatl word meaning, “Where one can become a god.” Its original name was probably E-Tula, which is also the Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate Creek word for a principal town or capital. E-tula is the source of the Muskogee word Etalwa, i.e. Etowah Mounds. Tula is derived from the Itza word taula, which means “to stack stones for a building.” That has become the Itsate and Muskogee Creek word for “stone.”
It is now known that there were originally several indigenous villages around a shallow lake where Teotihuacan now stands. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 AD. The Pyramid of the Sun was probably constructed between 100 AD and 200 AD. Some people may have lived in the city until around 750 AD but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD in an uprising by the commoners. This was in a period of volcanic winter, caused by an asteroid or comet striking the Atlantic Ocean off of Cape Canaveral and multiple volcanic eruptions in Mesoamerica, Iceland and the Southwestern United States.
At its peak size, Teotihuacan, contained a population of at least 125, 000 people . . . some say 200,000. The dependence of so many people for firewood stripped the mountainsides of trees, causing permanent ecological damage. Forensic botanists have estimated that by 600 AD, slaves were having to walk 20-25 miles to reach forests for cutting firewood. Even the cutting of firewood was a slow process with stone axes.
In the popular mind
For many decades, Teotihuacan has been an obsession of Newagers and Ancient Astronauts believers. When any non-orthodox explanation of Americas’ past is proposed, inevitably a photo of Teotihuacan is included.
Dr. Román Piña Chán assigned me more days at Teotihuacan than any other archaeological zone in Mesoamerica. Of course, the archaeological zone that once contained over 120,000 people is massive, but I now realize that he also wanted me to understand the mistakes that his employer INAH and previous generations of archaeologists had made there. He was in a highly politicized environment and dared not criticize anyone in the government. As a Historic Preservation Architect, I would be responsible for the restoration of historic buildings. The restoration and interpretation of Teotihuacan had been thoroughly botched.
Until the 21st century, national elections in Mexico were essentially rigged. The sitting president of Mexico, always a member of PRI (The Institutional Revolutionary Party) would hand-pick his successor. A president had powers approaching that of a dictator, but a single term limited to six years.
After Luis Echeverría Álvarez was elected president on July 5, 1970, a wave of political repression set in . . . which should have been expected. Echeverría was directly responsible for the Tlatelolco Massacre. See “One Summer In Mexico – Part Two.” Dr. Piña Chán was either fired or resigned due to the toxic political environment after the July 5, 1970 election, but was allowed to stay in his office without any administrative responsibilities until September. Fortunately, for me, though, that gave him plenty of time for such things as “brown bag lunches” with student interns such as myself. I would show my slidesfrom distant archaeological zones whenever I got back to Mexico City.
The political crony, who replaced Piña Chán, immediately signed off on plans to develop huge chunks of the Teotihuacan archaeological zone . . . which happened to been sold as “surplus government property” to wealthy cronies of Echeverría. Echeverría pretended to be somewhat of a Socialist in order to play Castro-like Third World politics, but really was a puppet for organized crime – oligarch style.
Dr. Piña Chán was reinstated after Echeverría left office. He ultimately was named Director of the INAH, after Dr. Ignacio Bernal retired. However, irreparable damage was done to Teotihuacan’s archaeological zone. A SuperWalmart was built, where I photographed mounds that probably predated Teotihuacan. You will see them in one of the documentary films that I created for our You Tube Channel.
How the Insituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia led me astray
The generously funded archaeological and historic preservation programs of the INAH are a direct result of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). In addition to being a draw for tourism, which is a major component in the nation’s economy they have a propaganda function. The majority of Mexicans are either Native Americans or mestizos. They can take great pride in the achievements of their indigenous ancestors to compensate for the median standard of living being considerably below that of Europe, Canada and the United States. There is a dark side to this approach to history, however.
Any archaeological discovery, which conflicts with the official politicized version of Mexico’s ancient history is liable to be concealed or even destroyed. Some presidential administrations insisted that the original people of Mexico were American Indians. About 30 years ago, a long-occupied village site near the former shores of Lake Texacoco was found to be occupied by big game hunters, whose skeletons did not appear to be American Indian, but either Polynesian or Polynesian-European mixed. These are the same people, who hunted the mammoths, which were recently unearthed at the new international airport site. The radiocarbon dates were coming in at 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. However, INAH officials squelched press releases about the discovery . . . refused to renew the archaeological permit for the United States archaeologists at the dig . . . and soon destroyed the site by purchasing the land to build a recreation complex. Thus, the oldest known human occupation site in the Americas was completely erased from the history books.
When I was at Teotihuacan and really up until about 15 years ago, the Mexican government presented a fictional image of Teotihuacan. We were told that Teotihuacan was a sacred, peaceful city led by scholarly priests, whose only form of sacrifice was the mounting of butterflies on a temple wall. A very similar description was given to the Maya city states. It was claimed that the Aztecs introduced militarism and human sacrifice to Mexico.
Teotihuacano cultural influence had obviously spread over much of Mesoamerica. This was explained by a network of traders, called pochtecas, who spread civilization and a peaceful religion, similar to Christianity, in which the god Quetzalcoatl was the manifestation of Jesus Christ in the New World. The connection to Jesus was extrapolated from one of the glyphs for a pochteca, which was a man carrying a wooden beam, as if he was on a cross.
Once it was possible to read the Maya writing system, a very different understanding of Mexico’s past became obvious. Massive armies from Teotihuacan swarmed all over Mesoamerica to create an empire. Until after 600 AD, most Maya city states were under the domination of Teotihuacan. Invading armies massacred Maya royal families and replaced them with princes from Teotihuacan.
- There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon were dedicated to the deities of the sun and moon.
- There is absolutely evidence that the people of Teotihuacan played the “Mesoamerican Ballgame.” What archaeologists do find are paintings of athletes playing the ancient Irish game of hurling. It is played with a curved bat and a leather ball. It is believed that the Southeastern Indian game of stickball developed from the Teotihuacan version of hurling.
- Quetzalcoatl was actually the patron deity of the warrior caste and demanded human sacrifices. He was NOT a Jesus-like figure, as portrayed in several late 20th century movies.
- It is now known that the principal deity of Teotihuacan was an invisible sun goddess, who had almost identical traits to that of the YHWH worshiped by the Hebrews, before the time of the first temple in Jerusalem. The Creeks worshiped this same goddess. The Apalache-Creeks in NE Georgia believed that the Painted Buntings and Monarch Butterflies, who lived in their mountaintop and hilltop temples during the warm months, flew each autumn to the “home of the sun goddess” in central Mexico.
- Tourists and scholars were told that the Teotihuacan Valley had always been arid, but it is now known that when Teotihuacan was first founded, the valley was composed of wetlands and lakes. The mountains were covered with forests. The valley may have not become arid until the Little Ice Age (1400-1880 AD).
- Both Mexican and North American archaeologists justified their high estimates of Teotihuacan’s population (100,000 to 200,000) by saying that slaves hauled most of the food and water, plus such basic raw materials as firewood, structural timbers, obsidian, copper and leather from sites 15 to 50 miles away. For my thesis at the end of the fellowship, I did some calculating. Hauling 120,000 gallons (9.6 million pounds ~ 4.36 million kg) of water a day would have alone required about 40,000 slaves. Similar numbers of slaves would have been required for each of the other major commodities. Clearly, the interpretation of Teotihuacan by the anthropology profession was way out in lala land.
Human Sacrifices: From the very beginning of excavations at Teotihuacan in the 1880’s, archaeologists found the skeletons or skulls of sacrificial victims. However, for unknown reasons, it became the official government and professional policy to conceal the presence of human sacrifice at Teotihuacan. The policy was continued by the PRI party until it went out of power in 2000, then suddenly Mexican archaeologists began discussing the discovered of a massive hole filled with skeletons near the Colonnades Temple that is is absolute impossible to count the number of sacrificial victims. It somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000+.
Interestingly enough, just like the Polynesians and people at Cahokia, Illinois, the people at Teotihuacan buried sacrificial buildings under the corners of their pyramidal mounds.
Architecture: The early decades of archaeological work at Teotihuacan was supervised by Leopoldo Batres, who had received five years of training in archaeology in Paris, but no training in architecture. His restoration of the Pyramid of the Sun is considered to be an abomination today. Yet a legion of alternative history type books and TV programs extrapolate the shape and size of the current pyramid to have great esoteric meanings.
First of all, it is now known that the pyramid was constructed almost continuously over approximately a one century period. It did not grow in stages over several centuries like most Native American mounds in the Southeast and the Maya pyramidal temples. However, we also know now that Batres great altered the structure’s appearance. His workers removed about 20 feet of stone masonry from the exterior of the pyramid, chopped off about 30 feet of the upper section then added a fifth section that was much shorter. Furthermore, Batres encountered enormous sheets of mica that had been hauled from a source 2000 miles (3333 km) between each level of the pyramid. He tossed them aside and didn’t mention them in his report.
Mica is a key material used in the electronics and computer industries. Mica is especially important for radios and radio transmitters. In recent years, large pools of mercury have been found under and near the Pyramid of the Sun. It is obvious that the Pyramid of the Sun had electronic functions that would appeared to be “magic” to most of the city’s population. Because the structure has been so severely altered from its original form, we may never know what those “magic” functions were.
Sustainability of Teotihuacan
In my thesis, I proved with some basic math that the understanding of Teotihuacan, as held by anthropologists in 1970, was impossible. It was an impossible task for most of the vegetables, fruits and grains for a city of 120,000 people to be hauled on human backs 25-50 miles each day. Just the daily firewood need alone would have required a third of the population to be slaves or laborers. Then there was the question of protein. A population that large would have quickly wiped out all the wild game animals in the region. Possibly, enough fish could have been caught within the five lakes of the main Valley of Mexico, to sustain that large a population, but that is doubtful, because it meant that most of the people living there, worked as fishermen. Even if turkeys were raised on an industrial scale near Teotihuacan, vast quantities of corn would have been required to feed them on that barren arid landscape.
Now, I did solve the water riddle, but my discovery apparently never got into the main body of anthropological knowledge about Teotihuacan. I found the ruins of a massive water reservoir on top of Cerro Gordo. It is the mountain directly behind the Pyramid of the Moon. I also found a stone-lined aqueduct, about 6 feet or 2 meters in diameter that ran down the slopes of Cerro Gordo from the reservoir then under the Pyramid of the Moon.
Given the assumption that the remainder of the Teotihuacan Valley was arid, marginally fertile soil, I estimated that the maximum sustainable, permanent population of Teotihuacan was about 20,000. That estimate assumed that most of the laborers and slaves lived in remote villages near the sources of food or raw materials. I was wrong! Subsequent articles and videos will explain how I arrived at a 21st century interpretation of Teotihuacan.
The new INAH video on Teotihuacan is far more accurate than any English language video on the subject and has the highest possible quality of videography, but has no English caption. Those of you who don’t know Spanish still will enjoy seeing the superior visual presentation of this vast city.