New satellite imagery shows thousands of acres of agricultural terraces looking down upon Teotihuacan
(Image Above): This photo was taken from an elevation of about 10,000 feet (3,000 m) at the crest of Cerro Gordo, looking southward toward Teotihuacan. The same area is covered by the satellite image below. What appears to be a pasture, is actually a mixture of arid climate plants and evergreen shrubs. Some agricultural terraces are barely discernible. I was standing about 200 feet below a very black cumulonimbus storm cloud. For that stunt, I was awarded the Idiot Photographer of the Year Award. However, the truth was that I had hoofed it up the mountain and there was no place to hide.
Virtually all TV documentaries and anthropology books ponder the on this question: “How did the people of Teotihuacan feed themselves?” Like most of the ancestral Creek towns in the Southeast, Tula (Teotihuacan} was founded in the midst of swamps and seasonal wetlands. The rich, naturally irrigated soils produced a bounty of food, which made possible the rapid growth of the Tula. However, once the population of Tula had exploded to over 100,000, the marshy bottom-lands of the Teotihuacan Valley were inadequate to support the dietary needs of the city. Television documentaries state that it was necessary for porters to haul all food and firewood on their backs at least 25 miles in order for the population to survive. That was not the situation at all.
On the climb up Cerro Gordo, I remembered the crudely stacked field-stone walls as seemingly endless obstacles to my accent, but scarcely gave them any thought otherwise . . . until we began studying the terrace complexes in northern Georgia, east-central Alabama and the northwestern tip of South Carolina about seven years ago. Back then I was a young architecture student, primarily interested in showy, restored cities, pyramids and structures. Most of the ancient Itza terrace complexes in Chiapas, Guatemala and Belize were still in use and very visible. Those in Central Mexico appeared to have been abandoned for centuries. I did photograph one wall, just to have a record of my experience.
Mexican anthropologists rarely gave any thought to agricultural terrace complexes until 2004, when they began interested in the terrace complex on Cerro San Lucas, northwest of Teotihuacan. The Department of Anthropology at the Universidad Nacional Autonomo de México studied the terraces on Cerro San Lucas for the next six years. Now, Mexican archaeologists have greatly modified their understanding how 24 million people in Pre-Hispanic Mexico fed themselves. I noticed a legion of recent published papers in Spanish on the discovery of one Pre-Hispanic terrace complex after another in Central Mexico. All are visible to the naked eye, but had been long assumed to date from Spanish colonial times. This is exactly the same mistake that Georgia archaeologists made, when ignoring the stone ruins in that state.
The latest satellite imagery, published by Google Maps, has astonishingly high resolution. It is now obvious that Cerro Gordo was completely covered by agricultural terraces. Cerro Gordo was certainly the largest terrace complex in the Americas and perhaps the world. There is a piece of the puzzle that even Mexican anthropologists don’t seem to know. While on the top of Cerro Gordo, I photographed an ancient stone platform about ten acres in area. Nearby was a pyramid about the size and shape of Mound C at Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, GA. The complex of stone ruins in this are covered at least 200 acres. There was an acropolis on the top of Cerro Gordo that has been completely ignored by archaeologists. Unfortunately, when the air traffic control facility on top of these ruins was expanded, some clever bureaucrat ordered the exposed stone walls, covered with fill soil. They are not visible in the 2018 Google satellite imagery. The GPS coordinates of the Cerro Gordo Aircraft Control Facility are 19°45’15.3″N 98°49’33.9″W. You can expand Google Maps to study the remainder of Cerro Gordo and Teotihuacan.
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