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By Carroll, Colleen | Arts & Activities, September 2006 | Go to article overview
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Carroll, Colleen, Arts & Activities


The Aztec Calendar Stone, also known as the Sun Stone, is a massive, circular, carved sculpture created by Aztec craftsmen in the middle of the 15th century. Historians estimate that it was completed around 1479, during the reign of the sixth Aztec monarch. The historical name for the sculpture is Eagle Bowl. After its completion, it was displayed at the base of the Great Pyramid in the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlan.

In 1790, the stone was unearthed during an excavation project under the main square in Mexico City, after which it was placed in the wall of the western tower of the city's Cathedral, where it stayed for the next 95 years. In 1885, it was removed and put on display in Mexico City's National Museum of Archaeology and History.

Based on the Mayan calendar, the basalt stone is nearly 12 feet in diameter, 3 feet thick, and weighs approximately 24 tons. The Calendar Stone is dedicated to Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god and chief deity, and is a sophisticated blending of the Aztec's scientific knowledge (astronomy) and religious beliefs (mythology and astrology).

The Calendar Stone represents both the Aztec calendar and ceremonial years. The calendar year was called the xiuhpohualli, or the "counting of years," and was based on 365 solar days. The Aztec used this system in agriculture, festivals and religious ceremonies.

The tonalpohualli, or the "counting of days," employed a 260 day cycle. The 260 days were divided into 20 periods. After 52 years (the length of the Aztec century), the two calendars would sync up at the beginning, marking the start of a new century.

To acknowledge this passage of time, all fires were extinguished and the emperor would light a new fire on the body of a sacrificed human. The people would light torches from this fire to relight their home hearths.

Because of age and weathering, it's difficult to read the hieroglyphic symbols appearing on the Calendar Stone. What is still somewhat clear is the face of Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god, in the stone's center. Around this image are rings containing symbols and symbolic references that pertain to Aztec mythology and religion, as well as symbols representing the 20 days of the Aztec month.

Starting with the first ring from the central image, there are four squares that acknowledge the Aztec belief in the periodic destruction and rejuvenation of the earth. The squares represent the four previous worlds: one destroyed by jaguars, one by wind, one by rain and one by water. The images inside the squares coincide with these cosmic events.

The next ring shows symbols that represent the 20 days of the Aztec month: a snake, a lizard, a house, wind, a crocodile, a flower, rain, flint, movement, a vulture, an eagle, a jaguar, a cane, an herb, a monkey, a hairless dog, water, a rabbit, a deer and a skull.

The next ring is comprised of small squares each containing five dots, thought to symbolize the five extra days of the Aztec year. (The Aztec year was based on 18 months each having 20 days. Because this only equaled 360 days, they added five extra days to reach the 365-day solar cycle. Historians believe the five dots are symbols of these added days).

The next ring shows eight sun rays, while the outer ring depicts herbs, flames and an enormous serpent. Although the stone is the natural color of basalt, in its original state it would have been painted in vivid colors.

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