Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mesoamerican Tidbits: The Fall of Teotihuacan

If you are ever in or near Mexico City, you would be foolish not to visit the great city of Teotihuacan (a Nahuatl name given to the old city by the Aztecs). The largest urban center in pre-colombian Mesoamerica, it may have hosted a population as large as 200,000. For a thousand years this orderly, planned capitol of an influential empire dominated the highlands of what is now central Mexico.

Around 500-600 CE, the city's population was in decline, and by 800 CE the monumental center of the empire was largely abandoned. Conventional thinking among Mesoamerican scholars has for years lay the blame at the feet of invaders from the North (perhaps even the Tolteca), relying on extensive evidence of burned structures which hinted at a sacking of the city.

More recent excavations which focused on modest structures in the area show no burning, suggesting that internal conflict between nobles and commoners may have culminated in the elite leaders being run off by their subjects.

I find it ironic that the typical bias of early archaeologists to only excavate monumental architecture led to a mistaken conclusion that all of Teotihuacan had burned, when in reality only the structures associated with the elite class fell victim to fire (photo courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons).

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