In the 1970s Hugh Harleston Jr. mapped Teotihuacan and declared that after identifying a standard unit of measurement equal to 1.059 m, he had found that selected monuments at Teotihuacan formed a precise scale model of the universe, including Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. (Pluto, of course, is no longer considered a planet, and other micro-planets have since been discovered that are larger than Pluto.) The key, though, was the “selected” set of monuments, selected to conform to a predetermined framework and which later work mapping the site has discredited. I wonder if he would have still noted the “Pluto” mound if he started his research after Pluto was no longer a planet. This is how our mental frameworks shape our ideas.
The screen grab below from Ancient Aliens illustrates how alternative theorists view the correlation.
The “sun” is represented by the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (bottom) and not the temple traditionally associated with the sun (center). The four small circles represent the orbits of the first four planets, though the buildings supposed to correlate with them spill over into one another’s “orbits.” Further out, in the fifth white circle from the center, Jupiter—the largest planet—is represented only by a few small structures while Saturn (sixth circle) and Neptune (seventh circle) bizarrely warrant the city’s most massive constructions. But even here, in Ancient Aliens’ own graphic, it is painfully obvious that the “correlation” is based entirely on picking and choosing among buildings—selecting every tiny structure around Quetzalcoatl’s temple, but ignoring all the structures between the temples of the Sun and Moon. And, needless to say, Ancient Aliens presented only a handful of the city’s buildings, as the site map shows. The red buildings are temple platforms (pyramids), and there are far more of them than there are planets in the solar system.
Earlier, in the 1960s, James Dow argued that the city was built on a “cosmic framework,” and Stansbury Hagar in the early twentieth century had claimed that the city was a map of the heavens, with its broad central avenue representing the Milky Way. These latter claims are much less sensational and might even have some truth to them (though Hagar was a proponent of “alternative” astronomy). Many scholars now accept some version of the celestial alignment hypothesis, but only in the sense that the site was aligned to the heavens along an axis pointing to the Pleiades. And even this is contested by others who favor a topographical alignment with the local volcano, which, coincidentally, occupied the same bit of sky relative to the city.
These, though, are not the claims of alternative historians and ancient astronaut theorists. Instead, Graham Hancock and the crew of Ancient Aliens go with the solar system interpretation, while Robert Bauval favors bizarre claims that the three main pyramids of Teotihuacan represent the belt stars of Orion—especially strange since it would mean that the “biggest” (i.e. brightest) Orion star is represented by the smallest major pyramid, that of Quetzalcoatl, while the dimmest star is symbolized by the largest pyramid, one tradition assigns to the worship of the sun.
I wondered though where the idea that Teotihuacan was especially sacred to the stars came from. It seems that the answer derives, once again, from Victorian-era scholarship repeated uncritically. Here is William Hickling Prescott in his 1850 work The History of the Conquest of Mexico:
So, if I read the situation correctly, Europeans discovered an Aztec tradition that attributed Teotihuacan’s monumental core to a stellar cult some thousand years after Teotihuacan flourished, and from this, subsequent theorists have attempted to expand the Aztec tradition into ever more complex variants, attempting in a way to “science-ify” the oral legends. Along the way, the "stars" became "planets" and "planets" became a "precise scale model of the solar system."
I suppose this is why the ancient astronaut theorists take the trend to its obvious conclusion and conclude that the site’s name, a Nahuatl Aztec term for the “Dwelling-Place of the Gods,” simply reports truthfully that alien gods used to live there. And in true Ancient Aliens fashion, even this isn’t what it seems. Others translate the name as “the place of those who have the road of the gods,” “the place where divinity comes into being,” and the Lovecraftian “place of the owners of the Elder Gods.” The Maya said its name was “the place of reeds.” At any rate, it isn’t cut-and-dried that it was named for an alien base; instead, it refers to the Aztec belief that the ancestral spirits resided in the abandoned city. The Aztec would visit to commune with these spirits with nary an alien in sight. Disney characters on the other hand...
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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