Emptiness and the Production of Bodies in the Architecture of Teotihuacan, Mexico
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Barnes, Trenton Dwight
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CitationBarnes, Trenton Dwight. 2021. Emptiness and the Production of Bodies in the Architecture of Teotihuacan, Mexico. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation comprises the first monographic architectural history of the ceremonial center of Teotihuacan, Mexico, the largest city of the pre-Hispanic Indigenous Americas. Inhabited between ca. 0-600 C.E., Teotihuacan’s area of twenty square kilometers and estimated peak population of 125,000-200,000 residents placed it among the most enduring, largest, and most populous cities of the ancient world. This study analyzes the role of spatial design as a mode of cultural expression at Teotihuacan, proposing that space both materialized and enforced an ethos of consumptive accumulation in what became the most influential and long-lived tradition of urbanism of the Indigenous Americas.
In the first century C.E., the Central Mexican volcano Popocatépetl erupted with a magnitude of explosivity comparable to that of Krakatoa, Indonesia in 1883. By the century’s end, 25-45% of the region’s population has vanished from the archaeological record, and by 200 C.E., 80-90% of those who remained lived at Teotihuacan where they neared completion of the construction of the city’s urban core. In addition to three large temple platforms, this city incorporated two vast containers of space, the Miccaotli, or “Avenue of the Dead,” and the Ciudadela, a sunken plaza bounded by four raised platforms. The city also adhered to a strict grid plan. While past scholarship has focused on Teotihuacan’s monuments, this study draws attention to its persistent control of space in relation to these structures. It argues that space unified what may be recognized as a Teotihuacan master plan that perhaps comprised the prime instantiation of a class of sacred calendrical documents known in Nahuatl as a tonalamatl, or “page(s) of days.” Study of the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, an exceptional pre-Hispanic example of such a book, identifies parallels spanning the domains of form, imagery, and content that indicate that the Teotihuacan city plan and later book expressed a shared knowledge base. Both the city plan and later book are shown to have deployed cosmogonic thinking as a means of justifying the asymmetrical accumulation of authority and economic prosperity.
The rapidity of construction, rigorous order, and materialized violence of second century Teotihuacan suggest the presence of a Weberian charismatic authoritarian. Though “Feathered Serpent,” the being portrayed on the Teotihuacan temple so named, has often been understood as a deity, this study argues that this was perhaps the personal name or assumed title of a historical dynastic founder or lineage. This personage or family perhaps proselytized to Central Mexicans through the proposal of an ingenious, if deeply repressive social organization that would permit them to invert the dystopic conditions that immediately preceded their city’s founding. Armed with weaponized obsidian glass, Central Mexicans assumed a posture not of cowering supplicants but of authoritative executioners.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368488
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