Wednesday, May 21, 2008

 

Mexico's Pyramid of Death - Pyramid of the Moon

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0610/feature5/




Mexico's Pyramid of Death @ National Geographic Magazine
By A. R. Williams
Photographs by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes
At the Pyramid of the Moon in central Mexico, humans and animals were buried alive. Excavations reveal the remains of sacrifices once witnessed by thousands of spectators.





Even the ferocious Aztec were awed by their first glimpse of Teotihuacan. By the 13th century when the Aztec swept into central Mexico, the once teeming city—which reached its zenith around A.D. 400—had been long since abandoned by its mysterious builders. Its grand ceremonial center, where tens of thousands of people had gathered amid sacred monuments of stone, lay under thick green overgrowth. The Aztec gave the site its name and identified its most imposing features according to their own beliefs—the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. Assuming that some of the buildings were tombs, they called the main thoroughfare Street of the Dead.

They were, as it turns out, uncannily accurate. Burials both rich and gruesome have recently been discovered in the Pyramid of the Moon during excavations headed by Rubén Cabrera Castro, of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, and Saburo Sugiyama, of Japan's Aichi Prefectural University. Tunneling deep into the 140-foot-tall (43 meters) stone structure, the archaeologists located five burial sites. After most of the dirt and debris had been dug out, each site was reinforced with steel beams for safety. Supplied with fresh air pumped in from the outside, the archaeologists scraped the last layers of earth from the floor to reveal scenes of carnage: disembodied heads and the remains of foreign warriors and dignitaries, carnivorous mammals, birds of prey, and deadly reptiles.

Evidence indicates that all the victims were ritually killed to consecrate successive stages of the pyramid's construction. The earliest sacrifice, from about
A.D. 200, marked a substantial enlargement of the building. A wounded foreigner, most likely a prisoner of war, was apparently buried alive with his hands tied behind him. Animals representing mythical powers and military might surrounded him—pumas, a wolf, eagles, a falcon, an owl, and rattlesnakes—some buried alive in cages. Finely crafted offerings included weapons of obsidian and a figurine of solid greenstone, perhaps a war goddess to whom the burial was dedicated. Each subsequent burial was different, but all had the same aim: "Human sacrifice was important to control the people," says Sugiyama, "to convince them to do what their rulers wanted."


http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0610/feature5/gallery1.html

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Bird of Sacrifice
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Sacred symbols of supernatural power, golden eagles shared the fate of a dozen men killed in a horrifying ritual likely witnessed by a crowd of thousands at the great urban center of Teotihuacan in about A.D. 300.

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Scene of Bloody Murder
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Traversing Teotihuacan's ceremonial center, the Street of the Dead ends at the Pyramid of the Moon, a platform for public rituals and sacrifices that repeats the shape of a distant mountain. Recent excavations deep inside the pyramid have revealed the remains of people and animals—all probably buried alive or beheaded to dedicate a series of expansions that began in about A.D. 200. This adds a new dimension to our understanding of such structures.

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

Headless Warriors
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Teotihuacan's military dominated portions of Mesoamerica with brutal force. Beneath excavation co-director Saburo Sugiyama lie the remains of ten men from about A.D. 300. Probably prisoners of war, they were made eternally submissive: With their hands tied behind them and stripped of all ornamentation, they were beheaded and thrown in a heap.


Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Casualties of War
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

The skulls of 17 men were unearthed in another mass grave. Likely prisoners of war, all of the victims were foreigners, as indicated by bone analysis and teeth inlaid with greenstone and pyrite.


Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Secrets of the Grave
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Discovered in the burial of A.D. 300, a puma was one of more than 40 sacrificial animals, most found with their legs bound.

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Pieces of a Puzzle
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Scattered beads fill the mouth of a human sacrifice.

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

Mysterious Mosaic
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Adorned with a necklace and earspools, a unique mosaic figurine of green-stone was likely a ritual object. "These offerings are like sentences," says archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, "but we don't have all the words, and we don't completely understand their sequence, so they're hard to read." Continuing work at Teotihuacan may fill in some of the gaps in surprising—and terrible—ways.


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Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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One Burial, Twelve Bodies
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Headless skeletons lie in a jumbled heap, just as they were dumped following a sacrificial ritual around A.D. 300. Ten in total, and all men, they were probably decapitated by a priest wielding a razor-sharp stone knife. Who they were remains a mystery, but all had their hands bound behind them—a sign they did not go willingly to their deaths. Two other men were also found in this burial. Both died with their hands bound, but they were richly adorned and were not decapitated. One wore an especially macabre necklace—a string of pendants, each made of shell squares that had been arranged like teeth into the shape of a human jaw.

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Distinguished Strangers
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

A symbol of power worn by the Maya elite, a pendant of solid jade adorned one of three men in a burial from A.D. 350. His companions wore fine necklaces and earspools that also linked them to the Maya. Unlike other sacrifices found in the pyramid—young men, maybe prisoners of war, bound and humiliated—these were older men, respectfully seated with their legs crossed and their hands on their knees. Were they Maya dignitaries brought especially to Teotihuacan to be interred in a sacred place?

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Cramped Quarters
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Between steel beams added for safety, physical anthropologist Gregory Pereira records the skeletons lying beneath a string grid in a sacrificial burial from A.D. 300. With almost a dozen people sometimes at work in the chamber, which contains less than 250 square feet (23 square meters), any movement required a choreography of arms, legs, and equipment. The amount of air that could be pumped in from the outside limited the number of people and the length of their stay. When the chamber was crowded, it quickly became hot, humid, and short of oxygen.

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

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Exotic Teeth
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Inlays of pyrite and green stone adorn teeth from some of the 17 skulls that were the sole contents of a burial from A.D. 350. Such dental work was rare among the population of Teotihuacan, so the severed heads most likely came from foreigners offered up as sacrifices. Three types of cranial deformations and an isotope analysis of the bones indicate a variety of distant origins, from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico into the highlands of Guatemala. Were they prisoners of war? Traders? Emissaries from abroad? Archaeologists are still working to solve this and many other mysteries of the Pyramid of the Moon.


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