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Teotihuacan was one of the major cities of the ancient world, and it is also one of the best-studied archaeological sites in Mexico. The Teotihuacan Mapping project (TMP), directed by Professor René Millon, was the first to map the entire ancient city. The project pioneered new methods in survey archaeology and computer analysis of archaeological data.
The artifacts from that project, organized and curated by Professor Emeritus George Cowgill, form the nucleus of the collections of the Arizona State University Teotihuacan Research Laboratory (in San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico). This is the only foreign archaeological facility at the site.
Unfortunately, many of the analyses were never completed. Current lab Director Professor Michael E. Smith and Center for Digital Antiquity Director Francis P. McManamon received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) titled “Documenting, Disseminating, and Archiving Data from the Teotihuacan Mapping Project,” to finish much of the work and make the data available for others to use. The project is currently scanning paper records, entering data into digital formats, cleaning up existing data sets, and identifying areas where the project collections require further analysis.
These activities will pave the way for continuing discoveries about the nature of urban life and society a millennium before the Aztec Empire.
The impact of the city and state of Teotihuacan (c. 100 BC–600 AD), located approximately 30 miles north-east of Mexico City, was felt across much of Mesoamerica. In the 1960s, the TMP conducted a near-full coverage survey of the city, mapping over 5000 individual structures and collecting surface artefacts from almost all of them. The project also conducted test excavations, with the aim of refining chronological questions and testing the accuracy of the survey data. The project established the size of the city (2000+ ha), its dense urban character, systematic layout and approximate population (80–120k). Both the methods developed for the project’s fieldwork and its use of computers for data analysis were ground-breaking for their time.
The data produced by the project have been central to studies of the ancient city. Surface data were the basis for many key discoveries, such as the identification of two neighborhoods bearing distinct ethnic identities, and of a large district devoted to ceramic production—all of which were verified by excavation. In subsequent years, studies have used TMP data to reveal much about the internal economic and social organization of Teotihuacan, including the nature of spatio-temporal variation in wealth and status. Despite its many successes, however, analysis and publication of TMP survey and test excavation material have been hindered by the sheer scope of the project. Project data circulated generously through informal channels, but many key datasets (such as tabulations of the surface artifact collections) have never been published, which hinders their ongoing study and reevaluation.
For example, our understanding of the scale of obsidian production in the city, which was briefly debated and then largely dropped (see Clark 1986; Spence 1987), can be improved with new studies on existing collections.
The current NSF-funded project has five goals for the TMP data: 1) completion of the study of crucial artefacts, including those used to infer craft production, exchange and other economic activities; 2) write-up of the TMP test excavations; 3) cleaning, organizing and scanning project notes and data files; 4) creation of new GIS shapefiles of the TMP architectural map to supplement extant files; and 5) depositing the digital files, along with robust descriptive and technical metadata, in a collection in tDAR, where they can be accessed easily and widely and used for future education, public outreach, research and scholarship. This project works with a undergraduate students in Tempe through SHESC’s undergraduate research apprenticeship program, and with museum studies and anthropology students completing lab practicums in San Juan Teotihuacan.
In conjunction with the NSF work, archaeologists affiliated with the ASU Teotihuacan Research Laboratory are continuing the tradition of research at the site, and making major discoveries about the ancient city. As perhaps the best-studied ancient city in the New World, Teotihuacan has much to contribute to our knowledge of the long trajectory of cities and urbanization through time, with insights and implications for understanding cities and urbanism today.
National Science Foundation grant, “Documenting, Disseminating, and Archiving Data from the Teotihuacan Mapping Project,” Michael E. Smith, PI. (Award #1723322)
This research project is currently open to additional funding opportunities. For more information, please reach out to the project contact listed above.