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Teotihuacan, Mexico, main structures c. 50-250 C.E.  Speakers: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) - [Voiceover] We're standing in the archeological park of the ancient site of Teotihuacan. - [Voiceover] We're about twenty five miles northwest of Mexico City. The site of Teotihuacan is known as the City of the Gods. The name given to it by the much later Aztecs. - [Voiceover] They looked back at what was then in ruins, but thought of it as a sacred city. - [Voiceover] Sometime around the year 100 B.C.E. you have the beginnings of Teotihuacan. Sometime between around 600 or 700 of the common era, things start to go awry here. When the Aztecs are making pilgrimages to this site much later from their capital city of Tenochtitlan, or Mexico City, they were amazed and impressed. They believed that this was the city where the gods lived. Where the fifth sun was created. - [Voiceover] They named this place and they named the streets and they named the buildings, but we don't know the original names. This long avenue was named by the Aztecs as the Avenue of the Dead. - [Voiceover] Teotihuacan is a great mystery in many ways. We don't know what language they spoke. We don't know what they called themselves. We don't have a written language, that we know of. Even though we do know a lot about the city and the population of Teotihuacan, some of the basic foundational knowledge is lost to us. Temporarily, hopefully. - [Voiceover] From what we've found, from the art, from the archeology, from the buildings, we can say that they were masters of city planning. They built these fabulous temples. But, we don't see ruler portraits, like we might see in Olmec cutlure that's a little bit earlier. - [Voiceover] What we find here at Teotihuacan are these clear centralized government, whether a single ruler, or a body of rulers, it's unclear to us. But, whoever was in control had enough power to organize labor, to plan on this massive scale, and everything is so standarized. The city itself is very centralized and it's planned on this grid plan. There was no precedent for this type of highly-organized, centralized city. - [Voiceover] There must have been enough food that was grown and brought into the city. We're talking about a highly-organized, hierarchical culture that could pull off monumental architecture over a period of hundreds of years. - [Voiceover] The fact that we don't have this cult of personality. We don't have clear portraits is kind of amazing. It's frustrating to us today, because we want to read into these beautifully complex murals that you find all over the city. We want to see rulers. We want to see narratives that talk about the ideologies that are being conveyed to the population, through a ruler or rulers. But, what we see in these murals instead are the main dieties, some kind of storm god, some type of great goddess. Animal figures like coyotes and jaguars, and warriors. - [Voiceover] We see a relationship between the monumental architecture and the landscape around it. Because, as we look toward the Pyramid of the Moon, the shape of it is echoed by the mountain behind it. - [Voiceover] Teotihuacanos, as we call them, since we don't know what they called themselves, were clearly planning some of their structures in accordance with the natural environment to almost create sacred landscape within the city itself. - [Voiceover] As we stand here and look out, we see three main pyramids. - [Voiceover] We have the Temple of the Moon, at the far end of the Street of the Dead. The Pyramid of the Sun, little bit further down to the side. Then, the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent much further down the Street of the Dead. - [Voiceover] The Street of the Dead ran four miles, so it's quite long and it really must have felt like a real procession way toward this sacred building. - [Voiceover] If we were on the Street of the Dead, and it's about a 135 feet wide, so you get this sense that you are processing down this grand boulevard. It's very impressive to be walking through this city. - [Voiceover] It makes the approach to it formal and processional and ritualized. When we look at the Pyramid of the Moon, it would have originally been even taller with probably wood structures on top. - [Voiceover] We also have to imagine that all of these buildings would have been stuccoed and then brightly painted. The city would have been extremely vibrant. Off the Street of the Dead there are approximately 2000 apartment complexes on this grid plan. A lot of the ones close to the Street of the Dead are more complex. We think that they were for elites. They, too, are heavily decorated with things like mural painting. - [Voiceover] We have to imagine something that looks entirely different than the ruins that we see today. - [Voiceover] We also have to imagine all the activities here, whether they're ritual or merchants. Only a small portion of the sight has been excavated. There are continuing excavations here. Archeologists are finding amazing things on a regular basis, including a recent discovery of a tunnel under the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. - [Voiceover] We could know so much more than we know now. I hope we do. (piano music)