Teotihuacan and Dynastic Tendencies

Sergio Gómez ChávezThis last week, The Guardian published, Liquid Mercury Found Under Mexican Pyramid Could Lead to King’s Tomb. This has to do with Teotihuacan — a ruin site in modern Mexico that was a large city starting a few centuries BEC, which may have reached a peak population of a quarter million people around 450 CE. But here’s the thing: we really don’t know that much about the people who lived there. We don’t even know who they were, but it is now assumed they were people who emigrated from the south — at least some from the Mayan empire.

For the last six years, archaeologist Sergio Gómez Chávez has been excavating a tunnel under the ruins at the Pyramid of the Sun. At first, the tunnel was thought to be naturally occurring. But it indeed seems to be man made. The further they go in, the more interesting it becomes. They have now found three different chambers, one going down 20 meters below the temple. Along the way, they have found various artifacts: “jade statues, jaguar remains, a box filled with carved shells and rubber balls.” But most recently, they have found liquid mercury — as opposed to mercury ore. As a result, they believe they are on the verge of finding the first “royal tomb” ever found in Teotihuacan. And that’s important:

The discovery of a tomb could help solve the enigma of how Teotihuacan was ruled…

A royal tomb could lend credence to the theory that the city, which flourished between 100 CE – 700 CE[1], was ruled by dynasties in the manner of the Maya, though with far less obvious flair for self-glorification.

There are many other theories. As I said, we don’t know much about these people. But to my mind: of course it was a dynasty! This is just the way humans work. Consider: this is a major — multi-chamber — tunnel dug under the biggest structure in the city. Flair for self-glorification or not, that is the sign of at least one person with a very big ego and the power to feed it over a long period of time. A dynasty is almost required for that, because nothing other than some kind of god-king or God approved king would provide that kind of stability. Otherwise, there would always be someone trying to take over.

But look at our own society. Never has a country be so deluded about the idea of meritocracy as the United States. If many people don’t actually believe it, you would never know it by us constantly talking about it. Yet we could very easily see this country ruled by three members of the same family in the period of just 25 years. And it sure isn’t because they are so brilliant. George H W Bush was a reasonably competent bureaucrat. George W Bush was either incompetent or uninterested in the job. (Or both!) And Jeb Bush was anything but a stellar governor. Regardless, we would be happy if he was as good a president as his father. Humans just naturally fall for this kind of stuff. This is why we continue to allow unconscionable levels of inequality and don’t even pretend to provide “equality of opportunity” to our children.

So I am betting that within a year or two, we will find a “royal tomb” at Teotihuacan. But regardless, it ought to be fascinating what we do find.


Want to get really angry? WalMart moved into Teotihuacan and acted more or less how the Islamic State would, Teotihuacan Gets Mickey-Moused.

[1] This date is inaccurate. The Pyramid of the Sun — the biggest structure in the city — was built by 100 CE. So the city was doing quite well for a while before that.

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