Rebuilding Ancient Monuments in Mesoamerica
Most visitors to ancient sites of Mesoamerica are unaware that what they
are seeing very often is the result of extensive restoration efforts. In most
cases the results are very impressive, however some
of these efforts are questionable (as far as accuracy is concerned) and push the
boundary between restoration and "creative" re-construction.
Teotihuacán - Early Documentation and Excavations
Teotihuacan arose as a new religious center in the Mexican Highland, around
the time of Christ. Although its incipient period (the first two centuries B.C.)
is poorly understood, archaeological data show that the next two centuries (Tzacualli
to Miccaotli phases; A.D. 1-200) were characterized by monumental construction,
during which Teotihuacan quickly became the largest and most populous urban
center in the New World. By this time, the city already appears to have expanded
to approximately 20 square km, with about 60,000 to 80,000 inhabitants (Millon
Avenue of the Dead with Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán
"Before and After"
Pyramid of the Moon at the
end of the Avenue of the Dead, 1905.
Click on the photo to enlarge.
Pyramid of the Moon at the
end of the Avenue of the Dead, now.
Pyramid of the Sun, 1832
Avenue of the Dead, 1878
Photographic Documentation by Désiré Charnay (1828-1915)
A traveler, archaeologist, and photographer, Désiré Charnay
(1828-1915) was one of the most important early expeditionary
photographers. During his tours of Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Chiapas in
1858-1860 and 1880-1886, Charnay became one of the first to use
photography in documenting the great Meso-American archaeological
sites and to make ethnographic photographs of indigenous Mexicans.
His major publications Cités et Ruines Américaines (Paris, 1862) and
Les Anciennes Villes du Nouveau Monde (Paris, 1885) are important
transitional works to the later scientific archaeology of Alfred
The collection of photographs taken by Desire Charnay are
representative of the range of images he took of Meso-American
archaeological sites during three tours of Mexico in 1858-1860 and
1880-1886. Although some of the images have suffered an unfortunate
degree of fading, they convey the power and fascination that these
sites held for Charnay and his contemporaries, and include some of
the best early examples of the use of photography in the
documentation of Mexican archaeology.
The collection includes 123
images of the sites at Tula, Teotihuacan, Iztaccihuatl, Chichen Itza,
Comalcalco, and Palenque, of archaeological specimens held at the
Museum of Mexico, and of landscape and villages in Yucatan, Chiapas,
and Oaxaca, as well as a series of Lacandon, Mayan, Mixtec, and
Yucatec "racial types."
Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán - photo by Charnay, Désiré
Pyramide du soleil -- Teotihuacan
Charnay, Désiré, La pyramide du soleil à Teotihuacan
1880, Charnay, Désiré, Escaliers et pyramide sur la voie des morts à
American Philosophical Society
Charnay, Désiré, Pyramide de la lune à Teotihuacan
The photographs are albumen prints, most of which were made from
wet plate collodion negatives (for the earlier expedition) or dry
plate (in the latter), and are mounted on two different types of
mount, a standard white cardboard mount with thin black line
bordering and a thinner green board. Each includes and hand-written
title on the mount in French, and several are marked in pencil "Charnay."
It seems probable that the prints were prepared from the negatives
during a relatively narrow period of time, probably in the 1880s,
but possibly as late as the turn of the century.
The collection was apparently assembled by the scientist Griffith
Evans Abbot (1850-1927), who presented them to the Academy of
Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. The 15 cartes de visite included
in the collection, mostly portraits taken in Peru, Chile, and
Madeira, bear an uncertain relationship to the Charnay images, and
are probably present simply because they were also once owned by
Abbot. Although most are simple studio portraits, there are two
interesting cartes depicting Hollways Hotel and the "Manner of
carrying invalid" in Madeira, and two ethnographic type images, one
of natives from Funchal, Madeira, and one of a "Choloe" [sic] type
from Peru. One of the cartes from Madeira has an inscription
indicating that it was presented by Lt. Frederick Schober, USN, in
Early XX century photo-documentation of Teotihuacán
Pyramid of the Sun, 1905
Leopoldo Batres (right), 1905
Avenue of the Dead, 1905
Temple of Quetzalcoatl, 1918
Temple of Quetzalcoatl, 1918
Temple of Quetzalcoatl, 1921
Quetzalpapalotl Palace 1962
Avenue of the Dead 1963
Current view of the Pyramid
of the Sun, Teotihuacan
Aerial photo of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán.
You can see that many lines are not straight.
Satellite image of the Pyramid of the Sun.
Why is the front platform of the pyramid so crooked?
Sometimes called "The Castle", "The Pyramid of Kukulkan", or the "Pyramid of
Quetzalcoatl" (another name for Kukulkan from the Toltecs) this is easily the
most impressive and widely recognized of the structures in Chichén Itzá or
indeed anywhere in the Mayan region. A true masterpiece of the Toltec-Mayan
architectural genius. About 60% of it has been restored almost fully from the
decaying condition in which it was re-discovered by John L. Stephens in 1841
although the eastern and southern faces are still partially eroded by the forces
of time and weather. There are no plans to restore these two faces of the
pyramid as those that restored the other portions wish for future generations to
see the condition in which it was originally discovered.
El Castillo, Chichen Itza, Illustration by Frederic Catherwood, 1842
1860 Charnay, Désiré, La Castillo à Chichen Itza
This photo shows the still ruined eastern and southern faces of El Castillo.
Un-restored Southern side of El Castillo.
Those that restored the other two faces, and the upper temple,
left these sides untouched from how they were found in order to show
future generations the condition from which it was restored.
El Caracol, the Observatory, Chichen Itza
El Caracol, the Observatory, was dedicated to the study of
the movement of the stars and planets and is one of the most beautiful
accomplishments of the Maya in Yucatán.
Although partially eroded, the curved roof of the observatory is responsible for
the name it carries today. In fact, it is the action of the erosion that gives
it this curved appearance similar to a modern observatory. The shape of the
original structure was square.
El Caracol, the Observatory, Chichen Itza - "Before and After" images.
Ancient Structures - Main Page
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