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New satellite imagery shows thousands of acres of agricultural terraces looking down upon Teotihuacan

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.

The Pyramid of the Moon is 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Cerro Gordo’s base.  This massive structure was probably for the Goddess of Spring Water.

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.  

Most of the walls were concealed by vegetation.

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 photos cover one minuscule section of the Cerro Gordo terraces.  What appears to be grass are 5 to 6 feet tall shrubs. Trees are dark spots.

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.

Radar facility in 1970 – I observed at least three different time periods of construction among the exposed stone walls with no mortar.


The Cerro Gordo acropolis in 2018. Note the huge archaeological dig in the upper left corner.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Hey Richard
    After you wrote the first article about your trip up Cerro Gordo i checked google earth. ALL the hills and areas around Teotihuacan had lines like the ones in the picture above. There was an enormous amount of terraced land around the city. If you look at the top of Google maps there is a slider that will let you see older pictures. If you find one taken in the fall or winter the lines stand out. If my untrained eye can see all the lines up the surrounding hills and valleys a trained person could see much more.
    Thanks for the great articles and keep the faith brother!

    • That is absolutely true. There was a massive number of terraces. You saw in my photo how big the rocks were.

      • IWG42@HOTMAIL.COM'

        Yes, putting in all the terraces was possibly more work than building the city. If most of the terraces were rock it shows a permanent type of civilization. Moving rocks is hard work for a tempory structure. You would need organization and planning to pull off such a large multiyear project to build terrace like these.

        • Well, I think that they might have been built by the giant redheads from Peru. Most of those stones weigh over a hundred pounds.


    Richard, Why is the Mexican government trying to coverup ancient works…this is the second time I have read that? One Mexican site places man here in the timeline of 200,000 years ago…and you would think the Mexicans would want that as a WHS. Also the Mexican mural that I sent you has 2 groups: Eagle warriors being defeated by Jaguar dressed men (Itza?) Someone has also tried to erase the different skin tones of the ancient peoples on this landmass. This battle mural was found at Cacaxtla…perhaps a connection with the Para-Kusa nation?

    • Anything I say would be speculative. However, the most likely explanation is a security issue. I read several comments on a Mexican message board, where Mexicans warned other Mexicans not to camp on top of Cerro Gordo or even stay there after dark, because there is a lot of criminal activity going on. There have been some bodies found up there. They probably don’t want artifact smugglers to know about the site because it is so difficult to protect. I could be wrong, but that is the most obvious reason.


        Richard, “no shoes no shirts and no problems” someone sang… wouldn’t that be nice? Well you have really found the works of the Giants in central Mexico…look at those massive stones!!! They look very much like what you can still find in the Mediterranean area called the works of Giants by ancient people there. “Alanatali” ? I wrote that down from some article.


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