Art & Art History ETDs


David Brown

Publication Date



This study examines one of the major issues of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican history--the identity of the Teotihuacan culture--through a correlation of figurative art and iconography with writing and language. An examination of the last century of Mesoamerican scholarship points out the inherent shortcomings of reconstructing pre-Conquest history from Nahua ethnohistorical documents in the early-Colonial period. A re-evaluation of methodological assumptions used in the reconstructions of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican history leads to the conclusion that the Teotihuacan culture should be studied as much as possible within its cosmopolitan context of the Early-Urban period. Further reassessment of previous iconographic studies reveals that many interpretations of Teotihuacan art are based upon incorrectly or inadequately identified imagery.

Correctly identified imagery in the art and iconography of Teotihuacan shows graphemic functions. From a comparative study of Teotihuacan imagery with coeval Maya imagery and writing, an empirically verifiable basis for the interpretation of Teotihuacan art and iconography is established. The method of analysis used in this study reveals that the Teotihuacan culture had a writing system very similar to that of the coeval Maya culture of southern Mesoamerica. And, finally, the analysis of graphemic functions in the art and iconography of the Teotihuacan culture leads to the conclusion that the people of Teotihuacan spoke a language closely related to modern Tzeltalan and Yucatecan Maya tongues. From the analysis of art, iconography, language, and writing, this study concludes that Teotihuacan was both linguistically and ethnically Maya.

Project Sponsors

Department of Art and Art History for the award of the Bainbridge Bunting Memorial Fellowship in 1985. Latin American Institute at UNM for Tinker Foundation Field Research Grant in 1986



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Mary Elizabeth Smith

Second Committee Member

Peter John Bakewell

Third Committee Member

Jacob Jerome Brody

Fourth Committee Member

Flora S. Clancy