BY GUY GUGLIOTTA
Washington Post Service
The majestic pyramids of Teotihuacan were built high in the Valley
2000 years ago by a nameless people who dominated Mesoamerica for hundreds
of years, only to disappear virtually without a trace between 600 and 700 A.D.
The Teotihuacanos' origin, the structure of their government,
the reasons for their
demise and the very nature of their society remain largely a mystery, as
tantalizing to modern archaeologists as to the Aztecs who inherited their
monuments, but never knew who built them.
Archaeologists recently discovered a previously unknown tomb and
inside Teotihuacan's Pyramid of the Moon, a find that should help dispel some of
the fog, buttressing earlier hypotheses that the people of the pyramids had a
strong militaristic and hierarchical bent. But, like earlier discoveries, the dig is
missing an important element: There are no leaders.
The new skeletons, like those from earlier finds, have their hands
tied behind their
backs. They were captives, servants, stand-ins, soldiers -- underlings of some
sort, all 15 to 20 years old.
``We have never found evidence of any kind of governor or important
contrast to the Mayas or Aztecs, where we know the leader's name, when he
lived and when he died,'' said Saburo Sugiyama, co-leader of the dig with Ruben
Cabrera of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. ``We don't
know anything because there is no written history.''
RESEARCHERS FEELING THEIR WAY
Indeed, while analysts at Teotihuacan have found ``well over 100
have some kind of standard significance,'' Arizona State archaeologist George
Cowgill said, ``we still don't know if they have phonetic value.''
In the absence of a written record, researchers are left to feel
Sugiyama, an archaeologist at Japan's Aichi Prefectural University and an adjunct
professor at Arizona State University, compared the dig to a 1988 excavation he
and Cabrera made at the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, at the other end of the
broad avenue known as the Street of the Dead.
Both sites are dated around 200 A.D. Both included green obsidian
and knives, as well as greenstone figurines, nose rings, earrings and ``butterfly
Sugiyama found 133 skeletons in the Feathered Serpent Pyramid,
all with tied
hands, but he also found an abandoned tunnel and an open pit deep within the
pyramid, suggesting that looters may have emptied a leader's grave.
``The intent'' in the Pyramid of the Moon excavation was to substantiate
theory by ``finding a royal burial or high-ranking burial'' intact, said Rene Millon, a
retired University of Rochester archaeologist who mapped Teotihuacan in the
1960s. Once again, it did not happen.
The new dig did, however, unearth the bones of large felines,
predatory birds, Millon said, all symbols of military orders in Mesoamerica, and a
further indication that Teotihuacan was a highly regimented and hierarchical
NO ROYALTY BURIED IN PYRAMID
Last year in an older section of the Pyramid of the Moon, Sugiyama
found a tomb
with a single male skeleton with bound hands, accompanied by a wooden cage
with jaguar bones inside, an indication that the animal had been buried alive.
Still, although jaguars have been associated with Mesoamerican
royalty for at
least 2,000 years, royalty does not seem to be buried in the pyramid. ``One of the
[unresolved] issues is whether this was a monarchical or highly centralized
leadership with one person,'' Cowgill said. ``Or was it collective? Nobody's
suggesting a democracy, but it may have been governed by an oligarchic elite.''
Teotihuacan, 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, vies with Peru's
as the most popular pre-Columbian tourist attraction in Latin America. It sprawls
over eight square miles, much of it buried beneath farms, highways, a Mexican
military base and five modern-day towns. Only 10 percent of this ancient
metropolis has been excavated.
The heart of the site is the 50-yard-wide Street of the Dead,
with the Pyramid of
the Moon at the north end, the 212-foot Pyramid of the Sun halfway down the
avenue on the east, and the Ciudadela, or Citadel, which includes the Feathered
Serpent Pyramid, on the southeast corner.
The Teotihuacan pyramids, like those throughout the Americas,
are made of
stones, debris and dirt, faced with stone sculpture. When their creators wanted a
new structure, they simply piled dirt atop the old pyramid and refaced it. The
pyramids grew like onions.
Sugiyama probed the Pyramid of the Moon through an 85-foot east-west
that cut through seven separate ``phases'' before reaching the original pyramid
along the north-south axis.
WORLD'S SIXTH LARGEST CITY
The first three phases were ``very simple,'' he said, with the
original phase --
believed to be the oldest construction at Teotihuacan -- dating from the first
century A.D. The male skeleton and jaguar cage were found in phase four, dated
about 150 A.D.
Once at the center of the pyramid, excavators turned north and
dug for more than
260 feet to phase five before unearthing the four skeletons.
In its heyday, about 300 A.D., Teotihuacan was the world's sixth-largest
bigger than Rome, and its influence reached deep into the jungles. Millon said
Teotihuacanos founded a 400-year dynasty at the classic Mayan city of Copan.
But it all fell apart sometime after 600 A.D. Archaeologists have
found evidence of
selective burning of public structures and other destruction, and agree that by 750
A.D., Teotihuacan as a civilization had ceased to exist. But the ruins survived
through the era of the Toltecs to the rise of the Aztecs and beyond. The Aztecs
revered the ancient site and named some of the buildings -- the Pyramid of the
Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon.
And it was the Aztecs who called the city Teotihuacan, the Place
of the Gods. No
one knew what its inhabitants had called it.
Copyright 1999 Miami Herald