The State of Teotihuacan

Pyramid of the Sun

This picture from National Geographic shows the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan in Mexico. According to this website the pyramid and the rest of the site was named by the Aztecs who first encountered it after it had been abandoned.

In this assignment my goal was to find out what archaeology has been able to discover regarding the original use of the city of Teotihuacan.
Through my research I was able to answer the following questions:
  • What was the original use of the city center, whose ruins we can still visit and study?
  • How was the original state of Teotihuacan organized?
  • How has the archaeology of the site allowed us to understand the importance of Teotihuacan as seen by the other early civilizations of Mesoamerica?

Millon and Drewitt, 376

In various archaeological excavations at Teotihuacan and particularly in the Pyramid of the Sun (Millon and Drewett, p.372) we see multiple religious offerings (Cowgill, p.148)As the discovery of an obsidian figurine (pictured above) along with 30 miniature obsidian points (Millon and Drewett) associated with it suggests that throughout the various stages of construction of the Pyramid the site had a strong religious and political significance.

Further excavations within the various structures along the Avenue of the Dead have revealed extensive burials of human and animal sacrifices possibly consecrating the completion of a religiously important building, as well as the elaborate burial of a ruler within the Pyramid of the Moon (Schuster).

Both the state burial and the large evidence of ritual sacrifice point to a city center based on ritual and state activity.
Not much is known about the political organization of Teotihuacan apart from the little information that we have regarding the relation between ability to perform religious ritual and a link to leadership (Cowgill, p. 152).

While scholars are confident that Teotihucan served as a capital city, recent research indicates that it did not serve as a capital to a large state in the traditional sense (Cowgill, p.134). As Cogwill states in his article State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico, "Teotihuacan probably concentrated on controlling key settlements and routes between them, rather than solid blocks of territory (134)."

Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacan

La Quemada, Zacatecas

The first picture above shows the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan while the second picture shows a similar layout in the archaeological site of La Quemada in the state of Zacatecas which has led archaeologists to believe that the range of Teotihuacan-controlled outposts was rather large and was focused not only in economic interests, but in ceremonial rituals as well (Aveni et al., p.330).

Teotihuacan and Satellites

Clayton, 428

The evidence which has been found at Teotihuacan as explained by Schuster suggests that the multiethnic peoples living in Teotihuacan were motivated to move there there from various areas of Mesoamerica, as far south as Honduras as explained by Sarah Clayton, by the religious significance of the site.

Angela Schuster explains that the site of Teotihuacan likely began as a shrine built to venerate a sacred area in the local mythology. The evidence provided by the excavations performed in the 1950s and early 1960s suggests that as the importance of the religion grew so did the population and the size of the main structure: the Pyramid of the Sun (Millon and Drewett).

Overall what we can learn from the central city of Teotihuacan is that this was a capital city which held a religious/political importance in a large area of Highland Mexico and extended its reach into the Mayan lowlands. The rulers of this state controlled the scattered outposts by controlling the most important religious center at the time and through sacrifice and demonstrations of power exerting control over those living in the outposts (Schuster), but not holding power over the land in between, which held no religious or mythical importance (Aveni et al.). Such as the Mayan sites of the south held religious and astronomical importance, the two sites which are to the North could have great religious importance as they are positioned in relation to the Tropic of Cancer (Aveni et al., p.316).

As Clayton makes clear the influence of Teotihuacan in other areas of Mesoamerica is one of exchange of ideas rather than one of a political nature (p. 427). What we see as a result of this is a migration to the city center with the only other evidence of Teotihuacano culture is found in the satellite religious centers, and in the religious centers of surrounding cultures (Schuster).


Alta Vista (Chalchihuites), Astronomical Implications of a Mesoamerican Ceremonial Outpost at the Tropic of Cancer
Anthony F. Aveni, Horst Hartung, J. Charles Kelley
American Antiquity, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Apr., 1982), pp. 316-335
Published by: Society for American Archaeology

Interregional Relationships in Mesoamerica: Interpreting Maya Ceramics at Teotihuacan
Sarah C. Clayton
Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 2005), pp. 427-448
Published by: Society for American Archaeology

Earlier Structures within the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan
Rene Millon, Bruce Drewitt
American Antiquity, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Jan., 1961), pp. 371-380
Published by: Society for American Archaeology

State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico
George L. Cowgill
Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 26, (1997), pp. 129-161
Published by: Annual Reviews

New Tomb at Teotihuacan
Angela M.H. Schuster
Archaeology (December 4, 1998)


Module 7 Wikispaces Assignment:

Teotihuacan is a site in Highland Mexico of which little is known. The people who originally occupied the site were prolific builders creating various large monuments before abandoning the site. The Aztecs who later came on the scene reused the site for religious ritual and gave it the name we know today. Architecturally the site is astounding and excavations of the site point to religious as well as political ritual taking place. In this wiki I would like to explore the reason of being of this site since this tells us a lot about the people who occupied it. The site's art, and architecture can tell us a lot about how the people who made the site lived and how they organized their civilization. I would like to explore as much of what is known about the site regarding it's original use and the use given to it by the Aztec Empire.

Module 8 Wikispaces Assignment:
"The floodplains along the Nile constitute an important but as yet little utilized series of laboratories for the comparative study of the origins and interaction of ancient civilizations (Trigger,1) ."

“Kerma: The Rise of an African Civilization,” Bruce G. Trigger, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1. (1976), pp. 1-21.

Module 9 Wikispaces Assignment


State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico
Author(s): George L. Cowgill
Source: Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 26, (1997), pp. 129-161
Published by: Annual Reviews
Stable URL:


Between 100 BCE and 200 CE, the city of Teotihuacan grew rapidly, most of the Basin of Mexico population was relocated in the city, immense civic-religious structures were built, and symbolic and material evidence shows the early importance of war. Rulers were probably able and powerful. Subsequently the city did not grow, and government may have become more collective, with significant constraints on rulers' powers. A state religion centered on war and fertility deities presumably served elite interests, but civic consciousness may also have been encouraged. A female goddess was important but probably not as pervasive as has been suggested. Political control probably did not extend beyond central Mexico, except perhaps for some outposts, and the scale and significance of commerce are unclear. Teotihuacan's prestige, however, spread widely in Mesoamerica, manifested especially in symbols of sacred war, used for their own ends by local elites.

Module 12 Wikispaces Assignment
On the website for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency which is linked below I found a Google Earth file showing the site of Teotihuacan with arrows pointing directly at the major landmarks at the site as well as some pointing to the landmarks surrounding it.

Module 13 Wikispaces Assignment
Rodríguez, Ana Mónica. "'First Evidence of Teotihuacana Iconography' Outside the State of Mexico Discovered." La Jornada June 11, 2009.

The article published in La Jornada newspaper hosted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) makes mention of recent archaeological discoveries which suggest that original Teotihuacan culture expanded further than the state of Mexico where the original site of Teotihuacan is located. The murals which were uncovered in the Mexican state of Queretaro depict unidentified males wearing ritual headdresses as well as carrying shields and swords of obsidian blades. Other murals on the site depict bleeding hearts which suggest a link to human sacrifice. The evidence at the site suggest that it was likely inhabited by Teotihuacano people establishing trade routes rather than people taking hold of a previously existing site during conquest.

Module 14 Wikispaces Assignment

  • Title: Interregional Relationships in Mesoamerica: Interpreting Maya Ceramics at Teotihuacan
  • Author(s): Sarah C. Clayton
  • Source: Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 2005), pp. 427-448
  • Publisher(s): Society for American Archaeology
  • Stable URL: