There must have been a great number of traders and artisans living and
working in quarters of this sort. A few of the residential compounds that flank
the Avenue of the Dead have been excavated, but most lie crumbled under a thin
covering of earth for as far as the eye can see from the top of the major
pyramids (with present-day farms, shops, and homes on top of the land).
One of the decorative murals depicts the Teotihuacan Spider Woman, the
goddess that was thought to be responsible for the creation of the present
universe, and may have been the supreme deity of the Teotihuacanos. She bears a
close relationship, if not identity, with the Spider Grandmother who play such
an important role in Pueblo and Navajo creation mythology in the American
Southwest. This is particularly interesting because many anthropologists believe
that the great desert expanses of northern Mexico precluded much exchange
between the cultures of the American Southwest and those further south in
The city met its end around 700 AD through deliberate destruction and burning
by the hand of unknown invaders. It was mainly the heart of the city that
suffered the torch - the part that we visited - the palaces and temples on each
side of the Avenue of the Dead from the Pyramid of the Moon to the Citadel.
Although a century earlier, around AD 600, almost all of Teotihuacan's influence
over the rest of Mesoamerica had ceased, indicating some sort of internal
malaise or decline before the destruction.
Away from the Avenue of the Dead, the city continued to live on for another
two centuries, although the population of Teotihuacan sunk to only a quarter of
its former total. Some sort of crisis overtook all the Classic civilizations of
Mesoamerica (including the Maya) two centuries later, forcing them to abandon
most of the cities. Some anthropologists believe the crisis may have been a
lessening of the food supply caused by a drying out of the land and a loss of
water sources to the area.
They speculate that this might have been brought about by a combination of
natural climactic shift towards aridness that appears to have happened all over
Mexico during the Classic period and the residents having cut all the timber in
the valley. Originally there were cedar, cypress, pine, and oak forests; today
there are cactus, yucca, agave, and California pepper trees. This change in
vegetation indicates a big climate shift.
Although Teotihuacan presents a puzzle to archaeologists because it was a
huge city that appears to have arisen without antecedents, the single most
important fact which archaeologists have learned about the Classic period in
Mexico was the supremacy of Teotihuacan. As the urbanized center of Mexico, with
high population and tremendous production, its power was imposed through
political and cultural means not only in its native highland habitat, but also
along the tropical coasts, reaching even into the Maya area. It's trading and
tribute empire was comparable with the Aztec empire that eventually followed it.
All other Mexican states were partly or entirely dependent upon it for whatever
achievements they attained.
When Teotihuacan fell, around 650 AD, the unifying force in Mesoamerica was
gone, and with it widespread inter-regional trade. The Late Classic period saw
increasing fractionalization among cultures. In the place of great states, petty
kingdoms and militarism arose. From the highpoint of civilization at
Teotihuacan, wars became the rule of the day, and for those unfortunate enough
to be captured, sacrifice to the gods. Military empires, such as the Toltecs in
the twelfth century AD (and later the Aztecs, starting in fourteenth century
AD), which grew up from these warring factions were the cultures met by the
Spanish in 1519 and largely eradicated by 1521.
Probably the reason that the Spanish were able to conquer the Aztecs in such
a short amount of time had less to do with their skill as soldiers and more to
do with the fact that the Spaniards physically resembled the descriptions in
Aztec legends of the god Quetzalcoatl.
Quetzalcoatl, while symbolized as a feathered serpent, appears also to have
been an historic figure - the man credited with bringing civilization, learning,
culture, the calendar, mathematics, metallurgy, astronomy, masonry,
architecture, productive agriculture, knowledge of the healing properties of
plants, law, crafts, the arts, and peace to the native people. He is pictured as
a quite different physical type than the natives - fair skinned and ruddy
complexioned, long nosed, and with a long beard. He was said to have arrived by
boat from the east, and sailed off again years later promising to return