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Teotihuacan . . . as you have never seen it before

Teotihuacan . . . as you have never seen it before


The two latest videos under production at the Apalache Research Foundation . . . Above, you can see the Iztaccíhuatl Volcano at the center of the horizon.  On the left, covered by rain was the Tlaloc Volcano and on the right was the Popocatepetl Volcano.

Emperor Moctezuma II

This is the same view that Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma II,  looked upon exactly 500 years ago, as he pondered rumors about a small army of strange, powerful people with light colored skin, approaching his empire.  The color slide was taken from on top of his private temple, which is at the crest of Cerro Gordo (2918m~9573 ft)  . . . overlooking Teotihuacan.  This pyramid may, in fact, long predate the Aztec Empire.  It has never been excavated by archaeologists.  In fact, it is a secret known to only a handful of Mexican archaeologists and completely unknown to their peers in other nations . . . even those Gringo archaeologists, who are currently studying Teotihuacan. 

Immediately below is the Teotihuacan Valley and beyond . . . Cerro Colorado.  If you look closely at the base of Cerro Colorado, you will see agricultural terraces.  They were just “discovered” by Gringo archaeologists two years ago, but obviously, were quite visible in 1970.  No one yet seems to be aware yet that most of the south, west and east faces of Cerro Gordo are covered with hundreds, well. . . several thousand, agricultural terraces.  Apparently,  I am the only person in recent centuries, who was far out and funky enough to hike OVER the Pyramid of the Moon from the Avenue of the Dead then straight across the 2 1/2 miles of landscape then up the steepest slope of Cerro Gordo.  Part of that hike was through then the small village of San Martin de las Piramedes.  They were celebrating the feast day of San Martin . . . complete with a brass band and parade of his and Santa Maria’s statues. 

Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Moon and Cerro Gordo in 1970. Urban development now fills the landscape between the pyramids and the mountain.

Upon returning to the United States after the fellowship, I immediately had to start classes at Georgia Tech.  There was barely time to do a triage of over 2600 slides to pick out those that were to be copied for the Georgia Tech library and those that I would use Winter Quarter for teaching a class in Mesoamerican Architecture.  Most of the “nature scenes” slides were put into a stack, filed away in a slide tray and never looked at again until this past weekend!  In December I returned again to Mexico to spend two weeks with my girlfriend, Alicia. We hiked part of the way up a dirt road, going up the much gentler western slope of Cerro Gordo, but were stopped at the crest by two federal policemen, who were guarding the Air Traffic Control Facility for Central Mexico.   (More about that facility later.)  The sunlight was much brighter that day.  Evidently, the film I used was much more resistant to heat, because those slides are in much better condition.  However, the aging of the July slides does give them a somewhat surreal appearance.

The private temple of Aztec emperors . . . possibly built around 1800 years ago by the elite of Teotihuacan

I still have my journal from the fellowship.  I fortunately wrote down extensive field notes from my journey up Serro Gordo, because I observed numerous ancient stone ruins and terrace walls, which no one ever discusses in books or articles about Teotihuacan.  However, I had completely forgotten that I had taken 84 slides of the landscape outside the portion of Teotihuacan that tourists see, plus stone structures and wild flowers on the upper slopes of Cerro Gordo. 

All of the archaeological zone between Cerro Gordo and the Pyramid of the Moon has now been obliterated by urban development.  You will never be able to see the landscape that I saw.  These slides are priceless in value.  Since we do not even know, who owns our website now,  I have elected to present those long forgotten slides as a video on my personally owned Youtube Channel.  You will be notified with the video is published.

This is a view of the acropolis of Teotihuacan from 2,625 feet (800 m) above and 2.5 miles lateral distance away.

My decision to climb the mountain came on the spur of the moment, while photographing architectural details of the Pyramid of the Moon.  I did not have a canteen, food, compass or map with me . . . only a camera and a US Navy K-bar knife.   By the time I reached the crest of Serro Gordo, I was dehydrated.  At that point I came upon a Native American goatherd,  who could not speak.  He could hear though, because when I asked him for water in Spanish,  he handed me a gourd filled with chilled goat milk and some goat cheese, wrapped in a corn husk.  Now you know what propelled me seven years later to start the second licensed goat cheese creamery in the United States.  LOL

He would not let me photograph him, but didn’t seem to mind me sketching him.  The sketch is on the left.  When I was finished the sketch, he pantomimed someone eating with his hands.  He pointed to a radar antenna about a half mile to the west and nodded his head.  I guessed that he was telling me that there were people working in a building near the antenna, who might be willing to show some Mexican hospitality to a thirsty and hungry Gringo student.  As I was leaving he stopped me then went around a boulder to fetch a young goat kid.  He handed to me  . . . I was not sure if it was a gift or just to pet.  It was the first time in my life that I had ever held a livestock baby.  I stroked the cute little kid and handed it back.

The radar facility was built on the stone ruins of an ancient citadel, which probably dated at least to the sacking of Teotihuacan around 600 AD.

There were Jeeps parked in a gravel lot next to the military-looking building beside the radar antenna.  I did not quite know what I was getting into, but was still hungry and thirsty.  I knocked on the metal door, shouting that I was a Gringo architecture student and very thirsty.

An eye appeared at the small window.  Then a hand, holding a revolver, slowly pushed its way through the partially opened door.  My worse fears were realized.  Then a very threatening voice shouted in English, “How did you get here?  We have gates and guards on every side!”   I told him that I walked straight up the mountain.  He responded, “Impossible!”   He stuck his head out the door to get a look at me.  He quickly saw the INAH photo ID suspended from my neck by a cord.  He pulled the gun back in the door and opened it.  “Now tell me how you really got here and what you are doing here?”  I told him that I merely wanted to take photos of Teotihuacan from above.  He could contact my supervisor, Dr. Román Piña Chán at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia to vouch for me.   Someone in the background, yelled “Román Piña Chán?   Él es el arquitecto gringo. He oído hablar de él. Déjalo entrar.”   The speaker turned out to be an anthropology student at the Universidad nacional autonoma de mexico.  He was working at the radar station for a summer job.

There is one image that has stayed in my mind all my life.  There was an aluminum pot, filled with Grape Kool-Aid on the gas stove.  They had to boil all their water, even to make Kool-Aid.  I drank most of the contents of the pot!  They then offered me one of their bagged lunches that the federal government provided them.   It contained a banana, ham sandwich and several flour tortillas, accompanied by a sealed cup of sour cream. 

The men at the Regional Air Traffic Control Center told me that no one had ever entered their facility from the valley floor.  It was thought to be so rugged that the government didn’t even fence it or station guards there.  That is why they were so surprised at my sudden appearance. All their conversations with commercial airline pilots were in English.  That is why their English was perfect.

I asked the anthropology student about the hastily constructed stone fortification that ran about 200 meters below the radar station.  I had seen what seemed like thousands of obsidian blades and atlatl points along the stone wall.  I didn’t tell him that I had picked up a gallon plastic bag of them.  Didn’t want to complicate things.

He said that no one knew much about the wall.  It seemed to have been built to protect Teotihuacan’s water source, which was a natural lake in the crater of the old volcano.  One of the other men mentioned that they also find human skeletons from time time.  The anthropology student told me where to find the ruins of the aqueduct then pointed out the path going east, which ran to the ancient gateway to the top of the mountain and the pyramid, where Emperor Moctezuma meditated and composed poetry. 

Going down the mountain was a whole lot easier than going up.  I arrived at the archaeological zone just as the last bus for Mexico City was about to leave.  It was supposed to be only for employees, but since I had an INAH ID, they let me ride for free.   I did not get to the home of my host family, the Soto’s until about 10 that night.   I told the Soto’s that I had climbed the mountain above Teotihuacan, but they didn’t believe me.   They assumed that I had been doing something naughty with a girl I met at the ruins.   Señora Soto told me that it was healthy for me to be with “chicas sexy.”  They would keep it a secret from Alicia.

This bucolic scene is now a Walmart store. At this location I found a figurine, portraying a jaguar eating a human.


Coosa . . . a massive capital under 40 feet of water

In December 2005,  Judge Patrick Moore of the Muscogee-Creek Nation asked me to study the location of the great capital of Coosa to see if I could determine where they mounds were located and what they looked like. The project was not as simple as it seems.  You seen in 1970, the same year I was in Mexico,  several Native American town sites and all those mounds were covered in water without a site plan being prepared.   Eight months after my meeting with Judge Moor at Carters Lake, the lower reservoir was drained to make repairs on the Reregulation Dam at Carters Lake, Georgia.  The mounds briefly appeared in sunlight for the first time in 36 years.  I had about six hours to determine the GPS coordinates and dimensions of all the mounds in Carters Bottom.  The result was computer virtual reality model covering well over 1000 acres.  This video will take you back to July 25, 1540 . . . the day that Hernando de Soto entered the Capital of Coosa. Actually, the word in Creek was Kaushe,  but most people wouldn’t know that.

Can you find the cow in this picture? LOL


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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.



    I need another trip to Teotihuacan, taking some of your pictures along!!! And, if you even exhibit your pre-columbian collections, I would love to see them. I love the museums across Mexico and Central America, as well as ones with native american exhibits in the US. Fascinating history!

    • Mary Jane, y’all are most welcome to stop by here to see my artifacts when we start studying the stone ruins around Batesville and Lake Burton. I won’t tell anybody how long we have known each other, but it would put our families on the National Register of Historic Places. Bring along JoEvelyn Kelly, Connie Adams and Mike Easterwood! LOL


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