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When National Geographic wanted to write about Teotihuacán, the ruins of a once thriving city in central Mexico, it turned to Arizona State University Professor George Cowgill to explain its mysteries. For good reason.
Cowgill, an anthropologist and archaeologist, began his studies at Teotihuacán in 1964, when he joined famed researcher René Millon in systematically mapping the city, a feat considered a signature accomplishment of 20th-century archaeology.
He devoted his career to investigating an ancient city that holds as much fascination for modern researchers as it did for the Aztec people who first excavated its ruins in the 15th century.
Cowgill’s research on the origins and colapse of Teotihuacán helped set the archaeological agenda on these topics, which occupy the efforts of archaeologists today, says ASU archaeology Professor Michael E. Smith.
Cowgill, who passed away in 2018, developed a large database of surface artifacts, along with methods to determine their chronology and understand the city’s spatial organization.
He co-founded the ASU Teotihuacán Research Laboratory on site, where ASU archaeologists, students and others have achieved numerous research breakthroughs, says Smith, who now directs the lab.
Following his death, the Cowgill family honored his dedication to research with a $1 million gift to the lab, ensuring his work, and that of the larger scientific community, will continue.