Saturday, May 28, 2016

Teotihuacán’s Lost Kings

Last night I watched an episode of Secrets of the Dead on PBS, about the ancient city of Teotihuacán, located in Mexico.

PBS Secrets of the Dead

One of my favorite topics is the cultures of pre-conquest Mesoamerica, including the Maya, the Aztecs, and Inca peoples.

The origins of the awe-inspiring city of Teotihuacán are still a mystery. Amazingly, it was already ancient when the Aztecs discovered it. The name that they gave the abandoned site, Teotihuacán, means "The Place Where the Gods Were Created". The lost civilization that built the pyramid-lined avenues left behind some of their art & the magnificent architecture, but no written language.

I found the documentary to be very interesting. It was about a recent archaeological find in the city, by Mexican archaeologist Sergio Gomez Chavez.  

After a rainstorm, an area in front of the pyramid known as "The Temple of the Feathered Serpent" fell through, revealing a subterranean shaft. This shaft, which Chavez descended not knowing what he'd find, ended up leading to an underground tunnel. This tunnel extended to the direct central axis of the pyramid above. It was part of a symbolic attempt to connect the heavens, the human realm, and the underworld.

The "Feathered Serpent" was the deity whom the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl. This dragon-like figure, called Kukulkan by the Maya, represented the combination of earth & sky- a merger of matter & spirit. 

After laborious excavation efforts of the tunnel, many artifacts & secrets about the city were uncovered. Many of the objects found were of ritual significance. It seems like the tunnel was a recreation of the mythological underworld, from which the world was created.

Even before watching the documentary, I had been following this archaeological discovery, interested in the implications for understanding the culture's rituals and spiritual practices. 

One thing I was intrigued by was the reported use of pyrite, or "fool's gold", that was embedded in the walls. From what I read, it sounded like there were small balls of this metallic material placed around the tunnel. 

However, when watching the show, I was glad to see that they elaborated on this & showed that there was actually a granular, reflective dust that was used. The effect in the dark corridor, when lit by torches, was like a sparkling starry sky under the ground. This, combined with the artificial lake that was created at the end of the chamber, gave the impression of visiting the mythical underworld to the priests & pilgrims entering the sacred area.

I'm sure that this mystical setting, along with the psychoactive substances or techniques they undoubtedly used, resulted in a conscious-altering experience- similar to the rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries practiced for thousands of years in Greece.

The spiritual aspects of ancient & indigenous people have always fascinated me. This documentary gave me some insight into the culture of one of the most mysterious sites in the world, and how their mythology shaped their society. I would definitely recommend watching it if you are interested in Mesoamerican history, religions of the world, or human spirituality.

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