History | February 29, 2020 6:01 am

New Details Emerge About Ancient Empires in Modern Mexico

Did two empires clash over 1600 years ago?

Teotihuacan structures
New archaeological discoveries offer a host of information.
Gzzz/Creative Commons

The amount of information that many people know about the history of the Americas over a thousand years ago remains, sadly, all too small. And while many historians have worked to correct this — Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus is a terrific read — there’s still a lot left to learn.

All of that is a long way of noting that some new information emerging from present-day Mexico and Guatemala offers plenty for historians to explore. At Science, Lizzie Wade wrote about these new discoveries, which begin with a fateful meeting over 1600 years ago.

In the year 378, an emissary from Teotihuacan arrived in the Mayan city of Tikal. Two years later, the son of the ruler who sent that emissary began his rule in Tikal. And based on some newly-discovered evidence, historians now have a clearer idea of what the relationship between the Maya empire and Teotihuacan was like.

Evidence from Maya writing and art suggests Teotihuacan conquered Tikal outright, adding it to what some archaeologists see as a sweeping empire that may have included several Maya cities. Defaced art in Teotihuacan suggests that about the time Tikal fell under its sway, Teotihuacan may have turned against Maya expatriates who had lived there peacefully for decades.

Wade is quick to note that this isn’t a universally held theory. It’s possible that contemporary historians are projecting a narrative of conflict and conquest where something entirely different took place.

Much of this information was unearthed by an archeological expedition, headed by scientists from UC Riverside and Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. They have differing opinions on what these new findings could mean, but they’re unanimous on their importance to a larger understanding of history.

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