Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Teotihuacan: Palacio Tepantitla, abode of the priests

A chanting Priest sows seeds as a fertility offering. Palacio Tepantitla is another example of the 2000+ apartment compounds that once made up Teotihuacán's urban area. Only a handful of these compounds have been excavated so far. Tepantitla was first occupied during the Tlamimilolpa Phase (225-350 AD) and continued in use through the Metepec Phase (550-650 AD). Most of Teotihuacán's compounds were multi-family living units, but Tepantitla, like Palacio Atetelco (see last posting), appears to have had a special function. While Atetelco's murals suggest that it was a military academy, the murals at Tepantitla abound with priests and gods engaged in peaceful activities related to water and agricultural fertility. This suggests that it was an abode for members of the priestly elite. Tepantitla is located outside the perimeter of the main ruins at Teotihuacán. However, unlike Tetitla and Atetelco (and two others we didn't visit), it is northeast of the main ruins, rather than to the southwest. To find Teptantitla on a Google map, click here.

Overview

Design of Palacio Tepantitla. The large area marked with an X is the main courtyard. It appears to be larger than the courtyards of either Tetitla or Atetelco. The schematic above shows a broad, 5-step staircase along the eastern side of the courtyard. The stairs lead up to a rectangular-shaped platform that once contained a temple. Surrounding these two open areas are a number of spacious apartments, within which Tepantitla's murals are located. The two rooms directly facing the main courtyard on the north and south are similar in size and shape and are considerably larger than any of the others in the living areas. This suggests that they may have had special functions, possibly related to the main courtyard.


This sunken area is the main courtyard. It lies two steps below the rest of the platform on which the overall compound is built. Carole is sitting on one of these steps in the upper right. In the upper left, you can see the entrance to the large room on the south side of the courtyard. The small, covered structure in the top center is roofed with modern corrugated materials to protect its murals. Many of the other rooms have similar coverings since none of Tepantitla's original roofs have survived. I found it curious that the courtyard lacks a central altar, unlike most of the main courtyards of other apartment compounds. Perhaps this area's main use was for communal activities by those living in the adjacent apartments. The steps to the temple platform can be seen in the center left.

Room of the Marching Priests

A line of the Sower-Priests marches along the lower walls. The figures are quite similar, if not identical, and all appear to be marching in the same direction. Each group of priests is framed by a band that rises from the corner and runs along over their heads. Archeologists have noted that no human individuals (as opposed to gods) are highlighted or glorified in Teotihuacán's murals. This suggests a collective leadership, unlike the kingships found almost everywhere else in Mesoamerica. It is unclear how this collective leadership might have functioned. However, but it might have vaguely resembled the Senate of the early Roman Republic, which was a collective leadership composed of representatives of wealthy and powerful families. In addition to the absence of glorified individuals in the murals, there are no stone stelae, listing accessions by individual rulers, or their victories and conquests. Of the three great pyramids at Teotihuacán, all appear to be dedicated to gods, not individual human rulers. Although tunnels have been discovered under all three, no royal tombs have yet been found.


A Sower-Priest in full regalia. The mural depicts a ritual offering during a ceremony aimed at ensuring a good crop. The priest wears the head and upper jaw of a crocodile, decorated with a plume of feathers. Crocodiles, in Mesoamerica, were associated with fertility and the arrival of rains. The priest's face is striped with horizontal bands of dark paint and he wears an elaborate costume that extends to his knees. In one of his hands, he holds a small satchel, marking him as a priest. The satchel probably contains copal incense. With the other hand, the priest sows seeds, another reference to fertility. A speech scroll extends in front of him but, unlike scrolls in other murals, this one emerges from his hand, not his mouth. The placement may relate to the seeds or the action of sowing, particularly since plants appear to be growing from the sides of the scroll and maiz (corn) and flowers can be seen within it.


Corner of the Room of the Marching Priests. The bands which frame the murals contain writhing Plumed Serpents. The head and twisting body of one serpent can be seen on the right, facing down. Water rushes from its mouth, further emphasizing the theme of fertility. The rattles within the band on the left identify the serpent as a rattlesnake. According to pre-hispanic myths, the Plumed Serpent (whom the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl) gave the gift of maiz to humans and taught them how to cultivate and process it.

Mural of the Water Mountain

Mural of a mountain, gushing with water that is filled with swimmers. The mountain is surrounded by dancers and frolicking people. Archeologists have long debated the meaning of this mural. Initially, it was interpreted as Tlalocan, one of the 13 levels of heaven, ruled by Tlaloc, the Rain God. Tlalocan was a place of abundant water and never-ending springtime. The images seemed to fit Aztec beliefs about Tlaloc, but they arrived on the scene many centuries after Teotihuacán was abandoned. Many archeologists now believe that, rather than Tlalocan, this image represents Cerro Gordo, the extinct volcano that rises to the north of Teotihuacán, behind the Pyramid of the Moon. The mountain was revered by the Teotihuacanos as the source of their city's water. Current opinion now holds that the mural depicts Cerro Gordo as the sacred "Water Mountain", associated with the Great Goddess--Teotihuacán's chief deity--rather than Tlaloc.


Partying beside the Water Mountain. The mural contains scores of figures, not only in the water but on either side of the Water Mountain. Mixed in among them are flowering plants, butterflies and other creatures. A line of dancers can be seen in the upper center. Speech scrolls rise up from their mouths, indicating a song or chant. Each figure's left hand extends behind him between his legs and is grasped by the left hand of the following figure. Others dance individually or lie back languidly with their arms stretched out behind them. In the lower left, a man appears to towel himself off, with water dripping from his cloth. The overall impression is that there's one hell of a "pool party" going on.


Three figures feast on the fruit of a bush. Two of them reach out to grab the fruit, while the third bites it off directly from the bush. The scene is one of lushness and plenty.


Celebrating a good harvest. The men in this mural sing while marching along carrying poles on their shoulders. These may be agricultural implements. In some of the small fields near where I live, maiz is still planted by farmers using poles like this. One man looks back, with his speech scroll extending behind him. The other singing figure looks skyward and reaches his left hand upward in a gesture of joy. Below these two is a fragment of another singer, also with his head and hand raised. In this case, the hand holds an object that may be an offering.


Still more figures cavort and play. On the left, a group of men grasp the arms and legs of another man, preparing to playfully toss him in the air. Near them, a man trudges along, again with a speech scroll rising above his open mouth. Over his shoulder he carries a rolled up cloth (a beach towel?) with designs on it. Another dancer waves leafy branches. Oddly, I was unable to locate any women among the figures on the Water Mountain mural, although it is possible that some may have appeared in the missing sections. Also interesting is that these men do not appear to be priests, nobles, or members of the elite class. They are dressed as common folk and none are shown in the formal and rigid postures you find in elite depictions at Teotihuacán. The Water Mountain figures are in lively motion and the overall scene is one of joyful chaos.


The Great Goddess, Teotihuacán's chief deity, appears above the Water Mountain mural. This image is fragmentary, but you can see her huge feathered head dress with a bird head in the middle. She wears a dress adorned with floral symbols and her arms and wrists are circled with jade bracelets. As in other depictions of the Great Goddess, her arms are extended and water drips from her hands. Complete images of the Great Goddess (also known as the Jade Goddess) can be seen in my posting on Palacio Tetitla.


The Tlaloc Murals

The Rain God, later called Tlaloc by the Aztecs. On the left is the Rain God's face, wearing "goggles" around his eyes. Three arms can be seen to the right of the face, each holding vessels from which water gushes. Along the bottom is a rippled band representing a body of water. Within the band are a series of five-pointed stars which symbolize Venus. Venus is closely associated with the Rain God and fertility. It is the Evening Star which is reborn as the Morning Star each day. To pre-hispanic people, this represented the cyclical nature of the seasons and of death and rebirth. Along the top is a row of conch shell symbols, another aquatic theme. This mural is actually on the vertical part of a door frame, with the face at the bottom. I turned the photo so that you can better appreciate it.


The Red Tlalocs exhibit the fearsome side of the Rain God. The Red Tlalocs are part of a series that once decorated the whole wall of this room. Above the Tlalocs is a recurring series of single dots and double dashes. One interpretation is that the dots are circles representing chalchihuites (jewels). However, the numeric system used in pre-hispanic times gave values to dots and dashes: a dot equalled 1 and a dash equalled 5. If the symbols are numeric, it would show a series of elevens along the border of the mural. It is not clear which interpretation might be correct.


Artist's interpretation of the Red Tlalocs. Here you can see the images more clearly. The Rain God wears his typical goggles. Other typical features are a set of fangs and a drooping, forked tongue. His head dress contains obsidian knives and he carries an arrow bundle under his arm. These objects emphasize Tlaloc's scary aspects, expressed as thunder, lightning, terrible storms, and floods. Like many other gods, the Rain God could be fearsome as well as benevolent. He therefore required careful handling and regular propitiation through sacrifices, sometimes of the human variety.


Mural of the Red Shields

Despite its war-like name, the Mural of the Red Shields may not have a military meaning. The image gained its name from its resemblance to a chimali, or Aztec war shield. However, Teotihuacán war shields were square or rectangular, not round, so it is possible that the image has some other meaning besides a military one. If it does represent a warrior's shield, it may reflect the multi-cultural nature of Teotihuacán, which people from the Maya areas, the Zapotec kingdom of Monte Alban, as well as other parts of Mesoamerica.


Artist's rendering of the Red Shields. The central glyphs are surrounded by a band showing bird feathers. Inside the band is a glyph meaning Ojo de Reptil or "Reptile's Eye". It is possible that the combination of the reptile and feathers refers to the Plumed Serpent. The Ojo de Reptil glyph also appears on a stela at Xochicalco in the middle of a plaza that forms the entrance to that city. Archeologists believe that Xochicalco was founded by refugees from the collapse of Teotihuacán in 650 AD. Like Teotihuacan, images and references to the Plumed Serpent appear throughout Xochicalco.


Mural of the Four Petal Flowers

The image of a four-petal flower is ubiquitous at Teotihuacán. The sacred tunnel under the Pyramid of the Sun ends in chambers shaped like a four-petal flower. Four-petal flowers also appear in relief carvings on the columns at the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, near the Pyramid of the Moon. There are many more examples to be found throughout the city. The four-petal flower symbolized the earth, with its four sacred directions. The designers of Teotihuacán divided the city into four quadrants, separated from north to south by the Avenue of the Dead. Another east to west avenue crossed the Avenue of the Dead perpendicularly at the Citadel. All this represented a conscious and deliberate attempt to build a city that imitated the cosmos with Teotihuacán at the center of the "four-petal" earth.

This completes my posting on Palacio Tepantitla. I hope you enjoyed the murals of this extraordinary compound. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Teotihuacan: The military academy at Palacio Atetelco

Mural of a "net-jaguar" consuming a human heart. This mysterious creature gets its name from the net-like lines on its body, which may suggest transparency, even magical invisibility. Net-jaguars are unique to Teotihuacán. Unlike many other aspects of Teotihuacán culture, net-jaguar images were not copied or imitated either by contemporaneous societies or those arising in the centuries following Teotihuacán's fall, like Xochicalco, the Toltecs, or the Aztecs. The net-jaguar above wears a feathered head-dress, indicating an elite status, and has a curving speech-scroll rising from its mouth. This image contains strong military connotations, as do many others in Palacio Atetelco's murals. The creature appears to be eating a human heart from which three drops of blood fall. This symbolism relates to both warrior cults and human sacrifice. Taken altogether, Palacio  Atetelco's murals suggest that it may have been a military academy. The compound is located near Tetitla, seen in the last posting. They both lie just outside the perimeter of the main archeological site of Teotihuacan. For a Google map pinpointing Palacio Atetelco's location, click here.

Overview

The view from above. The various structures of Atetelco are grouped around several courtyards. The Red Courtyard is the largest and can be seen just left of center in photo above. It contains a large altar in its middle. In the upper right corner of the complex is another, smaller courtyard, surrounded on three sides by roofed structures. This one is called the White Courtyard and is the oldest section of the complex. My main focus will be on the structures and murals associated with these two courtyards because they are the most important areas of the complex. (Photo from of INAH, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History)


Artist's conception of Palacio Atetelco while it was occupied between 250 AD and 650 AD.  The Nahuatl name of the complex means "On the stone wall next to the water." Of course, this was from the language of the Aztecs, who stumbled upon Teotihuacán over 600 years after it was abandoned. We have no idea what Teotihuacanos called this place. In addition to its bright colors, the apartment compound was decorated with the almenas (decorative battlements) you can see along the cornices of the buildings. Just below the almenas are rows of green circles, called chalchihuites. The word means "jewel" and refers to something precious. Teotihuacan is unusual among pre-hispanic civilizations for the 2000+ apartment compounds that made up its urban area. These well-built, and sometimes even luxurious, structures consist of sets of rooms grouped around multiple courtyards, with the whole compound surrounded by a high wall. All the compounds were oriented to the north-south-east-west grid pattern of the city. They were separated from each other by narrow lanes following the same pattern. Construction began shortly after the completion of Teotihuacán's three great pyramids. Most of the compounds were inhabited by multiple families, probably related by kinship. However, compounds like Atetelco appear to have served a purpose different from simple extended-family living space.


The White Courtyard

The White Courtyard, seen from one of the three temples that surround it. The White Courtyard was built approximately 300-400 AD and was the first section of the complex. In the center of the courtyard, you can see a small, square altar. A screen is draped over the front of the temple on the far side of the courtyard, in order to protect the wall murals on the inside.


 An anthropomorphic eagle, dressed as a warrior carrying an atlatl (spearthrower). This is a reproduction, based on fragments found on the temple wall. The fragments are indicated by the irregularly shaped areas enclosed in black lines with numbers in them. Apparently, and eagle was the totem of one of the warrior societies based at Atetelco. The bird is a powerful predator and was much admired by warriors. The atlatl is a weapon which long pre-dates the development of the bow and arrow. It consists of a short stick with a hook on one end where the butt of a spear or dart is placed. The effect of the atlatl is to increase the leverage of the arm and to give much greater force and distance when throwing. Properly used, an atlatl can project a dart at speeds over 150 km/h (93 mph) to a distance of over 100 m (328 ft). These devices have been used since the Early Paleolithic Era (30,000 years ago). In fact, anyone visiting a modern city park may see people using a plastic version of the atlatl to throw tennis balls to their dogs. The projectile is different, but the principle is exactly the same.


Coyotes march along the base of a wall. The coyote was the totem of another important military society. The feathered head dresses again indicate an elite unit. More feathers line their spines and the backs of their legs and tails. Speech scrolls rise from their mouths, possibly indicating a warrior chant. Another interesting detail is the circular emblem with three diagonal lines that each coyote wears on his side. Similar emblems appear in the border area around the animals. These are called chimalli in Nahuatl, and they carry symbolic meanings not unlike coats-of-arms on medieval battle shields. Further military symbolism can be seen in the line of projectile points leading from left to right between the emblems.


A human warrior/priest wears an eagle-crested head dress. On his back he carries a round shield decorated with a chimalli. The feathered ends of a quiver of arrows protrudes from behind the shield. This image may approximate the actual appearance of Teotihuacán's elite Eagle Warriors. Once again, a speech scroll indicates a chant or prayer. The warrior/priest is surrounded by a border that is part of a pattern extending across the wall, somewhat resembling a chain-link fence. A similar figure appears in each of the openings in the "fence".


This mural fragment may be about a deformed god.  The figure's body is covered with sores and his limbs are disproportionate to the rest of his body, indicating deformity. People with such deformities were not shunned in pre-hispanic societies. Instead, they were honored as people possessing special powers. The Aztecs adopted a great deal of their culture and religion from Teotihuacán. The god shown above appears to be a predecessor of the Aztec deity Nanahuatzin (Nahuatl for "Filled with Sores"). He was a deformed and sickly god who courageously sacrificed himself in order to create the sun of the Fifth World--the era when humanity appeared. The placement of this mural at a military school is significant because courage and sacrifice were key elements of the military ethos of Teotihuacán (as well as that of every other military organization in history).


Carole walks toward the passage from the White to the Red Courtyard. The opening is small, formed by the corners of two of the four temples that surround the Red Courtyard.


The Red Courtyard


The Red Courtyard was built in a later period than the White Courtyard. Archeologists estimate that this area was constructed around 450 AD and continued in use until 650 AD. It is also much more spacious than the White Courtyard and contains a large altar in its center that mimics temple architecture. If Palacio Atetelco was a military school, this would have been the place to assemble and review cadets and to conduct military-related ceremonies.


The altar in the center of the Red Courtyard models the style of a temple. Whether it was used architecturally as an actual model is unknown. Each of the three stepped levels displays the ubiquitous talud y tablero style. The edges of the level on which the miniature temple sits are lined with almenas in the shape of stepped temples. When the Red Court was excavated, a statue of Huehueteotl  ("Old, Old God") was found just outside of the little temple on top. He was the Fire God worshiped throughout Mesoamerica from the earliest times. In fact, he may be the most ancient god of the entire pantheon. In the lower right corner of the photo is a small depression filled with water. There is an identical depression on the opposite side of the altar. The purpose of these was not clear, but they could be fire pits used to light the altar for nighttime rituals.


One of the four temples that face onto the Red Courtyard. The temples are almost identical. They are each entered through a short but broad staircase and each has two pillars at its entrance to help support a flat roof (now gone). At one time, the walls of the insides these temples were covered with murals showing spear-carrying warriors and other martial themes.



Another possible fire pit is located in the corner of one of the temples. There was another pit in the corner behind me when I took the shot. The floor of the temple was once covered by a layer of limestone stucco and you can see the remains of it around the fire pit. The stucco was created by burning limestone, a process that necessitated large quantities of firewood. The use of stucco on pyramids, temples, and apartment compounds resulted in large scale deforestation around Teotihuacán. According to some theories, the deforestation caused increasing aridity in the local climate which, in turn, resulted in repeated crop failures. This would have discredited the priestly elite, whose job it was to intercede with the gods (primarily Tlaloc, the Rain God) to ensure adequate precipitation and good harvests. Their failure may have led to a revolt that overthrew the city's elite around 650 AD. Lending credence to this theory is the fact that only the elite areas were sacked and burned at that time. Conquest by a rival city, or invasion by Chichimec barbarians from the north, would have resulted in a general conflagration. Instead, the areas of the common people remained untouched and they continued to live in the undestroyed remainder of Teotihuacán for another hundred years. However, the city's population gradually diminished and by 750 AD Teotihuacán was empty and overgrown.



Maya influences at Atetelco

Maya glyphs from the walls of one of Atetelco's Red Couryard temples.  The white glyphs are painted on red specular hematite (iron oxide with sparkling flecks of mica), over a layer of lime plaster stucco. The glyphs have been interpreted as the Maya word puh, which means place of reeds or rushes. This is a common metaphor for the concept of people united in civilization, or "city". Teotihuacán had strong trading links with the Classic-Era Maya cities within Yucatan and Chiapas, as well as those in Guatemala such as Tikal, and in Honduras like Copán. In addition, there was a large Maya district within Teotihuacán itself.


The design of this pot shows additional evidence of Maya influence. The beautiful container has designs incised in the Maya style on its sides and skulls around its base. The pot may have arrived through the trade networks or could have been created by a  craftsman residing within Teotihuacán's Maya district. Since the distance separating the city from the Maya areas is long, and the pot seems relatively heavy (and fragile), I would bet on a local origin.


Residential/Administrative area

A complex of rooms fills the area of compound outside of the two courtyards. There are additional small patios associated with some of the rooms. The exact function of these spaces is unclear. Some were probably residences for military officials of the academy. Others may have been barracks for the cadets. Still others probably served administrative or storage purposes.


Obsidian spear points and arrowhead. These are typical of the "business end" of the weapons used by the warriors trained at Atetelco. The mining of obsidian (volcanic glass) and the manufacture of valuable objects from it was central to Teotihuacán's economy. Obsidian was obtained primarily from deposits near Pachuca, about 49 km (30 mi) northeast of Teotihuacan. Various objects were manufactured from obsidian "cores" about the size of a modern football. These items included edged weapons and tools, but also figurines, jewelry and other luxury goods. All were very valuable as trade items because of their beauty, usefulness, and particularly their light weight. A Mesoamerican city's control over large obsidian deposits would be equivalent to a modern nation's control over substantial oil fields. Wars have been fought over control of both forms of mineral wealth.

At Palacio Atetelco, an elite warrior class received the training that underpinned Teotihuacán's military might. It was this military capacity that kept the Chichimec raiders at bay, protected the empire's trade routes from civilized competitors, ensured access to vital resources like the obsidian of Pachuca, and even waged long-range campaigns to install Teotihuacán rulers in remote places like the Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala's Petén jungle.

This completes my posting on Palacio Atetelco. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email them to me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Teotihuacan: Murals of the Palace of Tetitla

The Jade Goddess is one of the stunning murals decorating the walls of the Palace of Tetitla. Like all the murals here, this one is painted on a red background of specular hematite, a pigment that includes tiny specks of mica. This gives it a subtle sparkle. The color red was associated with courage and was used on residences, temples and pyramids throughout Teotihuacán. The Jade Goddess is also referred to as the Great Goddess or the Spider Woman and she may have been the city's chief deity. Tetitla is one of five major palaces that have been discovered outside the perimeter of the main archeological site, although still well within the confines of the original ancient city. During our 2017 visit, we stopped by three of these sites, all of which contained spectacular murals. In this posting, I will focus on Tetitla.


Artist's conception of one of Tetitla's several courtyards as it looked in ancient times. A priest lays an offering on an altar while a nearby female sits reverently. The walls are vividly painted with murals and other symbols and the roof is decorated with pyramid-shaped almenas. Notice the rows of circles below the almenas and on the platform bases. These are called chachihuites, which represent something precious, such as water or jewels. Tetitla was built during the Tlamimilopan Phase (250-350 AD) of Teotihuacán's history and appears to have been occupied into the final Metepec Phase (650-750 AD).


Diagram of Tetitla's layout. It was an apartment compound for multiple families connected by kinship. The rooms are arranged around central, open-air patios that sometimes contain altars, like the one seen the artist's conception. The patios are set at levels below the surrounding rooms and contained drains that drew away rainwater that collected in them. The various individual compounds were connected by corridors. 



One of the courtyards, as it looks today, with the remains of an altar/fire pit in the center. At its earliest stage, Tetitla was actually composed of two independent groups of structures. Over time, they spread out until they merged into the single architectural unit we see today. Tetitla was once surrounded by a high wall, with narrow roads separating it from other structures in the neighborhood. When we arrived, I got so involved with taking photos that I neglected to watch my step. Consequently, I tumbled off a platform and plunged into the corner of a wall, landing virtually at the feet of the security guard. As I lay stunned, he rushed to help me. Fortunately, I was not seriously hurt, although my arm and leg were bleeding freely from some pretty good nicks. The guard immediately retrieved his first aid kit and patched me up, as gently and skillfully as a trained nurse. I was glad he was there to help, but I felt pretty foolish. His assistance is typical of the Mexicans I have encountered when in need of help. Great people!


Ancient architectural sketches of two temples. Each shows staircases leading up to wide porticos with pillars in the entrances. The yellow-colored vertical rectangles are almenas. Teotihuacán's architects used sketches like this to design their buildings.


Model of a temple. Other methods used by the architects included models like this. This structure stands about 1.25 m (4 ft) tall and has a similar length in width at the base. The model is located in the middle of the largest patio and appears to have been used as an altar after its original purpose was served.


Room of the Nine Old Men. The mural at the base of the wall shows the profiles of nine old men, spread around the walls and all marching toward the back of the room. In the center of the back wall (left of photo) is another figure, facing front, but mostly obliterated. The room is square, roughly about 3.5 x 3.5 m (12 x 12 ft), and has a hard, stucco floor.


One of the Old Men. He is seen in profile with his arms crossed over his chest. The Old Man wears a cloth draped over his neck and carries a bag suspended between the two ends of the cloth. Archeologists speculate that the bag contains copal incense. The Old Man's ears are decorated by large jade ear plugs and speech balloons emerge from his mouth. Their shape indicates a flowery chant, perhaps in honor of the central figure he and the other eight Old Men are reverently approaching. The meaning of the ritual portrayed is just another of Teotihuacán's many mysteries.


Another patio, with four sets of stairs leading to separate rooms. The walls of the room at the far side of the patio contain another mural, this one related to Teotihuacan's near obsession with water and fertility.


Symbols representing water, fertility, and speech alternate along each wall. The curled pairs of symbols represent speech balloons emerging from a toothy mouth. The speech balloon may indicate a word, a chant or a prayer. Between each two pairs of speech balloons is another symbol showing two bivalve sea shells from which drops of water descend.  Taken together, all this may represent a fervent prayer for regular rain and a good harvest.


Diver putting a shell in a net. This is yet another water-related mural. In it a swimmer holds a shell in his right hand, preparing to place it in the net that is attached to his neck. The diagonal and horizontal white lines represent water ripples. This is one of the few murals at Tetitla that simulate movement. Behind the swimmer are three shells, one of them a scallop. Outside the white lines that border the swimmer are a series of symbols representing conch shells. While the mural illustrates Teotihuacán's focus on water, the seashells also highlight the importance of long-distance trade. Teotihuacán is located hundreds of miles from either the Gulf or Pacific Coasts.


A corridor is lined with rooms, including one with a bird and conch mural. The mural room, in the upper left, is connected both with the corridor and with the room to its right. 


The Bird and Conch mural. The bird is shown in profile, perching on a conch shell trumpet. A speech balloon emerges from the trumpet's mouth, indicating a musical sound. There are two of these images on each wall, each facing another.


Room of the Eagles. This is a large square room with entrances from rooms on either side and one from the corridor. The fourth side contains an eagle with spread wings as well as several eagle heads. From the corridor entrance to the eagle mural, a sunken area runs the length of the room.


A fierce eagle spreads its wings. There has been some dispute about what sort of bird this represents. Both owls and quetzals have been suggested. However, zoologists have identified them as eagles. These were very powerful totems throughout Mesoamerican history. In fact eagles and jaguars were the totem animals of the two most important warrior cults in the later Toltec and Aztec empires. These eagles indicate a very high status family lived here, possibly including powerful military figures. 


One of several eagle heads surrounding the bird with outstretched wings. The gaze is steady and piercing. Red drops pour from the beak, possibly indicating blood from a kill. This seems to reinforce the military interpretation.


Yet another corridor in the maze of rooms, patios, and courtyards. The layout is a bit confusing because there have been so many alterations over the 300-500 years of Tetitla's occupation.


These Jade Goddess murals are located in the patio with the temple model/altar. Her portraits also appear in other areas of Teotihuacán, including the Palace of Tepantitla (to be shown later) and the Jaguar Palace, as well as on ceramics. The archeological consensus is that she was the most important deity of this ancient civilization. This is another of Teotihuacán's many unusual aspects. The leading deities of all other major Mesoamerican civilizations were male, although goddesses often played subsidiary roles. The Jade Goddess was the deity of corn, earth, vegetation, and fertility. Although she was the paramount deity, she appears to have been a distant and somewhat ambivalent figure. As such, she would have provided a unifying structure for this multicultural city with its multiplicity of gods.


Artist's drawing of the Jade Goddess. The figure wears a lavishly feathered head dress which includes a bird's head, with what appears to be the twisting body of a serpent extending out from either side. The goddess' face is covered with a mask through which extend three fangs. Around her neck are several necklaces, including one with large, diamond-shaped jewels. The ears contain large jade spools. From the hands on the Jade Goddess' outstretched arms, water pours in two torrents. Contained within the water are various objects, including seeds, figurines, and shells. Conch symbols line the edges of the water streams. Her face mask, her jewelry, and the feathers and bird in her head dress are all green, a color which indicates water. Despite the fangs, the over impression is one of benevolence.


More narrow, twisting passageways. The colors and images on the corridor walls were too faded to make anything out, but clearly these were not neglected in decorating the palace. The twists and turn of the passageways continue the sense of wandering through a maze.


Dogs played an important part in life at Teotihuacán. Dogs, along with turkeys, were primary among the few domesticated animals in prehispanic times. These hairless and relatively small canines were called Xoloitzcuintli by the Aztecs. How the Teotihuacanos referred to them is unknown. Dogs were relished as a delicacy and were often served as a special dish at pre-hispanic weddings and funerals. In addition to food, the xoloitzcuintli played an important role in rituals related to death. Sacrificed dogs have been found in burial sites at Teotihuacán, as have ceramic pots in the shape of canines. The dog's role in the afterlife was to guide the dead into the underworld.


Felines were regarded as mystically powerful, particularly through their connection to the underworld. This feline is one of six found on the walls of a room. The elaborate head dress has long feathers and a headband that resembles a snake skin. This link to the sacred Plumed Serpent is probably not accidental. Dripping from the fanged mouth are bleeding hearts, the food of the gods. As night hunters, felines were believed to move between the worlds of the living and the dead. The bench on which the cat's belly rests has been interpreted as a kind of throne, indicating an especially high status. Because of their strength and predatory natures, felines were revered by warriors. Along with the murals of the eagles, the feline murals indicate the strong military connection of the family occupying the Tetitla Palace.

This completes my posting on the Palace of Tetitla. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim