4101 - Reconsidering the Multi-Layered Mesoamerican Universe: Implications for Teotihuacan Cosmology

In previously published works I have suggested that what has long been regarded a pan-Mesoamerican model, namely the vertically arranged and multi-layered heavens and underworld, is not an original pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cosmological structure, but an template that is derived from Euro-Christian sources and cosmological schemes of the 15 th -16 th centuries. Thus, to date no secure and irrevocable pre-Columbian iconographic or epigraphic references to a multi-layered cosmos have been found. Instead, what is repeatedly encountered in the sources is a strong emphasis on the horizontal divisions of three basic cosmic layers (heaven, earth and underworld) often times, according to their cardinal and inter-cardinal directions. Yet, the concept of multiple and superimposed cosmological layers or tiers has become such an ingrained part of our understanding of Mesoamerican worldview that it has been quite commonly used in the interpretation of pre-Columbian architecture (temple pyramids etc.) and the spatial configuration of sites. In the present paper I wish to discuss how this multi-layered model has affected views on Teotihuacan cosmology and city planning, and why this must now be revised in light of the findings made. Secondly, I hope to show that Teotihuacan ’s layout - as well as the Central Plaza at Xalla and the Building of the Altars - provide us with ample evidence of the importance of a horizontally oriented quadripartite division of space. Finally, I will briefly touch upon how the notion of a basic three-tiered cosmos seems to be reflected in major monuments such as the Pyramid of the Sun and Ciudadela Complex.

Keywords: Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan, cosmology, city-planning, iconography

Author: Nielsen, Jesper (University of Copenhagen, Denmark / Dänemark)


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