Suitcase and World: Calendar.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Photo: gripso banana prune/Flickr
Tthe The Aztec calendar stone, Mexican sun stone, or Stone of the Sun (Piedra del Sol), is a large monolithic sculpture that was excavated in the Zócalo, Mexico City's main square, on December 17, 1790 by workers doing repairs in the square, underneath the Cathedral.

What the workers uncovered was a disc-shaped stone that measured 3.63 meters (12 feet) in diameter and was 3 feet thick. It was covered with pagan symbols. The Spaniards had contemptuously buried it underneath the Zócalo shortly after they toppled the Aztec empire in 1521.

Originally the calendar stone was placed atop the main temple in Tenochtitlan ("tay-nohch-TEE-tlahn"), the capital of the Aztec empire. The Aztec calendar faced south in a vertical position and was painted a vibrant red, blue, yellow and white.

When the Spaniards came along, they down main temple and, at the opposite end of the plaza, built a large cathedral to worship their own deity.

Soon after its 1790 discovery, the 25-ton stone was again ritually subjugated to the new religion, this time by embedding it in the wall of the cathedral’s western tower.

When Mexico achieved independence from Spain in the early 19th century, it retained the Catholic religion but also developed a growing interest — and pride — in its indigenous history and culture. General Porfirio Diaz (nominally president, in reality a dictator) ordered the stone removed to the national Museum of Archaeology and History in 1885. When Mexico opened its modern, new National Museum of Anthropology in 1964, the Sun Stone was given the central place of honor among 120,000 works of artistic and cultural relevance. It remains in the museum today and is considered to be a national treasure.

Although the circular stone is carved with pictographs representing how the Aztecs measured days, months, and suns (cosmic cycles), it's now thought that it wasn’t used primarily to keep time, but as an altar for human sacrifice. Mexican anthropologists refer to it as the Cuauhxicalli Eagle Bowl or simply the Sun Stone.

I'm just fascinated by how ancient civilizations kept track of the passage of time.  I'm so conditioned to look at clocks and calendars that if I was to not have either, I don't think I could tell you what time of day it is or day of week or month of year.  So, I spent time today deciphering this calendar.....of course, by reading up interpretations provided by archaeologists. 

Deciphering the Calendar

At the center of the stone is the face of the Sun God, Tonatuih.

Clutched in each of Tonatuih's hands is a human heart; his protruding tongue represents an obsidian knife showing that the Sun God demands to be fed with blood and human hearts.   

Around the face are four squares called Nahui-Ollin, or Four Movement. According to Aztec legend, these squares represented the different ways that the four previous suns (or worlds)had come to an end: first by wild animals, then by wind, by fire, and by floods. The Aztecs believed they were living in the fifth
and last world.

Continuing outward, the next concentric circle shows twenty squares, each naming one of the twenty different days of the Aztec month.

The next concentric ring represents the 20 days of the Aztec month.  
Snake - Coatl
From top left to bottom right:  Deer (7th day), Rabbit (8th day),
Water (9th day), and Dog (10th day).

Lizard - Cuetzpallin
House - Calli
Wind - Ehecatl
Crocodile - Cipactli
Flower - Xochitl
Rain - Quiahuitl
Flint - Tecpatl
Movement - Ollin
Vulture - Cozcacuauhtli
Eagle - Cuauhtle
Jaguar - Ocelotl
Cane - Acatl
Herb - Malinalli
Monkey - Ozomatli
Hairless Dog - Itzquintli
Water - Atl
Rabbit - Tochtli
Deer - Mazatl
Skull - Miquiztli

The V shaped pictographs represent the rays of the sun.  The rays divide the stone into eight parts.

On the lower portion of the stone, two enormous Xiucoatls (Fire Serpents) encircle the stone and face each other. Their bodies are divided into sections containing the symbols for flames, elephant-like trunks, and jaguar-like forelegs.

The two Fire Serpents snake their way around the stone.

The flame-like pattern, inside the squares of the outer ring, represent the segments of the two Fire Serpents.

The tails of the two serpents are at the top of the stone.  The white bars represent "paper" and the green strips are rushes or reeds.

A square is carved at the top of the calendar.  Inside the
square the date 13 Acatl is carved. This corresponds to 1479, the year the calendar was finished.

Eight equally spaced holes appear on the very edge of the calendar. The Aztec placed horizontal sticks here and the shadows of the sticks would fall on the figures of the calendar; thus the stone also served as a sundial.

Use the vertical and horizontal scroll bars to see all of the calendar's elements in context.

Atzec Stone Calendar

I know we don't have much time to spend in Mexico City but I really do hope I can get to see the real stone calendar at the museum.