You’re right: Teotihuacán is not a volcano. It is a well-laid-out collection of heroic stone architecture near Mexico City, so ancient and majestic that the Aztecs, who came much later, thought it had been built by gods.
But Popocatépetl, which has been getting a little feisty lately — just a little (to date) — is nearby, too.
Reportedly (emphasis and link added):
[T]he rise and fall of large Mesoamerican cities like Teotihuacán and Cholula coincide with the last major explosive eruptions from Popocatépetl. The population exodus and subsequent relocation as a result of the volcanic eruptions may have led to the rise of these important cities in central Mexico.
That news story refers not only to plinian eruptions of this volcano but also to a large lava flow that reached small Mesoamerican communities like Tetimpa in around Nealtican.
As a reality check for us outsiders, here is what Popocatépetl looked like from Nealtican this past Friday:
Así se observa el volcán Popocatépetl la mañana de este viernes desde Nealtican. El semáforo de alerta volcánica se mantiene en amarillo fase 2 🌋 pic.twitter.com/tjIHu9Ayyb
— El Heraldo de Puebla (@HeraldoPue) May 19, 2023
Tetimpa is so well preserved that experts call it the “Pompeii of the Americas.” (Oppenheimer)
But, thus far, no bodies have been found.
The volcano apparently gave everyone some warning (Oppenheimer), and they went somewhere else.
Perhaps to Teotihuaticán. The news story linked above mentions the idea that humanity responded to the problems and changes that Popocatépetl literally threw at them by building this:
Per Oppenheimer, “At its apogee in the fourth century CE [AD] it was home to around 125,000 people and covered an area of 30 square miles…Teotihuacán came to exert direct authority over an area of around 25,000 square kilometres around the city. But it also held immense prestige over…key trading posts and the routes between them, across much of Mesoamerica.”
The idea is that those plinian eruptions and lava flows from Popocatépetl ruined the countryside and displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom ended up in the northern Valley of Mexico, where they found work in Teotihuacán, draining wetlands and providing muscle and perhaps also some inspiration for what became a surge of civic building that, according to sources quoted by Oppenheimer, represented “…not only …a new settlement, but also the development of a new accommodation between humans and their gods.”
It’s just an idea, not something
written in stone that can be definitely established.
But I thought it was worth sharing at a time when millions of people around Popocatépetl are watching its fires and blasts day and night, worrying about what might happen next.
And not just them. This nuclear age has conditioned all of us to fear change and Life’s other unpleasant realities.
And to lose our faith, our self-confidence. What will our monuments be: piles of broken tabular glass and plastic? Contraptions that have no meaning at all without a working outlet to plug them into and the right operating system?
Future archaeologists will not know about the glowing screen that we now devote ourselves to.
While all of us live “under the volcano” today, if only figuratively, Teotihuacán is still here — just one reminder that there are alternatives to the “doom, gloom, and the padded room” mindset. Always.
And the proof of their worth is in the duration of all that hard human work long after the trendy ideas behind it have drifted off like so much volcanic gas and ash on a fitful gust of wind.
Featured image: Falk Wieland/Shutterstock
Oppenheimer, C. 2011. Table 2.2, in Eruptions That Shook the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=qW1UNwhuhnUC
Uruñuela, G., and Plunket, P. 2007. Tradition and Transformation, in “Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica,” 33.