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Abstract

The central Mexican city of Teotihuacan rose to prominence in the last century BC and lasted for six hundred years. The civic plan was arranged around two main perpendicular avenues. This north-south axis was lined with temples and public monuments. By the third century AD, population was housed in apartment compounds, all precisely aligned with the overarching grid plan (Manzanilla, 1999). On the walls were murals depicting ornately dressed administrators, armor-clad warriors, and fantastic creatures not found in nature. These murals were the birthplace of the feathered serpent, as a separate entity from avian-serpents depicted since the Terminal Formative period. My research proposes that the feathered serpent of Teotihuacan was a new deity serving as a symbol of the city—one conceived in direct opposition to the jaguars used to symbolize kingship in contemporary Mayan polities. Past studies have treated the murals of Teotihuacan as either literal representation of supernatural deities—often equating it to Quetzalcoatl of the Aztec cosmos—or as a set of signs to be translated like a language. This study concludes that there is an intermediate interpretation wherein the feathered serpent is both a god and a symbol of identity. This is found in the representations of Teotihuacanos outside of Teotihuacan and outsiders within the barrios of Teotihuacan. Thus, Mesoamerican states not only foregrounded concepts of community identity, but also actively recognized those of other polities they came into contact with.

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