Thursday, September 21, 2017

Teotihuacán's master artisans

Almena showing a bird with water pouring from its beak. The image of a creature from the natural world with water pouring from its mouths is a recurrent theme at Teotihuacán. Architectural features like this decorated the rooflines of palaces and other structures. The city was full of skilled artisans who crafted almenas, as well as a wide variety of other products. Some of the craftsmen were Teotihuacanos, but others came from regions throughout Mesoamerica. Their often eclectic styles reflected the cosmopolitan nature of Teotihuacán.

I will illustrate this last posting of my Teotihuacán series with photos showing the work of some of those ancient artisans. All of these pieces can be found at the archeological site's two museums.

Small seated figure shows the skill of Teotihuacán sculptors. The natural posture and the overall delicacy of this piece makes it my favorite.

Censer with the "goggle eyes" that reveal its connection with Tlaloc, the rain god. Censers were devices for burning incense, usually copal, and were closely associated both with the altars found both in public spaces and private homes.

Dressed in high-status regalia, a vigorous young male strides along. He wears a headband, large ear spools and a multi-strand jade necklace. The youth is bare-chested and his skirt-like garment is supported by an elaborate belt with an emblem in the center that bears a startling resemblance to a swastika. The emblem did not then possess the evil association it gained from modern Nazism. Instead, it is probably related to the four-petal flower, a symbol representing the four cardinal directions, another recurrent image at Teotihuacán.

Clay masks and other artifacts were often produced using pottery molds. This allowed mass production and a degree of standardization and quality control. The materials used came both from the local area and through the trade networks.

A female figure shows the influence of western Mexico's Teuchitlán culture. She wears a modest head dress, ear spools, a necklace, and a loincloth. The bumps on her shoulders and upper arms are for personal decoration. In order to create this effect, people inserted smooth stones under the skin. This feature shows up in many Teuchitlán Culture sculptures. The presence of this artifact at Teotihuacán indicates a trade link with the Teuchitlán Culture and raises the possibility that people from western Mexico may have been part of Teotihuacán's multi-cultural population.

Ceramic bowl showing Gulf Coast influence. The bowl was found at El Tajin, located in Vera Cruz State near the Gulf Coast. It was the ancient capital of the Totonacs. The shape of the bowl and its tri-pod feet are in the Teotihuacán style, but the scroll-and-hook design on the side of the bowl comes from the Totonacan culture.

Individuals of high social status often wore elaborate head dresses and clothing. Many small figures like this have been unearthed at Teotihuacán. The markings on the clothing indicate that it may once have been painted. High-status individuals would have included priests, nobles, and military leaders.

The lid and base of this graceful tri-pod pot are decorated with cacao beans. Cacao beans were used to make chocolate, a sacred drink reserved for the elite. In addition, dried cacao beans were often used as currency.

A figure, possibly an athlete or a soldier, prepares to throw something. The lack of any shield, armor, or other martial regalia suggests an athlete to me. He may be demonstrating his prowess with a spear.

Cacao fruit and a maiz cob. Maiz (corn) was the staff of life for all civilizations of Mesoamerica and was raised in a wide variety of climates and topographies. The earliest maiz cobs yet found were located in a cave in Oaxaca and date back more than 6,000 years.  Cacao is a hot-country plant, grown mostly in humid lowland areas. The earliest evidence of the consumption of cacao was found in pottery excavated from Maya sites in Honduras dating back to 1500 BC.

Articulated figure used in burial ceremonies. The otherwise-nude figure wears ear spools, a necklace, and bracelets, all representing jade jewelry. The arms and legs are attached in a way that they can be moved. Some figures like this have removable head dresses and jewelry.

A selection of razor-sharp obsidian blades. These are not weapons, but tools used for fine work. Obsidian can be made sharper than a modern surgical scalpel. The mining of raw obsidian cores, as well as the production of finished products like those above, was a major industry at Teotihuacán.

Two great lords and a priest.  The elaborate dress of the two standing figures indicates that they are great lords. The one on the left is a warrior who carries a shield decorated with feathers. In the foreground, a man sits beside a woman giving birth. The basket with the handle indicates he is a priest or shaman. This is the only Teotihuacán representation of child-birth that I have ever seen.

Two household bowls and a human bone made into a tool. The bowls are nicely made but show no decoration so they may have been mass-produced for use by commoners. One end of the bone has a drilled hole which indicates it may have been used as a tool. Teotihuacanos used the bones of deceased family members to create household tools and other personal items. This may have been a way of keeping a close connection with relatives who had passed into the Underworld.

"Host"figure with a removable plate which reveals another figure inside. These figures were used for ritual purposes and offerings may have been placed inside them. The face is painted with bright red specular hematite and there are traces of paint on other parts of the body. The hidden figure in the door of the host is believed represent the divine essence residing within each person.

Pot in the form of a grinning feline. Found in a burial, this fine example of Teotihuacán pottery shows the importance placed on felines. They appear in wide variety of murals, sculptures, pottery, and jewelry. The appearance of feline images among grave goods further emphasizes their cultural importance.

Stone sculpture of a human head and torso. The piece has classically Teotihuacán features, with narrow eyes, a broad face, and parted lips. I particularly like the vertical striations of the rock, which heighten the beauty of the sculpture.

Long necklace made from shells with coral pendants. All these materials came from either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts of Mesoamerica. Its location in the center of Mesoamerica enabled Teotihuacán to become the hub of a great trade network.

Bust of a high status individual. The head dress displays two rows of Teotihuacán's four-petal flowers. The petals represent the four cardinal directions, as well as the four quadrants into which the great city was divided.

Clay duck head, and the mold from which it was made. A wide range of objects for ritual and everyday use were manufactured at Teotihuacán, often using mass production techniques such as this mold. Mass production could produce uniform quality, as well has the large quantities needed for both domestic and trade purposes.

"Theatre" censers were another mass produced item. Although theatre censer's may differ from each other in their details, the overall formats are almost always identical. A human face always appears in the center, as if on a stage, surrounded by birds, chalchihuites (circles representing something of high value, such as jewels), and various esoteric designs. Evidence of mass production of theatre censers has been found next to the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents within the Citadel. This suggests that the manufacture and distribution of this type of censer was an activity conducted by the Teotihuacán State

Theatre censer, disassembled. The different parts of the censer were individually created in molds and then assembled into the theatre format. It was very common for a butterfly pendant to be attached to the nostrils of the central face. Butterflies were symbols of dead warriors. Theatre censers were widely distributed for use in family compound altars, possibly to commemorate warriors who had belonged to particular families. Thus, the display of the censers also showed reverence for the Teotihuacán State and its army. This would explain the State's interest in producing and widely distributing them. The chalchihuite necklace below the face indicates the person was highly valued.

Another exquisite example of Teotihuacán pottery. These two small pots are part of an identical set. Both have the tri-pod base, slightly fluted shape, and conical lid typical of pots produced in Teotihuacán. A small, finely crafted bird serves as the handle in the center of each lid. The birds were probably made with molds.

Unusual pot with human head on on the lip. The function of the pot is not clear. It may have been used for washing the hands and face of the owner. The small tray attached to the lip (opposite the head) may have provided a tray for soap or various toilet articles. 

Small bust of a priest. The head dress indicates high status, while the "goggles" around the eyes may mark him as a priest of Tlaloc. The Rain God's priests wear similar goggles in various murals found in Teotihuacán's apartment compounds. 

This completes my series on Teotihuacán. I hope you have enjoyed this posting, as well as the rest of the series. If so, please leave any comments or questions in the Comments section below.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Teotihuacan: Palacio Tepantitla, abode of the priests

A chanting Priest sows seeds as a fertility offering. Palacio Tepantitla is another example of the 2000+ apartment compounds that once made up Teotihuacán's urban area. Only a handful of these compounds have been excavated so far. Tepantitla was first occupied during the Tlamimilolpa Phase (225-350 AD) and continued in use through the Metepec Phase (550-650 AD). Most of Teotihuacán's compounds were multi-family living units, but Tepantitla, like Palacio Atetelco (see last posting), appears to have had a special function. While Atetelco's murals suggest that it was a military academy, the murals at Tepantitla abound with priests and gods engaged in peaceful activities related to water and agricultural fertility. This suggests that it was an abode for members of the priestly elite. Tepantitla is located outside the perimeter of the main ruins at Teotihuacán. However, unlike Tetitla and Atetelco (and two others we didn't visit), it is northeast of the main ruins, rather than to the southwest. To find Teptantitla on a Google map, click here.


Design of Palacio Tepantitla. The large area marked with an X is the main courtyard. It appears to be larger than the courtyards of either Tetitla or Atetelco. The schematic above shows a broad, 5-step staircase along the eastern side of the courtyard. The stairs lead up to a rectangular-shaped platform that once contained a temple. Surrounding these two open areas are a number of spacious apartments, within which Tepantitla's murals are located. The two rooms directly facing the main courtyard on the north and south are similar in size and shape and are considerably larger than any of the others in the living areas. This suggests that they may have had special functions, possibly related to the main courtyard.

This sunken area is the main courtyard. It lies two steps below the rest of the platform on which the overall compound is built. Carole is sitting on one of these steps in the upper right. In the upper left, you can see the entrance to the large room on the south side of the courtyard. The small, covered structure in the top center is roofed with modern corrugated materials to protect its murals. Many of the other rooms have similar coverings since none of Tepantitla's original roofs have survived. I found it curious that the courtyard lacks a central altar, unlike most of the main courtyards of other apartment compounds. Perhaps this area's main use was for communal activities by those living in the adjacent apartments. The steps to the temple platform can be seen in the center left.

Room of the Marching Priests

A line of the Sower-Priests marches along the lower walls. The figures are quite similar, if not identical, and all appear to be marching in the same direction. Each group of priests is framed by a band that rises from the corner and runs along over their heads. Archeologists have noted that no human individuals (as opposed to gods) are highlighted or glorified in Teotihuacán's murals. This suggests a collective leadership, unlike the kingships found almost everywhere else in Mesoamerica. It is unclear how this collective leadership might have functioned. However, but it might have vaguely resembled the Senate of the early Roman Republic, which was a collective leadership composed of representatives of wealthy and powerful families. In addition to the absence of glorified individuals in the murals, there are no stone stelae, listing accessions by individual rulers, or their victories and conquests. Of the three great pyramids at Teotihuacán, all appear to be dedicated to gods, not individual human rulers. Although tunnels have been discovered under all three, no royal tombs have yet been found.

A Sower-Priest in full regalia. The mural depicts a ritual offering during a ceremony aimed at ensuring a good crop. The priest wears the head and upper jaw of a crocodile, decorated with a plume of feathers. Crocodiles, in Mesoamerica, were associated with fertility and the arrival of rains. The priest's face is striped with horizontal bands of dark paint and he wears an elaborate costume that extends to his knees. In one of his hands, he holds a small satchel, marking him as a priest. The satchel probably contains copal incense. With the other hand, the priest sows seeds, another reference to fertility. A speech scroll extends in front of him but, unlike scrolls in other murals, this one emerges from his hand, not his mouth. The placement may relate to the seeds or the action of sowing, particularly since plants appear to be growing from the sides of the scroll and maiz (corn) and flowers can be seen within it.

Corner of the Room of the Marching Priests. The bands which frame the murals contain writhing Plumed Serpents. The head and twisting body of one serpent can be seen on the right, facing down. Water rushes from its mouth, further emphasizing the theme of fertility. The rattles within the band on the left identify the serpent as a rattlesnake. According to pre-hispanic myths, the Plumed Serpent (whom the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl) gave the gift of maiz to humans and taught them how to cultivate and process it.

Mural of the Water Mountain

Mural of a mountain, gushing with water that is filled with swimmers. The mountain is surrounded by dancers and frolicking people. Archeologists have long debated the meaning of this mural. Initially, it was interpreted as Tlalocan, one of the 13 levels of heaven, ruled by Tlaloc, the Rain God. Tlalocan was a place of abundant water and never-ending springtime. The images seemed to fit Aztec beliefs about Tlaloc, but they arrived on the scene many centuries after Teotihuacán was abandoned. Many archeologists now believe that, rather than Tlalocan, this image represents Cerro Gordo, the extinct volcano that rises to the north of Teotihuacán, behind the Pyramid of the Moon. The mountain was revered by the Teotihuacanos as the source of their city's water. Current opinion now holds that the mural depicts Cerro Gordo as the sacred "Water Mountain", associated with the Great Goddess--Teotihuacán's chief deity--rather than Tlaloc.

Partying beside the Water Mountain. The mural contains scores of figures, not only in the water but on either side of the Water Mountain. Mixed in among them are flowering plants, butterflies and other creatures. A line of dancers can be seen in the upper center. Speech scrolls rise up from their mouths, indicating a song or chant. Each figure's left hand extends behind him between his legs and is grasped by the left hand of the following figure. Others dance individually or lie back languidly with their arms stretched out behind them. In the lower left, a man appears to towel himself off, with water dripping from his cloth. The overall impression is that there's one hell of a "pool party" going on.

Three figures feast on the fruit of a bush. Two of them reach out to grab the fruit, while the third bites it off directly from the bush. The scene is one of lushness and plenty.

Celebrating a good harvest. The men in this mural sing while marching along carrying poles on their shoulders. These may be agricultural implements. In some of the small fields near where I live, maiz is still planted by farmers using poles like this. One man looks back, with his speech scroll extending behind him. The other singing figure looks skyward and reaches his left hand upward in a gesture of joy. Below these two is a fragment of another singer, also with his head and hand raised. In this case, the hand holds an object that may be an offering.

Still more figures cavort and play. On the left, a group of men grasp the arms and legs of another man, preparing to playfully toss him in the air. Near them, a man trudges along, again with a speech scroll rising above his open mouth. Over his shoulder he carries a rolled up cloth (a beach towel?) with designs on it. Another dancer waves leafy branches. Oddly, I was unable to locate any women among the figures on the Water Mountain mural, although it is possible that some may have appeared in the missing sections. Also interesting is that these men do not appear to be priests, nobles, or members of the elite class. They are dressed as common folk and none are shown in the formal and rigid postures you find in elite depictions at Teotihuacán. The Water Mountain figures are in lively motion and the overall scene is one of joyful chaos.

The Great Goddess, Teotihuacán's chief deity, appears above the Water Mountain mural. This image is fragmentary, but you can see her huge feathered head dress with a bird head in the middle. She wears a dress adorned with floral symbols and her arms and wrists are circled with jade bracelets. As in other depictions of the Great Goddess, her arms are extended and water drips from her hands. Complete images of the Great Goddess (also known as the Jade Goddess) can be seen in my posting on Palacio Tetitla.

The Tlaloc Murals

The Rain God, later called Tlaloc by the Aztecs. On the left is the Rain God's face, wearing "goggles" around his eyes. Three arms can be seen to the right of the face, each holding vessels from which water gushes. Along the bottom is a rippled band representing a body of water. Within the band are a series of five-pointed stars which symbolize Venus. Venus is closely associated with the Rain God and fertility. It is the Evening Star which is reborn as the Morning Star each day. To pre-hispanic people, this represented the cyclical nature of the seasons and of death and rebirth. Along the top is a row of conch shell symbols, another aquatic theme. This mural is actually on the vertical part of a door frame, with the face at the bottom. I turned the photo so that you can better appreciate it.

The Red Tlalocs exhibit the fearsome side of the Rain God. The Red Tlalocs are part of a series that once decorated the whole wall of this room. Above the Tlalocs is a recurring series of single dots and double dashes. One interpretation is that the dots are circles representing chalchihuites (jewels). However, the numeric system used in pre-hispanic times gave values to dots and dashes: a dot equalled 1 and a dash equalled 5. If the symbols are numeric, it would show a series of elevens along the border of the mural. It is not clear which interpretation might be correct.

Artist's interpretation of the Red Tlalocs. Here you can see the images more clearly. The Rain God wears his typical goggles. Other typical features are a set of fangs and a drooping, forked tongue. His head dress contains obsidian knives and he carries an arrow bundle under his arm. These objects emphasize Tlaloc's scary aspects, expressed as thunder, lightning, terrible storms, and floods. Like many other gods, the Rain God could be fearsome as well as benevolent. He therefore required careful handling and regular propitiation through sacrifices, sometimes of the human variety.

Mural of the Red Shields

Despite its war-like name, the Mural of the Red Shields may not have a military meaning. The image gained its name from its resemblance to a chimali, or Aztec war shield. However, Teotihuacán war shields were square or rectangular, not round, so it is possible that the image has some other meaning besides a military one. If it does represent a warrior's shield, it may reflect the multi-cultural nature of Teotihuacán, which people from the Maya areas, the Zapotec kingdom of Monte Alban, as well as other parts of Mesoamerica.

Artist's rendering of the Red Shields. The central glyphs are surrounded by a band showing bird feathers. Inside the band is a glyph meaning Ojo de Reptil or "Reptile's Eye". It is possible that the combination of the reptile and feathers refers to the Plumed Serpent. The Ojo de Reptil glyph also appears on a stela at Xochicalco in the middle of a plaza that forms the entrance to that city. Archeologists believe that Xochicalco was founded by refugees from the collapse of Teotihuacán in 650 AD. Like Teotihuacan, images and references to the Plumed Serpent appear throughout Xochicalco.

Mural of the Four Petal Flowers

The image of a four-petal flower is ubiquitous at Teotihuacán. The sacred tunnel under the Pyramid of the Sun ends in chambers shaped like a four-petal flower. Four-petal flowers also appear in relief carvings on the columns at the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, near the Pyramid of the Moon. There are many more examples to be found throughout the city. The four-petal flower symbolized the earth, with its four sacred directions. The designers of Teotihuacán divided the city into four quadrants, separated from north to south by the Avenue of the Dead. Another east to west avenue crossed the Avenue of the Dead perpendicularly at the Citadel. All this represented a conscious and deliberate attempt to build a city that imitated the cosmos with Teotihuacán at the center of the "four-petal" earth.

This completes my posting on Palacio Tepantitla. I hope you enjoyed the murals of this extraordinary compound. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Teotihuacan: The military academy at Palacio Atetelco

Mural of a "net-jaguar" consuming a human heart. This mysterious creature gets its name from the net-like lines on its body, which may suggest transparency, even magical invisibility. Net-jaguars are unique to Teotihuacán. Unlike many other aspects of Teotihuacán culture, net-jaguar images were not copied or imitated either by contemporaneous societies or those arising in the centuries following Teotihuacán's fall, like Xochicalco, the Toltecs, or the Aztecs. The net-jaguar above wears a feathered head-dress, indicating an elite status, and has a curving speech-scroll rising from its mouth. This image contains strong military connotations, as do many others in Palacio Atetelco's murals. The creature appears to be eating a human heart from which three drops of blood fall. This symbolism relates to both warrior cults and human sacrifice. Taken altogether, Palacio  Atetelco's murals suggest that it may have been a military academy. The compound is located near Tetitla, seen in the last posting. They both lie just outside the perimeter of the main archeological site of Teotihuacan. For a Google map pinpointing Palacio Atetelco's location, click here.


The view from above. The various structures of Atetelco are grouped around several courtyards. The Red Courtyard is the largest and can be seen just left of center in photo above. It contains a large altar in its middle. In the upper right corner of the complex is another, smaller courtyard, surrounded on three sides by roofed structures. This one is called the White Courtyard and is the oldest section of the complex. My main focus will be on the structures and murals associated with these two courtyards because they are the most important areas of the complex. (Photo from of INAH, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History)

Artist's conception of Palacio Atetelco while it was occupied between 250 AD and 650 AD.  The Nahuatl name of the complex means "On the stone wall next to the water." Of course, this was from the language of the Aztecs, who stumbled upon Teotihuacán over 600 years after it was abandoned. We have no idea what Teotihuacanos called this place. In addition to its bright colors, the apartment compound was decorated with the almenas (decorative battlements) you can see along the cornices of the buildings. Just below the almenas are rows of green circles, called chalchihuites. The word means "jewel" and refers to something precious. Teotihuacan is unusual among pre-hispanic civilizations for the 2000+ apartment compounds that made up its urban area. These well-built, and sometimes even luxurious, structures consist of sets of rooms grouped around multiple courtyards, with the whole compound surrounded by a high wall. All the compounds were oriented to the north-south-east-west grid pattern of the city. They were separated from each other by narrow lanes following the same pattern. Construction began shortly after the completion of Teotihuacán's three great pyramids. Most of the compounds were inhabited by multiple families, probably related by kinship. However, compounds like Atetelco appear to have served a purpose different from simple extended-family living space.

The White Courtyard

The White Courtyard, seen from one of the three temples that surround it. The White Courtyard was built approximately 300-400 AD and was the first section of the complex. In the center of the courtyard, you can see a small, square altar. A screen is draped over the front of the temple on the far side of the courtyard, in order to protect the wall murals on the inside.

 An anthropomorphic eagle, dressed as a warrior carrying an atlatl (spearthrower). This is a reproduction, based on fragments found on the temple wall. The fragments are indicated by the irregularly shaped areas enclosed in black lines with numbers in them. Apparently, and eagle was the totem of one of the warrior societies based at Atetelco. The bird is a powerful predator and was much admired by warriors. The atlatl is a weapon which long pre-dates the development of the bow and arrow. It consists of a short stick with a hook on one end where the butt of a spear or dart is placed. The effect of the atlatl is to increase the leverage of the arm and to give much greater force and distance when throwing. Properly used, an atlatl can project a dart at speeds over 150 km/h (93 mph) to a distance of over 100 m (328 ft). These devices have been used since the Early Paleolithic Era (30,000 years ago). In fact, anyone visiting a modern city park may see people using a plastic version of the atlatl to throw tennis balls to their dogs. The projectile is different, but the principle is exactly the same.

Coyotes march along the base of a wall. The coyote was the totem of another important military society. The feathered head dresses again indicate an elite unit. More feathers line their spines and the backs of their legs and tails. Speech scrolls rise from their mouths, possibly indicating a warrior chant. Another interesting detail is the circular emblem with three diagonal lines that each coyote wears on his side. Similar emblems appear in the border area around the animals. These are called chimalli in Nahuatl, and they carry symbolic meanings not unlike coats-of-arms on medieval battle shields. Further military symbolism can be seen in the line of projectile points leading from left to right between the emblems.

A human warrior/priest wears an eagle-crested head dress. On his back he carries a round shield decorated with a chimalli. The feathered ends of a quiver of arrows protrudes from behind the shield. This image may approximate the actual appearance of Teotihuacán's elite Eagle Warriors. Once again, a speech scroll indicates a chant or prayer. The warrior/priest is surrounded by a border that is part of a pattern extending across the wall, somewhat resembling a chain-link fence. A similar figure appears in each of the openings in the "fence".

This mural fragment may be about a deformed god.  The figure's body is covered with sores and his limbs are disproportionate to the rest of his body, indicating deformity. People with such deformities were not shunned in pre-hispanic societies. Instead, they were honored as people possessing special powers. The Aztecs adopted a great deal of their culture and religion from Teotihuacán. The god shown above appears to be a predecessor of the Aztec deity Nanahuatzin (Nahuatl for "Filled with Sores"). He was a deformed and sickly god who courageously sacrificed himself in order to create the sun of the Fifth World--the era when humanity appeared. The placement of this mural at a military school is significant because courage and sacrifice were key elements of the military ethos of Teotihuacán (as well as that of every other military organization in history).

Carole walks toward the passage from the White to the Red Courtyard. The opening is small, formed by the corners of two of the four temples that surround the Red Courtyard.

The Red Courtyard

The Red Courtyard was built in a later period than the White Courtyard. Archeologists estimate that this area was constructed around 450 AD and continued in use until 650 AD. It is also much more spacious than the White Courtyard and contains a large altar in its center that mimics temple architecture. If Palacio Atetelco was a military school, this would have been the place to assemble and review cadets and to conduct military-related ceremonies.

The altar in the center of the Red Courtyard models the style of a temple. Whether it was used architecturally as an actual model is unknown. Each of the three stepped levels displays the ubiquitous talud y tablero style. The edges of the level on which the miniature temple sits are lined with almenas in the shape of stepped temples. When the Red Court was excavated, a statue of Huehueteotl  ("Old, Old God") was found just outside of the little temple on top. He was the Fire God worshiped throughout Mesoamerica from the earliest times. In fact, he may be the most ancient god of the entire pantheon. In the lower right corner of the photo is a small depression filled with water. There is an identical depression on the opposite side of the altar. The purpose of these was not clear, but they could be fire pits used to light the altar for nighttime rituals.

One of the four temples that face onto the Red Courtyard. The temples are almost identical. They are each entered through a short but broad staircase and each has two pillars at its entrance to help support a flat roof (now gone). At one time, the walls of the insides these temples were covered with murals showing spear-carrying warriors and other martial themes.

Another possible fire pit is located in the corner of one of the temples. There was another pit in the corner behind me when I took the shot. The floor of the temple was once covered by a layer of limestone stucco and you can see the remains of it around the fire pit. The stucco was created by burning limestone, a process that necessitated large quantities of firewood. The use of stucco on pyramids, temples, and apartment compounds resulted in large scale deforestation around Teotihuacán. According to some theories, the deforestation caused increasing aridity in the local climate which, in turn, resulted in repeated crop failures. This would have discredited the priestly elite, whose job it was to intercede with the gods (primarily Tlaloc, the Rain God) to ensure adequate precipitation and good harvests. Their failure may have led to a revolt that overthrew the city's elite around 650 AD. Lending credence to this theory is the fact that only the elite areas were sacked and burned at that time. Conquest by a rival city, or invasion by Chichimec barbarians from the north, would have resulted in a general conflagration. Instead, the areas of the common people remained untouched and they continued to live in the undestroyed remainder of Teotihuacán for another hundred years. However, the city's population gradually diminished and by 750 AD Teotihuacán was empty and overgrown.

Maya influences at Atetelco

Maya glyphs from the walls of one of Atetelco's Red Couryard temples.  The white glyphs are painted on red specular hematite (iron oxide with sparkling flecks of mica), over a layer of lime plaster stucco. The glyphs have been interpreted as the Maya word puh, which means place of reeds or rushes. This is a common metaphor for the concept of people united in civilization, or "city". Teotihuacán had strong trading links with the Classic-Era Maya cities within Yucatan and Chiapas, as well as those in Guatemala such as Tikal, and in Honduras like Copán. In addition, there was a large Maya district within Teotihuacán itself.

The design of this pot shows additional evidence of Maya influence. The beautiful container has designs incised in the Maya style on its sides and skulls around its base. The pot may have arrived through the trade networks or could have been created by a  craftsman residing within Teotihuacán's Maya district. Since the distance separating the city from the Maya areas is long, and the pot seems relatively heavy (and fragile), I would bet on a local origin.

Residential/Administrative area

A complex of rooms fills the area of compound outside of the two courtyards. There are additional small patios associated with some of the rooms. The exact function of these spaces is unclear. Some were probably residences for military officials of the academy. Others may have been barracks for the cadets. Still others probably served administrative or storage purposes.

Obsidian spear points and arrowhead. These are typical of the "business end" of the weapons used by the warriors trained at Atetelco. The mining of obsidian (volcanic glass) and the manufacture of valuable objects from it was central to Teotihuacán's economy. Obsidian was obtained primarily from deposits near Pachuca, about 49 km (30 mi) northeast of Teotihuacan. Various objects were manufactured from obsidian "cores" about the size of a modern football. These items included edged weapons and tools, but also figurines, jewelry and other luxury goods. All were very valuable as trade items because of their beauty, usefulness, and particularly their light weight. A Mesoamerican city's control over large obsidian deposits would be equivalent to a modern nation's control over substantial oil fields. Wars have been fought over control of both forms of mineral wealth.

At Palacio Atetelco, an elite warrior class received the training that underpinned Teotihuacán's military might. It was this military capacity that kept the Chichimec raiders at bay, protected the empire's trade routes from civilized competitors, ensured access to vital resources like the obsidian of Pachuca, and even waged long-range campaigns to install Teotihuacán rulers in remote places like the Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala's Petén jungle.

This completes my posting on Palacio Atetelco. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email them to me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim