Archaeologists studying the Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala have discovered a complex of structures that replicate a focal feature of the Mexican city of Teotihuacan, over a thousand kilometres away.
There is extensive evidence for contact between the occupants of Tikal and Teotihuacan in the 1st millennium AD, with trade between the two communities existing for centuries before Teotihuacan conquered Tikal c.AD 378. Earlier archaeological work has revealed the existence of a neighbourhood in Tikal, located to the south of the Mundo Perdido Complex, where the buildings combine both Maya and Teotihuacan architectural features. It is thought to be an enclave that was occupied by people with close links to Teotihuacan.
However, LiDAR examination in 2016 identified a new feature between two elite Teotihuacan residences in this area. It was originally thought to be a natural hillock, but examination of the LiDAR data, followed by excavation, has revealed that it was in fact the site of a complex that had been carefully designed as a mirror of the Ciudadela (citadel) in Teotihuacan. Although around 30% smaller, the complex in Tikal was found to have exactly the same layout, with north–south wings on the eastern pyramid, an enclosed square plaza at the front, and a reservoir to the north in place of the canal beside the complex at Teotihuacan, as well as a building on the eastern side in the same location as the famous Temple of the Feathered Serpent.
Archaeologists exploring the Ciudadela at Tikal have discovered six phases of construction, mostly dating to the Early Classic period (c.AD 300-550). They also revealed that these were built using clay and mud bricks instead of the limestone traditionally used by Maya architects at other structures in the city. This deliberate use of entirely non-local building technology may indicate a form of more aggressive interaction in this period, with the new arrivals from Teotihuacan boldly asserting their own culture and traditions through the construction of the complex.
Also discovered in the southern structure of the Ciudadela was a burial surrounded by ceramic fragments and vessels, animal bones, and green obsidian points that resemble lithics from Teotihuacan. Charcoal found in the area suggests that burning took place here. The burial does not resemble any other burials or sacrifices found at Tikal, but does bear a striking similarity to the ‘warrior burials’ found beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Teotihuacan, and may therefore be connected to these burials in some way.
The research has recently been published in Antiquity, and further analysis and future excavation work will doubtless shed more light on Teotihuacan’s relationship with Tikal, as the discovery of this prominent homage to Teotihuacan raises important questions about the interactions between the two cities.