The Teotihuacán are one of Mexico’s most mysterious cultures. Because they disappeared before the Spanish arrived, there is no documentation from the Spaniards about their culture. Even the Aztecs in nearby Tenochtitlan knew little about them because their culture arrived so much later than the disappearance of the Teotihuacán people.
Teotihuacán the City
The main basis of anthropological knowledge and speculation about the Teotihuacán culture is based on the city of the same name Teotihuacán. The city is located approximately 30 miles northeast of Mexico City in the Basin of Mexico. Teotihuacán was the first metropolitan city of the Americas with a probable population of 125,000 during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. The city declined between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D. until it was finally abandoned. Excavation of the city has given us many clues about their culture.
Teotihuacán the Culture
The discovery of Teotihuacán artifacts and pottery in other sites in Latin America and the abundance of the cultural artifacts of other groups found within the city of Teotihuacán lead to the conclusion that the Teotihuacán were actively involved with trade. There is mounting evidence that the Teotihuacán were involved in trade relationships as far away as the Mayan lowlands, the Guatemalan highlands, northern Mexico and the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
We also know the Teotihuacán were extremely religious due to the amount of religious artifacts and buildings in the city. Impressively, Teotihuacán contains more temples than any other pre-hispanic Mesoamerican site. There are two main pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, dedicated to worship. Also, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl with magnificent heads of plumed serpents built into the walls were built for religious purposes. Each precisely drawn out compound in Teotihuacán contains at least one smaller temple or shrine to their gods, suggesting that the people worshipped communally within each compound.
Besides the religious significance of the compounds, they also give evidence to the social structure and residence pattern of the Teotihuacán. The different sizes, amount of artifacts and architectural differences of the complexes point to the conclusion that Teotihuacán had a social structure divided by class. In addition, biological studies of the skeletal material at the sites suggests that the males within one of the complexes were closely related. This study indicates a patrilocal family residence pattern which means that the females of the Teotihuacán moved in with their husband's family after marriage. Further evidence suggests that the residents of the compounds may have shared certain economic skills such as working obsidian. In addition, there may have been foreign communities living within Teotihuacán.
The Decline of Teotihuacán
The city of Teotihuacán declined from one of the largest metropolitan cities in Mexico in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. to virtual abandonment in the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. Although archeologists can document the actual abandonment of the city, there is little evidence pointing to why it may have been abandoned. An increase in the amount of militarism in the art and artifacts of that period suggests an increase in warfare which could be a possible explanation. After 750 A.D. there is evidence of ritual-like burning of the monuments and temples of the city which has been associated with loss of power and decline.
Fedder, Kenneth L. The Past in Perspective: an introduction to human prehistory. Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1997.
Meyer, Karl E. Teotihuacán: First City in the Americas. New York: Newsweek Book Division, 1980.
Price, T. Douglas and Gary M. Feinman. Images of the Past. Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1997.
Author: Michelle McCann