Obtaining the knowledge that was passed down to them from earlier Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztecs carved the calendar stone in 1479 (Smith 253). At the time, the Aztecs lived in a very civilized world filled with amazing architecture, an impressively complex government system, and they also employed intricate systems of writing and calendric systems (Taube 7). The Calendar Stone was made by basalt stone. For the Aztecs, everything was pictorial in nature around this era.
The calendar stone depicted different pictograms or Codex Magliabechianoand, which was primarily written on religious documents (Aztec-History).
Art was centered around religion in this era. So the pictograms of the gods on the calendar stone would correlate with that subject matter. The Aztecs were a highly ritualistic civilization devoted to divination and their Gods. The Aztec calendar stone was created as a divinatory tool which was used for rituals, to forecast the future, and to determine which days were lucky and which days not for the outcome of various actions and events (Smith 254).
The calendar had two systems. It had the sacred Tonalpohualli, which was based on the 260-day cycle and the Iuhpohualli, which was a 365-day cycle (Palfrey). Seen by the count, there is a five day difference between these two calendars. The five day differences were thought to be the most unholy, unlucky days of the year (Smith 257). The world was thought to be coming to an end. On the Aztec Calendar, the year was divided into 13-day periods. Each group of 13 days had a different deity ruling over the unit.
This is because these units were thought to have a special symbolic influence and the deities were to ensure a positive outcome (Smith 256). In the middle of the Sun Stone, is the sun god Tonatuih. His tongue protruding between his teeth resembles a sacrificial flint knife. In his claw like hands he clutches human hearts (Palfrey). ‘Many scholars have debated on the stone’s meaning and purpose. Some suggest that, fixed horizontally; it served as a sacrificial altar, which would make sense because the stone was dedicated to the sun deity.
Most agree though, that it offers a graphic representation of the Mexica cosmos’ (Palfrey). In The Aztecs, Smith sums up what is to be believed the thought of the Aztecs when they carved the calendar stone “The Aztec calendar stone conveyed the message that the Aztec empire covered the whole earth (territory in all four directions), and that it was founded upon the sacred principles of time, directionality, divine warfare, and the sanction of the gods” (Smith 270).
Keeping the Aztec calendar is proof of ancient cultures mathematical and scientific achievements without the aid of modern technology. The study of the sun stone could lead to further advances in mathematics and acts as a road map to our celestial bodies from that era of our history. The Aztecs believe they felt justified in believing in this calendar because of numerous events that changed the course of history for them. Because Aztec Indians were fervent astronomers, they tracked the stars and correlated that between the days to create this sun calendar.
Examples of events happening within the timeline of the calendar stone being built are these: Between 1452 and 1454, their capital city Tenochtitlan suffered from flood and famine, the following year on 4/16/1445 (Julian calendar) there was an eclipse of the sun. From 1473-1479, there were 4 more solar eclipses within a five year time frame (Aveni, Calnek). During this time the Aztec nation conquered and sacrificed many of the neighboring towns. Their leaders were wounded or killed, followed by violent earthquakes (Aveni, Calnek).
There may have been even more visible eclipses seen by the Aztecs that have not been discovered because they were lost, or destroyed, or even confused with other natural events (Aveni, Calnek). If one were to take into consideration the Aztecs being a society with strong beliefs in deities, the Aztecs constant state of turmoil from wars and death and then couple that with a constant flow of solar eclipses; it wouldn’t take much to consider that the Aztecs might have thought there Gods were planning on ending their world…. again.
The Aztecs might have carved this massive calendar from stone to give their future generations a chance to do things right, where they did not. Many other artifacts of the same caliber and craftsmanship were excavated around the time the calendar stone was. This was an amazing find, because in the early colonial period of the sixteenth century, pre-Hispanic stone sculptures were considered potent satanic threats to successful conversion (Taube 25). With the Spaniards thinking this, this lead to the destruction of many great pieces of art, manuscripts, and other forms of architecture.
Thankfully, with the Aztecs foreseeing this frame of mind being a possibility and other circumstances occurring, many artifacts survived by being hidden in caves, on mountain tops, and even buried under Mexico City (Taube 25). After the artifacts were excavated, rather than being destroyed, they were treated as objects of curiosity and to be studied (Taube 25-26). I account for any differences between reception then and today by knowing people today have so many different religions and beliefs. Whereas the Aztecs were ignorant of the different beliefs we have today.
They just had knowledge of what was taught to them by their elders as we do ours. There were not that many differences and very many similarities between American Indians of this era. In the way they did things to their architecture and sculptures. As a matter of fact, the Aztecs calendar was based of the earlier Mayan cultures. The Aztec calendar stone and Mayan calendar share many similarities. Both calendars have ritual days. The Aztec ritual day that was formed is the Tonalpohualli and the Maya ritual day is the Tzolkin. The day names on both calendars are also very similar.
Both calendars used 18 months with 20 day counts along with other counts. The Aztec and Maya calendar stone is believed to have both mythological and astronomical significance. Both Native American cultures regarded their calendars as religious. Using the calendars, the Aztec and Maya priests dictated when to grow crops, when the dry and rainy seasons were, when to go to war, etc. (World Mysteries). The main way the Aztec calendar differed was in their more primitive number system and less precise way of recording dates. The year also started with different months.
The Maya calendar tracked the movements of the planets and the moon. From this came their reckoning of time, and a calendar that accurately measures the solar year to within minutes. The Aztecs also kept the two different aspects of time, the Tonalpohualli, which was counting the days and the Xiuhpohualli which was counting the years (World Mysteries). The Aztecs believed they were living in the fifth and final stage of life. Because the Maya used a 360 day long cycle, they could tell that there were time periods way longer than the age of our universe (World Mysteries).
It helped me figure out what some of the major celestial events where during the time the Aztec Sun Calendar was created.