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TEOTIHUACAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE—QUETZALCOATL TEMPLE
Conservation of the Quetzalcoatl Temple in the Teotihuacán Archaeological Site
San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico
For the first half of the first millennium, A.D, Teotihuacán was the dominant civilization in Mesoamerica and one of the great cities of the ancient world. The city was laid out on a grid, most likely in the early 1st century A.D., and the major structures were built between the 2nd and late 6th centuries. At its peak, around 200,000 people lived in the city, rivaling or exceeding in population many of the largest cities of European Antiquity. A variety of problems caused the collapse of the civilization in the 8th century.
The significant monuments at the site are Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. The latter is located across from today’s main entrance and sits along the southeast side of Avenue of the Dead. In the early 20th century, excavations revealed the lower sections of a late-third-century western façade. Fantastic and rare carvings on the surfaces show depictions of the feathered serpent deity, other gods, and seashells on panels on either side of a staircase. Since discovery, this important structure with its extremely rare carvings has been exposed to the elements. Rain and groundwater, crystallization of soluble salts on the surface, erosion, and biological growth caused the loss of stone on the surface, as well as the detachment of larger pieces. Walls, stairs, and plaster also suffered from visitation pressure of tourism, increasing the need for overall planning for site presentation.
HOW WE HELPED
WMF worked with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia (INAH) on conservation work at the Quetzalcoatl Temple beginning in 2003. The initial work focused on diagnosis of conservation issues, , as well as the development of a maintenance plan. Of particular concern was the western façade of the temple, which had been more rapidly deteriorating.
The project included creating a field lab to monitor the interventions, establishing a GIS database to manage the conservation as well as the future maintenance of the site, studying the feasibility of the protective covers, removing the soluble salts, replacing the failing supports, and promoting the conservation efforts though exhibits. The project promoted local capacity for preservation of the site, as it employed and trained local conservators who would maintain the structures after the project finished. WMF also collaborated with CyArk to complete digital capture of the site to produce a broad range of documentation and to provide public access to comprehensive imagery of the archaeological site. WMF later organized a symposium on architectural covers to encourage greater sharing of technical information in the region.
WHY IT MATTERS
Teotihuacán is the largest pre-Colombian site in the Americas and is often referred to as the City of the Gods. It is the largest and most visited cultural site in Mexico. The conservation project provided an important stimulus for the community, building capacity so that the local conservators can care for the site in the future. The specialized work performed by the groups involved, such as the digital documentation by CyArk and the symposium on architectural covers, has increased the technical knowledge and historical understanding of the site and the region. The local interest and advanced technology now in place at the site ensure that the conservation and maintenance of the site will continue into the future.