Flower power

Four bouquets of flowers, thought to be at least 1,800 years old, found at Teotihuacán.

Teotihuacán near the Valley of Mexico was one of ancient Mesoamerica’s largest and most spectacular cities. Centuries later, after its disintegration in AD 750, it was still an intensely scared place, revered by the Aztec as the location where their world began. Generations of excavations have reconstructed Teotihuacán’s precincts.

In recent years, Mexican archaeologists have focused their efforts on the sacred tunnels that lie under the Pyramid of the Sun and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl. The tunnel under the latter was first discovered in 2003 when a sinkhole in front of the temple exposed it. An underground shaft 103 metres long opens into three chambers that were filled with rocks and soils and deliberately closed about 1,700 to 1,800 years ago. The researchers believe that the tunnel symbolized the underworld, the ceiling being impregnated with pyrite to show the sun and stars, the floor covered with patches of mercury to represent water. In 2009, a ground penetrating radar survey of the tunnel, then excavations, led to the discovery of more than 120,000 artifacts in 12 years of excavations. They comprise valuable offerings, including imported amber and jade, rubber, cacao beans, plants, and the skins and bones of animals like wolves and pumas from as far away as Guatemala.

At what they assumed was the end of the tunnel, the excavators uncovered a steep defile that descended nearly 5 metres. There, they uncovered kilograms of charcoal and charred seeds, also fruit from burnt offerings, and a possible incense burner. Among the offerings were four intact floral bouquets in exceptional condition, still with the cotton bindings around their stems. The bouquets await radiocarbon dating, but objects nearby date to the first or second century AD. A leaf from one of the bouquets is being used to identify the flowers in them. Meanwhile, they are being conserved underground in the atmosphere where they were found.