As Teotihuacan grew in population and prominence, several large pyramids were constructed. The largest pyramids in Teotihuacan are the Pyramid of the Moon, located at the end of the Street of the Dead, and the Pyramid of the Sun, located on the east side of the Street of the Dead. Both pyramids are significant due to their size, and also their religious and political value.

The Pyramid of the moon

The Pyramid of the Moon is the second largest pyramid in the city and is located along the north end of the Avenue of the Dead and along the central axis of the city. The pyramid consists of three major platforms with multiple tiers. Researchers at Arizona State University and Aichi Prefectural University excavated parts of the Pyramid of the Moon and determined the architectural sequence of construction along with the use of the space. They distinguished seven buildings that comprise the pyramid and dated their construction from 100 AD to 400 AD (Sugiyama, 2007).

The Pyramid of the Moon. (Source: Jim Park)

Building 1 has a square platform. The length measures 23.5 meters and the height is unknown due to damage. The ceramics found in this building date back to the transition between the Patlachique and Tzacualli phases or around 100 AD. The alignment of the structure is four degrees off of the central grid system of the rest of the city. This could suggest that Building 1 was constructed before this grid system was in place. After excavating seven meters down into the building, it was determined that no caves or tunnels existed below (Sugiyama, 2007).

Building 2 also has a square platform with an estimated length of 29.3 meters and also aligns with the Avenue of the Dead. The ceramics found in the structure can be traced to the Patlachique, Tzacualli, and Miccaotli phases, dating the building to approximately 150 AD (Sugiyama, 2007).

The construction of Building 3 consisted of enlarging the width of Building 2 to 31.3 meters along the east-west axis. Not enough material was recovered to date this building accurately but it was most likely built between 130 and 260 AD (Sugiyama, 2007).

Building 4 expanded the previous footprint of the pyramid by a factor of nine (89.2 meters by 88.9 meters). The scale of this construction could correlate to the growth and power of the Teotihuacan government at the time. This building is well aligned with the city’s grid system which also supports the claim that the government was strong at this time and controlled major construction projects. The ceramics found in the building date back to the Patlachique, Tzacualli, Miccaotli and Tlamimilolpa phases indicating that it was built around 250 AD (Sugiyama, 2007).

Building 5 shares a wall with Building 4 and expands the structure by an additional 89 meters by 104 meters. This structure contains both a main body and an Adosada platform and follows the talud-tablero form. In addition, burial sites were incorporated in this building. These changes in design could correspond to the government emphasizing sacrifice and military force. Building 5 was constructed around 300 AD since less Patlachique and Tzacualli phase ceramics were discovered, while Miccaotli and Tlamimilolpa ceramics were found in higher quantities (Sugiyama, 2007).

The addition of Building 6 expanded the east-west dimension to 144 meters. Burial sites found in this building contained human heads, most likely an act of religious sacrifice. The majority of the ceramics found were from the Micaotli and Tlamimilolpa phases, dating the building to around 350 AD (Sugiyama, 2007).

Building 7 includes a main body, an intermediate platform and an Adosada platform. A carbon sample dates the building back to 400 AD. This building was active until the collapse of the city based on the activities and structures built around it (Sugiyama, 2007).

Archaeologists discovered a tunnel below the Moon Pyramid extending to the Plaza de la Luna. The tunnel is 33 feet deep and might symbolize a religious belief in the underworld. This claim is supported by the many human sacrifices found in the burial sites of the pyramid (Brady, 2017).

The Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun was built in the Tzacualli Phase, and is thought to be one of the earliest monumental structures built in Teotihuacan. The pyramid is 64 meters tall, 215 meters wide and 215 meters deep (Millon, 1961). These dimensions make the Pyramid of the Sun four times larger than the Pyramid of the Moon (Sload, 2015).

The Pyramid of the Sun. (Source: Jim Park)

Not all archeologists are in agreement about when the pyramid was constructed. The vast majority of the ceramics found in the pyramid date back to the Tzacualli Phase (100 AD to 200 AD), but findings from carbon dating of the manmade cave below the pyramid suggest the construction occurred one or two centuries later. Since ceramic dating is more commonly used in Teotihuacan, the explanation for this discrepancy is that the later radiocarbon dates are from rituals conducted in the caves (Sload, 2015).

  1. H. Brady, “New Tunnel Discovered Under Ancient Pyramid,” National Geographic, 07-Jul-2017. [Online]. Available:
  2. R. Millon and B. Drewitt, “Earlier Structures within the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán,” American Antiquity, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 371–380, Jan. 1961.
  3. R. Sload, “When was the Sun Pyramid Built? Maintaining the Status Quo at Teotihuacan, Mexico,” Latin American Antiquity, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 221–241, Jun. 2015.
  4. S. Sugiyama and R. C. Castro, “The Moon Pyramid Project And The Teotihuacan State Polity,” Ancient Mesoamerica, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 109–125, 2007.

Molly Ford, Undergraduate Student
Fall 2019