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Temple of the Sun Volume 58 Number 6, November/December 2005
By Jorge Pérez de Lara

Celebrating 100 years of excavation at Mexico's Teotihuacan


Artist José María Velasco captured the unexcavated grandeur of the monumental site in his 1878 painting "Pyramid of the Sun." (CNCA/INBA/Editorial Raíces) [LARGER IMAGE]

Talk about Mexico's Precolumbian past and one of the images most likely to come to mind is that of the enormous Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. This year marks the centennial anniversary of the first modern excavations at the 1,800-year-old monument, a towering stone structure that has become an icon in the collective imagination of millions. Since the country's first official excavation was ordered at the site in 1905, subsequent work at the Pyramid of the Sun has, in a way, mirrored the development of state archaeology in Mexico. The nation's icon has also served as a mirror for how the country itself has changed and developed over the century.

Over the century, scientists have approached the Pyramid of the Sun with everything from dynamite to cosmic-particle detectors in an attempt to better understand this ancient building and the site which surrounds it. It is ironic that despite our sophisticated tools for analyzing and dating materials, and in spite of great advances in the fields of decipherment and a much better understanding of the religion, culture, and history of Mesoamerica, we still know Teotihuacan by the Aztec names for the site and its buildings, streets, and plazas, and we know more about the Aztec mythology woven around its ruins than about the actual city. Scholars have only begun to scratch the surface of the ancient history of Mesoamerica, so perhaps it is not a complete contradiction that such an enigmatic monument should tower over a mysterious site as a symbol of how much we still don't know.

Jorge Pérez de Lara is a photographer and writer based in Mexico City.

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America