Winter 2014: Ancient Urbanites By Lizzie Wade
It was the rainy season in central Mexico and David Carballo was sweeping the stone floor, trying to clear away the dust before it had a chance to turn to mud. It was a losing proposition given a summer full of torrential downpours. “It’s a nightmare when it rains overnight. And it pretty much rains every night,” said Gina Buckley-Yost, a graduate student from Penn State. And the floor Carballo was standing on presents a more daunting challenge than most: it hasn’t been cleaned for close to 2,000 years.
Carballo, an archaeologist with Boston University, suspects that the last people to sweep this floor witnessed the growth of Teotihuacan, an ancient metropolis whose ruins lie about 30 miles outside of modern day Mexico City. “We’re getting to some of the earliest layers,” he said as he used a trowel to expertly flick the loosely packed dirt out of neat, small holes that probably once held posts supporting a thatched roof and walls. The people who built this floor out of crushed tepetate, a local volcanic tuff, probably watched as the largest city in the Americas expanded into their neighborhood, absorbing them into a complex political structure and turning them into some of central Mexico’s first urbanites.
Over the next 500 years or so, seven more floors were built above the stone floor Carballo was sweeping. By excavating each of them, the archaeologists hope to learn what daily life was like for this home’s occupants at different points in Teotihuacan’s history.