Teotihuacan was a major city in ancient Mesoamerican which rose to prominence during the 1st century A.D. A number of extraordinary pyramids, remarkable in their construction among other Mesoamerican pyramid constructions, were built in the city. The population was a multi-ethnic mix which gave Teotihuacan a richness in culture and art.
The total number of its inhabitants reached as high as 125,000 during the peak period, making it one of the largest cities of its time. Later Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Aztecs were deeply impressed by the city of Teotihuacan and claimed to have descended from its inhabitants.
Archeologists estimate that Teotihuacan was inhabited well before 200 B.C. since that is the date of the earliest buildings in the area. By 100 B.C., the city had become a major regional hub and its population expanded rapidly.
Major stone constructions, including pyramid temples, had already begun by the time of 100 B.C. The city continued to rise in power and influence. In later centuries, researchers believe that the Teotihuacan conquered many major Mayan centers. The city reached its peak period in the 5th century. Soon after, the population began to decline in the 6th century and with it began Teotihuacan’s decline.
Teotihuacan’s culture was unique among most other Mesoamerican cities of the period in that it was a mix of many influences. Populations of different ethnicities lived in different parts of the huge city. The ethnicities which resided in the city included Mixtecs, Mayans, Nahua peoples, Otomi and Zopotec. Each of them influenced the culture of the city so that its political, religious and social system was a mix of different traditions.
The pantheon of Teotihuacan comprised of numerous gods which figure in Mayan and later, Aztec pantheons. Political systems were closely allied to religious system and leaders of both were the same persons.
Teotihuacan architecture is grand and includes constructional elements borrowed from many other civilizations in the Mesoamerican region. Among the most notable Teotihuacan constructions were the huge Pyramid of the Sun, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and The Great Compound.
The Pyramid of the Sun was a huge pyramid and its extant structure is considered the third largest pyramid in the world. The Great Compound was equally gigantic and served primarily as the city marketplace. It covered a huge area and researchers estimate that it could easily hold 100,000 people within it. Among the key constructions within the compound was the Temple of Quetzacoatl.
The city of Teotihuacan reached its peak during the 5th century. At this time, the population of the city is estimated to have reached 150,000 to 250,000 making it one of the largest urban centers in Mesoamerica. At its peak, the city had vast political control and enjoyed extraordinary influence over other city-states in Mesoamerica.
Some historical sources reveal that Teotihuacan possibly conquered a number of Mayan cities. Researchers have argued that apart from possible military intervention in other regions, Teotihuacan also enjoyed the diffusion of its culture to other cities.
Teotihuacan collapsed soon after reaching the peak of its influence. During the 6th century, the city’s influence began to wane and a decline in its population began. Although it is not known for certain what caused the decline, archaeological evidence suggests that the city faced an increasingly greater internal unrest. This may explain why most buildings of the ruling classes were sacked and burned in the 7th or 8th century.
Since the sacking was not widespread, it is believed that this was a result of internal unrest or limited foreign invasion. Other reasons that may have directly contributed to Teotihuacan’s collapse are environmental changes, droughts being a common feature of the climate changes that took place in the 6th century around the region.
Teotihuacanos offered human as well as animal sacrifices. The human sacrifices were offered usually when any new buildings were constructed or the expansion of the older structures took place. At these occasions, the purpose of the human sacrifice was to ensure the continued prosperity of the city.
Unlike most other Mesoamerican cities, the human sacrifice in Teotihuacan took many shapes. The victims could either be decapitated, or have their heart ripped out, or they could be burned alive or be clubbed to death.
The earliest rediscovery of the Teotihuacan took place in the 17th century but proper archaeological excavations began in the 20th century. During this phase, many major structures in the ruins of Teotihuacan were identified and attempts were made to restore them.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, excavations at or around the structures of Teotihuacan have continued, and new findings continue to augment the knowledge about this ancient city. Tunnels, structure and artefacts have been discovered under the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in underground tunnels.
A number of interesting features have been discovered at the site of Teotihuacan’s ruins. A 330-feet long tunnel, for instance, was discovered under the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent as recently as 2005. A number of chambers adjacent to this tunnel have also been discovered.
Researchers have discovered different artefacts in these chambers and tunnels, including jade and quartz masks as well as pottery. Another interesting find in 2014 at the site of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent was the presence of huge quantities of mercury in a chamber 60 feet underground.
Teotihuacan was one of the most impressive and developed cities of ancient Mesoamerica. The city had already become a major center by 100 B.C. and constructions of extraordinary monumental architecture began in it around this time. Most key structures in Teotihuacan were completed between 100 B.C. and 250 A.D. Towards the 5th century, the city grew to be a very significant regional power, enjoying control over a large area and influence over many Mesoamerican civilizations.
In the 6th century, the city’s decline began and by 7th or 8th century, many of its monumental buildings had been sacked and burned. Teotihuacan enjoys a unique position in ancient Mesoamerican cities in that it housed a multiethnic population and the diversity of its inhabitants is reflected in its art, culture and architecture.