Teotihuacán is a mystery in Mesoamerican archeology. Standing just outside Mexico City, the spectacularly planned city contains temples that are still revealing their secrets to archaeologists. Even after over a century of excavations beginning in 1905, archaeologists are still trying to find the truth about Teotihuacán. Archeology is often not what you expect, and archeologists themselves are sometimes as surprised by their finds. Their discoveries can be creepy, unexpected, and even a bit risque, and many of these archeological finds have redefined our understanding of history.
Most archaeologists believe that the ancient city was at its peak between 100 BCE and 750 CE and supported a population of roughly one hundred thousand. Archaeologists at Teotihuacán got such a surprise in the fall of 2003 when a heavy rainstorm caused a sinkhole at the Temple of the Plumed Serpent that revealed a secret tunnel underneath it. In 2009, the government allowed archaeologists to excavate. While there are still Teotihuacán facts we do not now, this tunnel and other recent discoveries helped to uncover some of the secrets of the ancient site.
These are the marvels of the mysterious city of Teotihuacán and its people.
The site of Teotihuacán have revealed evidence of many human sacrifices. Archaeologists excavated a vault under the Temple of the Moon and found 12 human corpses, along with many animal corpses. Ten of the bodies were missing their heads.
Anthropologist Saburo Sugiyama said of the discovery, "It is hard to believe that the ritual consisted of clean symbolic performances. It is most likely that the ceremony created a horrible scene of bloodshed with sacrificed people and animals.”
This wasn't the first time human sacrifices were found. Decades earlier, archaeologists found 100 corpses at the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, all of them kneeling with their hands tied behind their back.
More than 1,200 burials had been found at the site by 1998, and more have been discovered since.
When archaeologist Sergio Gómez excavated the tunnel he found under the Temple of the Plumed Serpent in 2009, he found a tremendous treasure trove of offerings. The offerings included fragments of human skin, cat bones, necklaces, rings, pottery, and shells.
Deep underground in the tunnel, there was a miniature recreation of a mountain landscape with pools of liquid mercury used for lakes. The walls of the tunnel had fool's gold embedded within them, giving the appearance of stars in firelight.
The ornate landscape seems to be a representation of the underworld. Many fragments were also found in the tunnel that represented Tlaloc, the rain and war god who owned the underworld's sacred waters.
Archaeologists have been searching for a royal tomb at Teotihuacán for some time, but the find has eluded them. The power structure of the city is one of its many mysteries, but archeologist Linda Manzanilla believes the city was ruled be a council of four lords, not a single king as many nearby civilizations had. There is no single palace for a king or any kind represented in the city's murals.
At the end of the tunnel under the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, Sergio Gomez found evidence of what looked like a burial chamber, likely a royal one based on the elaborate offerings, but there was no such burial. Either there had never been a burial there or the burial had been moved.
Gomez explained, “We have evidence that something very large and heavy was dragged out of the tunnel at some point. It could have been a tomb, but we just don’t know."
The design of Teotihuacán ties greatly to its people's religion, as evidenced by the offerings and plentiful representations of their deities. Some scholars believe the entire city was made to represent their creation myth.
Many archaeologists and historians see the city as a large metaphor for their creation. Archaeologist Michael Coe believes the individual structures represent humans emerging from a vast sea, as Mesoamerican groups believed the world was born from water. The facades of the Temple of the Plumed Serpent include marine symbols like shells and waves.
Watermarks along the wall of the temple's underground passage suggest the plaza above was deliberately flooded to represent the primordial sea with the temples emerging from it.