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Greenstone Mask, Teotihuacan

Greenstone Mask, Teotihuacan


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Teotihuacan Art

And this is one of the surviving frescoes mentioned above. The painting is from the wall of a building immediately flanking the "Street of the Dead's" eastern side. The dominant object in the painting is the mountain lion. That almost all the buildings were formerly painted in colorful murals is very possible. To reconstruct such a vibrant city is always an artistic challenge.

Parrot Fresco Painting

No longer intact to the wall, this painting was discovered in a precinct outside the city's main center, possibly Techinantitla. The parrot's brilliant colors have faded little. From its upturned mouth the parrot emits a symbol connected with wind and breath at times this symbol is abbreviated into a small crook to indicate a song. The symbol is often associated with evocation and flowing of a power from within the figure. Similarly, the footprints surrounding the bird could indicate dancing.

Beatriz de la Fuente Mural Museum at Teotihuacan

The Human Heart

In Mesoamerican thought, the human being was believed to contain several spiritual forces or "souls." The one most connected to life itself is teyolia, derived from the root word for heart (yollotl). While the other souls may be able to leave the body at different times, as for example, when someone is dreaming, teyolia must remain in the body. When it leaves, the person dies. This small sculpture shows a human with the chest cavity open, revealing a small sigil that may represent the heart.

Incense-Burning Chimney

A richly painted censer with several bird faces. The most abundant source of incense in Mesoamerica was the ceiba tree, whose resin was converted into a fragrant incense the Maya called pom and the Aztecs called copalli. This is one of the finest Teotihuacan censers I have seen.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Ceramic Mask

This mask is characteristic of Teotihuacan: a flat, smooth face bordered into the shape of an upside-down trapezoid. An interesting study suggests that this shape may outline an inverted Teotihuacan temple! (Compare the mask's shape to the image of the Sun Temple below and decide for yourself.) If the large nosepiece is some floral emblem, this mask may represent the flower god Xochipilli, or its Teotihuacan likeness. For an elaborate image of Xochipilli, see his Aztec rendition.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Greenstone Mask

A fine mask, made from a single piece of deeply colored greenstone and inlaid with shell eyes and teeth. This is one of two Teotihuacan masks that were actually found at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, where they were buried in tribute to the majesty of the Aztec empire. The Aztecs looked to the ancient city of Teotihuacan for cultural inspiration. In fact, the name itself means "Where the Gods Become" as the Aztecs believed this city to be the site where the gods created the earth. Most of the names now applied to the city are still from the original Nahuatl names, misleading many to think that this city was also Aztec. It was actually a distinctive civilization that reached its peak around the sixth century C.E., five hundred years before the Aztecs even migrated from northwestern Mexico.

Aztec Great Temple Museum

Pair of Figures

These two standing figures have been dated to the Early Classic Period, between 300 and 600 C.E. Many of these slender, abstract figures were carved from schist or slate and painted red. They are very common to Teotihuacan, and they often stand with graceful poses.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Sun Temple

At its heyday around the sixth century C.E., the metropolitan area of Teotihuacan may have reached a population of 200,000, which would have made it one of the largest cities on Earth at the time. The Sun Temple is the largest structure in the city, with a base area larger than that of the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt. The buildings in the foreground are minor temples. At the bottom right corner is part of the "Street of the Dead," the main avenue that runs for a mile as the main axis of the city. It really formed the central marketplace for the city. The great market avenue and the enormous pyramids probably gave the city in its antiquity the same strength it has today: commerce from tourism.

Moon Temple

In Mesoamerica: if something has a counterpart, expect it to be built. The natural complement to the sun is the moon, and in some myths they were divine partners as husband and wife. The Moon Temple's front overlooks the "Street of the Dead" from the street's northernmost end. The temple was built in a way that mimicked the large mountain behind it. A mountain was believed to point up to the heavens, and in copying its shape the builders were hoping to construct a miniature of that sacred spire.

Jaguar Visage

This stone head looks out from the entrance to the Temple of the Quetzal-Butterfly, on the northern end of the "Street of the Dead." The face shows a few traces of the paint that must have fully covered it two thousand years ago. The gnarling face on this jaguar shows the same style of expression as the Feathered Serpent from this city, and it is possible that this may represent the jaguar aspect of the Rain Lord Tlaloc.

Temple of the Quetzal Butterfly

The Temple of the Quetzal-Butterfly opens to a small patio in its center, framed by a square colonnade. Each of the columns was carved with reliefs of birds with obsidian eyes. Small holes were also cut into the pillars to drape long curtains across. The pillars have undergone major restoration in recent times. Here are a corner of the patio and a detail from one of the pillar reliefs.

Temple of the Feathered Conch

Immediately behind the Temple of the Quetzal-Butterfly lies the Temple of the Feathered Conch, named for the reliefs in the interior as here. The right side of each conch is spread with long feathers, as displayed here. The jambs and friezes within the temple are also lined with reliefs of flowers, totaling 52 - an important number in the Mesoamerican concept of time.

Model of the City

At the site museum I walked upon a bridge crossing over a scale model of the city center, which illustrates its deliberate construction along a grid-like layout. The film starts upon the Sun Temple and then pans toward the Moon Temple, at the north end of the city's central axis. (Looming overhead through the windows is the south side of the Sun Temple itself!) I turn the camera along the Street of the Dead until I reach the southern precincts, punctuated with the massive Citadel toward the southeast corner. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is the tall structure dominating this part of the city.
Here you can appreciate the immensity of this imperial capital, one of the largest cities ever built in the ancient Americas.


Image: © INAH – A 2000-year-old green Serpentine mask, discovered at the base of a pyramid in Mexico

A detailed greenstone mask discovered under the sun&rsquos pyramid in Mexico can be a portrait of a particular person.

Mexico an area with strong archeology, or an old history wanted by the beautiful. I have seen this article today and are encouraged to understand and impose a printed view on how it can become an attraction for tourists from all over the world.

This latest discovery of an international ring is presented to us by the most famous sites in the field.

(Image: © INAH) A detailed greenstone mask discovered beneath the Mexican Pyramid of the Sun can be a portrait of a particular person.

Located in the northeast region of Mexico, the Pyramid of the sun is the largest structure in Teotihuacan. This site-is dated since 100 B.C. historians believed that the city had been inhabited for hundreds of years and that the famous pyramid structure would probably have been built around 100 d.Hr.

source: Wikipedia &ndash View of Pyramid of the Moon from Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

The name of the Pyramid of the sun originates from the Aztecs, who visited Teotihuacan for centuries after being abandoned The name given by the pyramid by Teotihuacanos is not known. It was built in two phases. The first stage of construction, around the year 100 EC, brought the pyramid to almost the size it has today.

The researchers also found two offerings, one containing the green mask and another offering, at the base of the pyramid, &ldquoso we know it was deposited as part of a dedication ceremony,&rdquo said The Zacatecas Center INAH researcher, in a Declaration.


2,000-Year-Old Realistic Green Mask Found Nestled Inside an Ancient Pyramid

Alejandro Sarabia, Saburo Sugiyama, Enrique Perez Cortes & Nawa Sugiyama have reported this discovery, announced this finding registered during explorations conducted in the 65-meters high pyramidal structure from 2008 to 2011.

The 116-meter-long tunnel drilled in 1930 by the archaeologist Eduardo Noguera was used to excavate 59 stratigraphic wells and 3 short tunnels by the Pyramid of the Sun project led by Alejandro Sarabia in order to enter the mother rock floor, to check the existence of burials and offerings.

“We know if the Teotihuacans had put anything inside the monument they would have happened at the tepetate level, so we did a quick test right at the end of the tunnel and a short conduct to reach the centre of the pyramid, since Noguera tunnel was carved approximately 6 metres to the west of the centre of the monument”, said Perez Cortes. During the course of the excavation, 3 architectural structures built before the Pyramid of the Sun and 7 human burials, some of them referring to infants, were found, which were buried before the completion of the building, as well as 2 offerings, one of them great richness.

The sumptuous offering was discovered at the meter 85 of the tunnel, inside the constructive filling, “so we know it was deposited as part of a consecration ceremony of the structure, probably at the beginning of its construction more than 1900 years ago” mentioned Perez Cortes, researcher at Zacatecas INAH Center.

The rich deposit, where a greenstone mask outstands, was integrated by several levels of objects since the area of archaeological material extended to the south of the limits of the probing well, they decided to expand the exploration.

Objects that integrate the offering “were elaborated with different materials and techniques a considerable amount of obsidian pieces outstand, such as projectile heads, small knives, an anthropomorphic eccentric artifact and 3 anthropomorphic figures adorned with shell and pyrite eyes, also accompanied by projectile heads”.

Among the 3 greenstone sculptures found, outstands an extraordinary anthropomorphic mask carved out in one piece, with eyes inlayed in pyrite and shell, declared Perez Cortes the serpentine mask, according to studies conducted by Dr. Jose Luis Ruvalcaba, from the National University Physics Institute (IF UNAM), is the only greenstone mask discovered until now in the ritual context of Teotihuacan.

The 11 centimeters high, 11.5 wide and 7.8 cm deep mask is different to other Teotihuacan masks because it presents smaller dimensions and has volume it is possible that it was a portrait. A seashell was found next to the sculpture.

The offering also contained 11 Tlaloc vessels, most of them fragmented, placed in the center of it. Other objects deposited include 3 pyrite discs, being the one with 45 centimeters diameter mounted on a slate slab the greatest recovered until now in Teotihuacan.

An important amount of animal skeletons was found. The skull of a feline was placed to the northeast a canine to the south, and an eagle covered with volcanic rock, to the southeast. The bird was fed before the sacrifice with 2 rabbits, as analyses reveal. This kind of fauna is similar to the one found at offerings of the Pyramid of Moon. Researchers from the Pyramid of Sun Project at Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone (ZAT) remarked that the offering remained underwater, since humidity of the monumental structure concentrates on the base and central area.

Dr. Saburo Sugiyama, professor at Aichi University, Japan, and Alejandro Sarabia, director of the archaeological zone located in Estado de Mexico, indicated that for a long time before the discovery, the function of the pyramid was linked to the underworld because of the tunnel excavated by Teotihuacan people.

“Nevertheless, objects found would be indicating that the Pyramid of the Sun –which covers an approximate area of 5.6 hectares- was possibly offered to a rain deity, an early version of Tlaloc, during the first 50 years of the Common Era”.

“Until now, we can only offer a general interpretation of the findings, although it is evident that some of them present the same distribution pattern already observed at the Pyramid of the Moon burials”, concluded the specialists.

History of “Pyramid of Sun”:

The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest building in Teotihuacan and one of the largest in Mesoamerica. Found along the Avenue of the Dead, in between the Pyramid of the Moon and the Ciudadela, and in the shadow of the massive mountain Cerro Gordo, the pyramid is part of a large complex in the heart of the city.

The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacán centuries after it was abandoned the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown. It was constructed in two phases. The first construction stage, around 100 A.D., brought the pyramid to nearly the size it is today.

The second round of construction resulted in its completed size of 738 feet (225 meters) across and 246 feet (75 meters) high, making it the third largest pyramid in the world, but being much shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza (146 meters). The second phase also saw the construction of an altar atop of the pyramid, which has not survived into modern times. The Adosada platform was added to the pyramid in the early third century, at around the same time that the Ciudadela and Temple of the Feathered Serpent, Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent were constructed.

Over the structure the ancient Teotihuacanos finished their pyramid with lime plaster imported from surrounding areas, on which they painted brilliantly colored murals. While the pyramid has endured for centuries, the paint and plaster have not and are no longer visible. Few images are thought to have been included in the mural decorations on the sides of the pyramid. Jaguar heads and paws, stars, and snake rattles are among the few images associated with the pyramids.

It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society but the destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity. However, little evidence exists to support this theory.


The most obvious physical properties of serpentine are its green color, patterned appearance, and slippery feel. These remind the observer of a snake and that is where the name “serpentine” was derived.

Mexico’s main archaeological agency, the National Institute of Anthropology and History along with a few archaeologists, have been inspecting these pyramid sites for the past years and after an intensive excavation involving 59 holes and 3 short tunnels, they discovered several human burial sites including those of children which can be dated before the construction of the Pyramid.

Peter Cortex, an investigator from Zacatecas National Institute of Anthropology and History center, believes that the greenstone mask along with the discovered offerings found at the Pyramid of the Sun was likely part of a dedication ceremony.


A tunnel into the heart of the pyramid

Over the course of the exploration three architectural structures were discovered, constructed prior to the current Pyramid of the Sun. Seven human burials, including children, were also recorded as having been buried before the construction of the building. In addition, two votive deposits were recovered.

One of the votive offerings was discovered inside the original foundation material, so it is certain it was deposited as part of a consecration ceremony of the structure, probably at the beginning of its construction more than 1900 years ago.

The deposit, which contained an outstanding greenstone mask was part of several layers of artefacts.

Foundation offering with greenstone mask. Image INAH

A considerable number of of obsidian artefacts including projectile heads and small knives were recovered, an anthropomorphic eccentric artefact and three anthropomorphic figurines with shell and pyrite eyes.

Among the three greenstone sculptures found, the mask carved from a single stone is, according to studies conducted by Dr. Jose Luis Ruvalcaba, from the National University Physics Institute (IF UNAM), “the only greenstone mask discovered in the ritual context of Teotihuacan.”

The small 11 cm high mask is different to other Teotihuacan types because of it’s size it is possible that it was a portrait. A seashell was found next to the sculpture.

The offering also contained eleven Tlaloc vessels, (dedicated to the God of Rain) most of them broken, placed in the middle of the whole deposit. Further objects include three pyrite discs, one with a 45 cm diameter and mounted on a slate slab – the largest ever recovered from Teotihuacan.

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan. Image: Codilicious (Flickr, Creative commons Licence)


The Art of Teotihuacan

style has been described to be abstract, geometric, and planar, and this sort of masks is usually characterized by holes in the eyes, mouth, ears, and sides. According to the period in which they were manufactured,

masks had a different employment. In the Classic period, indeed, some scholars’ theories claim that they were not meant to be worn on the contrary, they were tied via holes to perhaps a human figure, adorned with precious garments, ornaments, such as jade ear spools, and headdresses, probably representing important deities. On the contrary, during the Post Classic period, they were buried along with important characters, in order to let the deceased go peacefully to the underworld and ascend to a higher level, as a divinity.

Jade Ear Spool Ornament
Central Mexico, Teotihuacán style, 150-200 Cleveland Museum of Art

Teotihuacan Necklace
c. 150-200 Cleveland Museum of Art

had over the obtaining and working of obsidian allowed workshops to use obsidians from different quarries and produce a wide variety of utensils for local use and for export. Regarding the trade of shells, considered symbols of fertility, wealth, and power, Teotihuacan was able to establish good links with people of the Pacific and the

, making it possible to acquire great quantities of shells to be used as offerings.


Teotihuacan Discoveries

Big news in the archaeology world: In 2003, torrential rains exposed the mouth of a previously unknown tunnel near the Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Teotihuacan, in central Mexico.

Now, more than a decade later, researchers have reached the end of the 340’ (103m) tunnel (illustration) that runs about 60’ below the Temple. Finds from the tunnel (including the figure shown in the photo, left) include engraved conch shells, amber fragments, mirrors, greenstone statues, earspools, seeds, worked stone, beads, bones of animals and humans, mysterious clay spheres coated with a yellow mineral – over 50,000 pieces in all. The photo (below) shows the outside of the structure. A section added around 400 AD obscures the original façade (photo) featuring the feathered serpents that gave the structure its name. Archaeologists debate the significance of the figures. One set seems to be a realistic serpent while the other is a more blocky stylized creature sometimes identified at Tlaloc, the storm god. However, Karl Taube, Mary Ellen Miller, and Michael Coe have said it is more likely a “war serpent” or “fire serpent.” At one time, the circles were filled with obsidian pieces that would have caught the sunlight.

Many people label the new finds in the tunnel under the temple extravagant, gruesome, mysterious. Yet, when viewed next to earlier finds from Teotihuacan and those of other cities in the area, the new discoveries seem very consistent. It’s their purpose that remains a mystery.

What is Teotihuacan?

Teotihuacan is a world-famous archaeological site north of Mexico City, known for its massive pyramids, its precise layout, and the mystery surrounding its birth, its death, and a lot of what happened in between. We don’t know exactly who started this city around 150 BC, why these people embarked on an almost constant monumental building effort from 150 BC to around 250 AD, or what led to the sacking and burning of the city around 550 AD.

Adding to the mystery is the lack of any written records. Either the people who burned the city also burned any written materials, or there simply weren’t any. It’s hard to imagine people designing and building such precise, massive structures without a written record, but none have appeared so far in the excavations.

At its height, the city center covered 19 square miles (32 square kilometers) and served a population of 25,000 to 150,000, depending on what source you read, making it the largest city in the Western Hemisphere at the time. Its military power and cultural influence spread throughout central Mexico, out into the Yucatan Peninsula and down into Guatemala.

On the other hand, Teotihuacan also borrowed from earlier and contemporary cultures in Mexico, especially the Olmec, Maya, and Mixtec. The very deliberate, celestially aligned design of earlier Olmec cities like La Venta and Tres Zapotes, with clusters of mounds and central plazas, found its greatest expression in Teotihuacan.

Olmec masks like the one in the photo (left) provided inspiration for the artisans of Teotihuacan. The one shown in the photo (right) came from the newly excavated tunnel under the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Olmec greenstone masks and figures were a few of many cultural features absorbed into the Teotihuacan culture.

Maya and Mixtec cosmology from contemporary cities also found its way into Teotihuacan culture, as did the value placed on items like fine ceramics and greenstone.

But whatever earlier cities contributed to Teotihuacan, the Teotihuacanos exaggerated. Pyramids became gigantic. The Pyramid of the Sun, (photo, below) the most massive building on the site, stands 233.6’ (71.2 m) tall, and 733.2’ (223.5 m) long and wide, a huge, commanding construction even today. With its decorative plaster coating and top-most temple long gone, it now has the severe look of a multi-national corporate headquarters, a symbol of complete, collective, threatening, and unemotional power.

The whole site was so impressive to the Aztecs who moved into the area 600 years after Teotihuacan was abandoned that they considered it a holy place, a place where gods walked. Even the Spanish conquistadors didn’t destroy it. Its major damage has come from looters, both private and institutional, and from the ravages of time.

Spiritual Beliefs

Murals painted in upper class Teotihuacan living areas have provided important clues about the people’s spiritual beliefs, especially veneration of a figure often called the Great Goddess, who is associated with the sacred mountain visible from the site, called Cerro Gordo (Fat Mountain), as well as water flowing from the mountain, rivers and rain, fertility and new growth.

In the mural shown, the central figure (and the only one shown in the frontal view reserved for deities) has a bird face/mask with a strange mouth that might represent an owl or a spider. Out of the green feather headdress a twisting plant grows – perhaps a hallucinogenic morning glory vine. Circles (sometimes interpreted as mirrors), spiders and butterflies decorate the vine. Flowers sprout from its tips. Birds appear, some with sound scrolls, which probably indicate songs. From the figure’s outstretched hands, drops of water fall. Her torso splits into curling rolls filled with flowers and plants. From the bottom, under an arch of stars, seeds fall toward the border, which is a series of waves carrying stars and underwater creatures.

The figures shown in profile on the right and left of the Great Goddess carry what look like medicine bundles/offerings in one hand. From their other hand water emerges, as well as a cascade of seeds and circles. The entire background is a deep blood red. Karl Taube has related the circles to mirrors that appear in the creation story in which the sun shoots an arrow into the house of mirrors. The serpent, then released, fertilizes the earth. Thus, he argues, the serpent appears on the façade of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent surrounded by a headdress of mirrors.

The panel below the picture of the Great Goddess shows bands of water emerging from a mountain around which red, blue, and yellow human figures swim, interact (sing? dance?) and float among butterflies while plants sprout along a snake-like band of water. Interestingly, for a city known for its militarism and bloody sacrifices, the scene looks idyllic.

Some experts suggest that the Great Goddess figure was borrowed from the earlier Olmec figure recorded in a petroglyph at Chalcatzingo that shows a woman seated in a cave from which water flows. Outside the cave, maize plants sprout as male rain falls. (Photo, left illustration, right)

Others point to the Maya water deity Ixchel, the goddess of the moon, rain, surface waters, weaving and childbirth, sometimes called the Midwife of Creation. (shown as a young woman in the illustration).

In her role as Mother Goddess and weaver, she set the universe in motion through the movement of her drop spindle. She was also called the Spider’s Web because she caught the morning dew in her web and made the drops into stars. However, she had two sides: the young woman and the old crone. She was both healer and destroyer, bringing about the destruction of the third creation through a terrible flood and then helping to birth the new age.

Of course, all of these interpretations have their detractors. Karl Taube interprets the entire site as an exaltation of sacred war. He says the circles found in the caches are related to the mirrors worn by warriors as well as to the house of mirrors from which the creator serpent originated in the creation story. The bodies found in the offertory caches might be captive warriors. His theory, however, doesn’t explain the significance of the murals.

Interestingly, the later Aztec water goddess Chalchiuhtilicue, who presides over running water and aids in childbirth, shares many features with the figure in the Teotihuacan murals painted hundreds of years earlier. (The figure in the photo is from the Codex Borbonicus.)

So back to the amazing new discoveries –

The excavated section of the newly excavated tunnel under the Temple of the Feathered Serpent has 18 walls scattered throughout the length of the tunnel in a zigzag pattern, which archaeologists believe were used to seal off the tunnel on previous occasions. So this same route had been used many times before for some purpose, yet this was the last time. After this offering was placed, the tunnel was purposely filled and sealed.

Gomez feels going down the tunnel and leaving offerings probably had a ritual purpose. The original city was built over a four-chambered lava tube cave. In Mesoamerican cultures, caves were considered portals to the Underworld and the places of emergence at the time of creation. Perhaps, Gomez said, the trip into the tunnel provided the ritual power needed for a new leader. (Photo shows recent discovers in the tunnel, including greenstone figures in the foreground, dozens of conch shells, and plain pottery. Lower left is a close-up of the two figures in the background lower right is a close-up of the shells and pots.)


Or the trip into the tunnel could have been a pilgrimage, a way to make contact with powerful spirit forces. Following the pattern evident in so many religious rituals around the world, the supplicant may have offered sacrifices in order to recognize the gods’ power and to seek their help.

A Survey of Discoveries

Back in 1982 and 1989, mass graves were found under and near the same Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The sites, dated to the period the temple was constructed, about 150 AD, included 137 people who’d been sacrificed with their hands tied behind their backs. They were accompanied by cut and engraved shells from the Gulf Coast (150 miles away), obsidian blades, slate disks, mirrors, ear spools, and a greenstone figurine with pyrite eyes. A hundred years later, people left very similar offerings in the tunnel.

In 1999, a burial site was discovered within the Pyramid of the Moon. That site yielded 150 burial offerings, including obsidian blades and points, greenstone figures, pyrite mirrors, conch and other shells, and the remains of eight birds of prey and two jaguars. Again, these are very similar offerings.

The male buried in the tomb under the Pyramid of the Moon was bound and executed, which seems to make it a sacrifice rather than a memorial. All of the human bodies found so far have been sacrificed. Some were decapitated, some had their hearts removed, others were bludgeoned to death. Some wore necklaces of human teeth. Sacred animals were also sacrificed: jaguars, eagles, falcons, owls, even snakes.

The 2014 discoveries, like the others, have been extravagant and gruesome. Some of the precious objects discovered in the tunnel include arrowheads, obsidian, amber, four large greenstone statues, pottery, dozens of conch shells, a wooden box of shells, animal bones and hair, skin, dozens of plain pottery jars, 15,000 seeds, 4,000 wooden objects, rubber balls, pyrite mirrors, crystal spheres, jaguar remains, even clay balls covered in yellow pigment (shown in photo). And some came quite a distance – conch shells from the Gulf of Mexico, jade from Guatemala, rubber balls from Olmec or Maya sites.

While this team, like the earlier ones, hopes to find a royal burial, as of this moment, they haven’t. So far, this too seems to be an offertory cache. The difference is that this moment doesn’t mark the building of a new pyramid it marks the effective end of construction. Some event required this extravagant offering. While some think this cache might be the remains of a huge feast marking a great funerary and sacrificial ceremony, a tunnel 60’ underground seems an odd place for a celebration.

The timing suggests the event was more than the death of an old ruler or the ascension of a new ruler who needed the spiritual trappings of leadership. It looks as if the city faced a crisis – perhaps weather changes, disease, internal strife, or some other threat. At this critical point, they might have turned to the Great Goddess, the one responsible for life and death and new life, to help revive the old strength that defined Teotihuacan. Indeed, the murals featuring the Great Goddess as the provider of joyful, abundant life were painted about the same time.

According to Mary Ellen Miller’s book The Art of Mesoamerica, “Constant rain and water crises at Teotihuacan exacerbated the difficulty of building and maintaining the city. The preparation of lime for mortar and stucco requires vast amounts of firewood to burn limestone or seashells, and the more Teotihuacan grew, the more the surrounding forests were depleted. With deforestation came soil erosion, drought, and crop failure. In response, Teotihuacan may have erected ever more temples and finished more paintings thus perpetuating the cycle.”

Whether this environmental degradation from both drought and flood was the crisis that precipitated the offering or only part of it, we don’t know. However, if crops failed, the power structure would soon fail as well.

A Similar Case

In 1200 AD, a terrible drought in what is now Arkansas (USA) drove people to bring their precious stone pipes, engraved shell cups, stone maces, projectile points, and colorful woven tapestries to the site of a new mound to be constructed. They chanted and sang and danced and said prayers after they built high walls and a domed roof around the offering chamber. “They gathered at Spiro,” George Sabo, director of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey said, “brought sacred materials, and arranged them in a very specific way in order to perform a ritual intended to reboot the world.”

Perhaps that’s also what the Teotihuacanos tried to do.

Sources and interesting reading:

“Archaeologists Make Incredible Discoveries in Tunnel Sealed 2000 Years Ago,” Huffington Post, 30 October 2014, http://huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/30/mexico-archaeologists-tunnel

Castillo, Edward. “Mexico Archaeologists Explore Teotihuacan Tunnel.” Sci-Tech Today, 3 November 2014, http://www.sci-tech-today.com/story.xhtml?story_id=010000ZQKM7K

Dvorsky, George. “Incredible New Artifact Found in 2,000 Year-Old Mexican Tunnel,” http://archaeOre.kinja.com

“Façade of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (Teotihuacan),” Wikipedia.com

“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Mexico, 1 – 500 AD” and “Teotihuacan: Mural Painting,” 2000 – 2014, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/

“In Pictures: Relics discovered in Mexico’s Teotihuacan,” BBC News: Latin American and Caribbean, 28 October 2014 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-29828309

John Cabot University, Rome, “The Art of Teotihuacan,” AH 142 class materials, http://ah142group2.blogspot.com/

Lunday, Elizabeth, “Rethinking Spiro Mounds,” American Archaeology, Fall 2014, 26-32.

Lorenzi, Loretta. “Robot Finds Mysterious Spheres in Ancient Temple,” Discovery News, http://new.discovery.com/history/archaeology/mysterious-spheres

Meyer, Karl E. Teotihuacan. New York: Newsweek Book Division, 1973.

Miller, Mary. The Art of Mesoamerica, from Olmec to Aztec. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1983.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) Proyecto Tlalocan, photos.


A fine teotihuacan greenstone mask, Classic, ca. A.D. 450-650

A fine teotihuacan greenstone mask, Classic, ca. A.D. 450-650

the idealized face distinguished by wide deeply recessed eyes, and strong cheekbones and nose, the lips gently parted pierced at the sides of the head and center of the forehead in deep greenish black stone with red striations. height 5 3/8 in. 13.7cm. Est. 100,000—150,000 USD. Lot Sold 92,500 USD

PROVENANCE: Merrin Gallery, 1975

NOTE: With evocative, elongated eyes, this fine mask is characteristic of the slightly smaller stone heads without ear flanges, that served as the central element of the elaborately clothed effigies used in civic and ceremonial events in the metropolis of Teotihuacan. The idealized faces provided contrast to the perishable costume accoutrements, and they emphasized the human spirit of these revered and iconic Teotihuacan objects.


The Ciudadela and the Feathered Serpent Pyramid

View of the facade of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, assembled as a mosaic of large and small sculptures. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH

The Feathered Serpent Pyramid is the third-largest building in Teotihuacan. It takes its name from the undulating serpents carved into its sides. It is situated in a plaza known as the Ciudadela (“Citadel”), a place for Teotihuacanos to gather and engage in large public rituals.

The Feathered Serpent Pyramid is enclosed in the Ciudadela, which consists of fifteen stepped platforms surrounding an enormous sunken plaza. Archaeologists have found evidence that the immense plaza may have been periodically flooded in rituals that turned it into a simulacrum of the primordial sea. The Feathered Serpent Pyramid thus symbolically became the sacred mountain that, in Mesoamerican creation narratives, emerged from the primordial sea to begin time. Time and the ancient Mesoamerican calendar were cyclical and required renewal through ceremony. The Ciudadela may have been the site of massive ceremonies held to appease the gods and also to remind Teotihuacan’s populace of the leaders’ divine right to exercise authority under the auspices of the Feathered Serpent.

Animation: View east from the southwest corner of the Ciudadela. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH

In 2003, Mexican archaeologists discovered a large tunnel, the length of a football field, running west to east underneath the Ciudadela and the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. This tunnel was made early in Teotihuacan’s history, around 100 CE, before the construction of the pyramid above.

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire (clip), 2017. Produced by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia of Mexico (INAH), and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco © 2017 Museum Associates / LACMA and INAH

A decade of explorations in the tunnel has yielded an astonishing array of objects notable for both their complexity and quantity. Research and interpretation of the site and these finds is ongoing, but it has allowed scholars to establish that the tunnel was manmade and to propose dates for key events. The tunnel was apparently sealed and re-entered on multiple occasions between the time it was first made and its permanent closure (around 250 CE, which coincides with the construction of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid). Evidence supports its interpretation as a representation of the cosmic underworld—a sacred space below ground that connects with our understanding of the ceremonial space above as a site for re-creating narratives on the origin of the universe.

Detail of the tunnel’s exploration. Photograph by Sergio Gómez Chávez

Two standing anthropomorphic sculptures in a tunnel under the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. Photograph by Sergio Gómez Chávez

In ancient Mesoamerican cosmology, tunnels provide access to the underworld, seen as an aquatic place filled with riches and nourishing seeds inhabited by deities and creative forces responsible for maintaining order in the universe. Archaeologists found that the walls of the tunnel sparkled they had been dusted with the reflective mineral pyrite. The dazzling walls recreated the shimmering environs of a cosmic place.

More than 50,000 objects were deposited as offerings in the tunnel the wealth of offerings attests to the sacred nature of what might be the most important ritual space in Teotihuacan.

Standing figure, 200–250. Greenstone, 20 ½ x 9 ¼ in. (52 x 23.5 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH

Standing figure, 200–250. Greenstone, 14 1/8 x 6 1/2 in. (36 x 16.5 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH

Standing figure, 200–250. Greenstone, 14 1/8 x 6 1/2 in. (36 x 16.5 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH

Standing Figure, 200–250. Greenstone,18 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (47 × 19 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH

Standing Figure, 200–250. Greenstone, 20 1/2 × 9 1/4 in. (52 × 23.5 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías, © INAH

Incised Shell, 150–250. Shell, 15 3/4 × 9 in. (40 × 23 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías, © INAH

Effigy Vessel, 100–200. Ceramic 6 1/4 × 9 5/8 × 5 in. (16 × 24.5 × 12.7 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías, © INAH

Storm God Vessel, 150–250. Ceramic, 11 1/4 × 8 1/4 in. (28.5 × 21 cm). Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías, © INAH

Near the tunnel’s final chamber, directly beneath the center of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid is an offering believed to mark the axis mundi, a symbolic pillar connecting heaven, earth, and underworld as well as the meeting place of the four compass directions. This offering contained four enigmatic sculptures, some apparently carrying bags of greenstone objects and iron-ore mirrors and discs, suggesting a deeper, more ritual significance. They may represent Teotihuacan’s founding ancestors, witnesses to the birth of time.

If you’re looking at a human figure and its eyes are open . the eyes have traces of other inlaid materials . to represent the pupil and iris. These objects are very much thought to be alive, and not just imagined to be alive, made to be alive by the addition of these other materials.

View of the facade of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, assembled as a mosaic of large and small sculptures (detail). Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías

The size of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid is not extraordinary in comparison to the Sun and Moon Pyramids, but all four sides were covered in luxurious and monumental carvings that represent the highest expenditure of energy among all of the sculptural programs in Teotihuacan, signifying the structure’s importance.

The facade depicts undulating serpents with heads that are surrounded by wreaths of feathers. The serpents’ bodies support facelike elements that appear to be headdresses, with nose pendants carved under the upper jaw. These images may represent a primordial crocodile, a symbol that was later used by the Aztecs as a calendar sign to mark the beginning of a new era.

Approximately 100 years after it was built, the western facade of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid was covered over by an additional construction and the sculptures on the other three sides of the pyramid were deliberately damaged or removed. Scholars are still unsure as to what political event led to this destruction. These two carvings from the façade were found on different sides of the pyramid’s base.

Sculpture Fragment, 200–250. Andesite, 32 1/4 × 57 1/8 × 44 1/8 in. (82 × 145 × 112 cm).Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías, © INAH

Sculpture Fragment, 200–250. Andesite, 32 1/4 × 57 1/8 × 44 1/8 in. (82 × 145 × 112 cm).Zona de Monumentos Arqueológicos de Teotihuacán. Photograph by Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías, © INAH

Feathered Serpents and Flowering Trees mural (Feathered Serpent 1), 500–550. Earthen aggregate, stucco, and mineral pigments, 22 1/4 x 160 1/4 in (56.5 x 407 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Bequest of Harald J. Wagner, 1985.104a

The entire facade of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid was originally colored with green and red pigment and may have resembled this mural of a feathered serpent from an apartment compound near the ceremonial center of the city. This mural represents a similar plumed snake that embodied the union of earth and sky. Notice the water emerging from the serpent’s mouth that seems to nourish the plants below.

The murals of Teotihuacan decorated many of the city’s apartments and administrative centers they reiterated the dominant ideology of the city. The red backgrounds on most murals place them in cosmic time and the sacred world. Sparkling minerals, hematite and pyrite, were mixed into the paint which was placed directly on a wet surface of stucco and then burnished, creating a durable surface that can last for centuries. These shiny surfaces would have been activated by light reflected from shallow pools in the compounds’ central patios. In this way the murals, like the sparkling tunnel buried beneath the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, recreated the physical environment of supernatural realms.



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