Teotihuacán Archaeological Site
Teotihuacán is the largest pre-Colombian site in the Americas and the largest and most visited cultural site in Mexico. For the first half of the first millennium A.D, Teotihuacán, often referred to as the City of the Gods, was the dominant civilization in Mesoamerica. It was most likely first laid out on a grid in the early first century A.D., and its major structures were built between the second and late sixth centuries. At its peak, close to 200,000 people lived in the city. Teotihuacán’s significant monuments include the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl along the southeast side of the Avenue of the Dead.
In the early twentieth century, excavations revealed the lower sections of a late-third-century façade. Fantastic and rare carvings on the surfaces showed depictions of the feathered serpent deity, other gods, and seashells in panels on either side of a staircase. After its discovery, this important structure and its extremely rare carvings were exposed to the elements. Rain and groundwater, crystallization of soluble salts on the surface, erosion, and biological growth caused the loss of surface stone as well as the detachment of larger pieces. Tourism accounted for damage to walls, stairs, and plaster, increasing the need for overall better planning for the presentation of the site.
Conservation projects provide an important stimulus for the community
Teotihuacán was included on the World Monuments Watch in 1998 and 2000. With funding from American Express, WMF supported conservation of the iconic mural paintings at Tepantitla with the participation of students from the School of Conservation of Guadalajara (ECRO). The restored murals have generated interest in this less-visited area of the site.
The Temple of Quetzalcoatl was included individually on the 2004 Watch because it was in a state of extreme deterioration. With funding from the Bernard Selz Foundation, which was matched by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia, we supported a multi-year conservation project at Quetzalcoatl Temple beginning in 2003. The work included emergency intervention, cleaning, archaeological research, and maintenance, and its focus was to diagnose conservation issues and develop a maintenance plan. Of particular concern was the temple’s western façade, which had suffered the most rapid deterioration. A field lab was created to monitor dimensions, and a graphic information study database was established to manage conservation and ongoing maintenance. The feasibility of installing protective covers, removing the soluble salts, replacing the failing supports, and promoting the conservation efforts though exhibits was studied. Local conservators were employed and trained to maintain the structures after project completion. We also collaborated with CyArk, an American nonprofit organization dedicated to archiving 3D survey information of endangered monuments, to record the site for a broad range of documentation needs and to provide public access to this imagery. We later supported a symposium on architectural shelters to encourage greater sharing of technical information on site protection and management.