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 Mexico.
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 someday.