For seven centuries, the ancient city of Teotihuacán flourished 40 kilometers northeast of modern-day Mexico City. Its culture and artwork were distinct from the Mayan civilization nearly 1000 kilometers to the southwest on the Yucatán Peninsula, so scholars thought that there was little interaction between the two peoples. But now, a newly discovered tomb suggests that Teotihuacán rulers had some kind of connection with Mayan royal families.
During Teotihuacán's golden age in the third and fourth centuries A.D., the bustling city sprawled over at least 20 square kilometers and boasted a population of about 125,000. The civilization exerted some influence on the Mayans, who borrowed a few deities and acquired Teotihuacán objects. In turn, there is some evidence of Mayan influence in the outskirts of Teotihuacán where the common people lived. But the interaction seemed limited.
Evidence for a more powerful connection now comes from a Teotihuacán temple called the Pyramid of the Moon. Over time, seven layers were added on top of the original structure to enlarge the temple. Often, new layers were dedicated with sacrifices: all burials so-far discovered in Teotihuacán pyramids have been filled with sacrificial animals, bound humans, or human heads.
The new burial, discovered at the base of the temple's second-to-last layer, and tentatively dated to A.D. 350, is strikingly different. Unlike the sacrifices, these dead were not bound or decapitated, says archaeologist Saburo Sugiyama of Aichi Prefectural University in Nagakute, Japan. Sugiyama led the dig in Mexico, which ended in mid-October. Lavishly adorned, they were placed in a very unusual seated cross-legged position, and the grave contained jade figurines that are similar to artifacts found in the burials of Mayan royal families, he says.
This is the first indication that any connection between the Mayans and the Teotihuacán people reached all the way to the top of society, says archaeologist George Cowgill of Arizona State University in Tempe. Anthropologist Christine White at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, says that earlier work with the bone chemistry of human sacrifices at another temple in Teotihuacán were consistent with a Mayan origin. But that temple lacked Mayan-style artifacts, she says, making the new discovery "a very exciting find" that provides more hints of connections between the two ancient cultures.