How to Read an Aztec Calendar

The Great and Venerable Aztec Mechanism of the Universe

The Aztec Calendar Stone
The Aztec Calendar Stone | Source

The Magnificent Aztec Calendar Sun Stone

In Nahuátl, the Aztec Sun Stone is called "Teoilhuicatlapaluaztli-Ollin Tonalmachiotl". What a mouthful!

The translation is - "The Great and Venerable Mechanism of the Universe ".

During the invasion and conquest by the Spaniards in 1521, the huge Sun Stone was lost over one of the causeways connecting to Tenochtítlan, the center of Aztec rule. As Tenochtítlan was an island built into a shallow lake bed, the only access was by boat or over the causeways.

On December 17, 1790 the Aztec Sun Stone was found during an excavation near Mexico City's main plaza.

The great stone carving weighs an astounding twenty six tons! It was buried face down near the center of what was once Tenochtítlan. Some say its burial was deliberate and some say that it was an accident.

A colorized version of the Aztec calendar sun stone
A colorized version of the Aztec calendar sun stone | Source

Where is the Aztec Sun Stone Today?.

The Museo Nacional de Antropología, or The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, is the current home of the Aztec Calendar stone. Because of its location, size and weight, this is probably a permanent residence.

How to read the symbols on the Aztec Calendar:

According to Tomás J. Filsinger, author of The Aztec Cosmos, ©1984 , the following information is a guide to the Sun Stone:

  1. The outer ring of the stone is carved with two "Fire Serpents" representing the sun and stars. There are seven Aztec star glyphs in the headdresses of the two heads meeting at the bottom of the outer ring. The seven stars may represent the Pleiades constellation.
  2. Surrounding the center "face" of the stone are the glyphs of the four "past suns". The Aztecs studied the sun and stars and developed mythology surrounding the Ages of the Earth, or the four Epochs of destruction of the earth. (See sidebar)
  3. The "Center Face" represents the Earth itself. It could be the Present Sun or perhaps the Aztec Sun God, Tonatiuh. Most scholars believe it is the face of the Earth God, Tlaltecuhtli.
  4. The four Knots tied into the tail of the outer fire serpents represent a "count of years". In an Aztec 52 year cycle there were four "counts" of thirteen years each. So the four knots equal a total sacred count of 52 years.
  5. The Aztec glyphs contained in the ring around the Four Past Suns represent the 20 months of the year. Each month had 13 days which equaled the Aztec year of 260 days. But the Aztecs also had another calendar (different from the Sun Stone) that represented the solar year of 365 days by dividing the year into eighteen months of 20 days each.
  6. The Aztec Sun Stone was not used as a calendar per se, it was a representation of the gods of the Aztecs as they pertained to daily life. To the Aztecs it truly was the Great and Venerable Mechanism of the Universe.

The Epochs of Earth according to the Aztecs

  1. The current "Sun" surrounds the four inner suns or ages which surrounds the "center" face. This ring encompasses the four earlier "faces". This circle also contains the calendar months - 20 named glyphs. This sun age is scheduled to end by great earthquakes that shake the world.
  2. The First "Sun" consisted of an age of giants. They were the early forms of mankind and they lived in caves. The First Sun ended when Jaguars ate all of the men (according to Aztec mythology).
  3. The Second "Sun" was an agricultural age when mankind learned to farm and work the Earth. This epoch ended when hurricanes and floods swept the Earth.
  4. The Third "Sun" was the heyday of the Aztec pyramid construction and when the temples and observatories were first put in place. The age ended with the Earth opening up and spewing fire and volcanic eruptions.
  5. The Fourth "Sun" is the age in which humans navigated the globe and crossed the oceans. This epoch supposedly ended with a world wide flood.

So what does an Aztec Calendar look like?

The Aztecs used the same calendar that the Maya used. In fact, they sort of 'borrowed' it for themselves. They replaced the Mayan glyphs with Aztec glyph equivalents. The Mayan calendar was widespread and used on a daily basis by farmers, traders and priests.

The Aztecs and Mayans used three calendars, one called the long count calendar; one called the Haab, or civil/daily calendar; and one called the Tzolkin, which was the religious calendar.

Today's date, May 8, 2012 is expressed in the long count calendar as:

  • 12.19.19.6.13
  • The first number, 12 equals the baktun (144,000 day count) or 12 x 144,000 days since the beginning of the current long count ( 0.0.0.0.0)
  • The second number, 19 equals the katun (7,200 day count) and an addition of 19 x 7,200 days
  • The third number, 19 equals the tun (360 day count) and an addition of 19 x 360 days
  • The fourth number, 6 equals the uinal (20 day count) and an addition of 6 x 20 days
  • The fifth number, 13 equals the kin (one day count) and an addition of 13 x 1 days

So the current day on the Aztec/Mayan calendar is calculated as:

  • (12 x 144,00) + (19 x 7,200) + (19 x 360) + (6 x 20) + (13 x 1) = 1,871,823 days since the beginning of the current long count calendar.
  • The Julian calendar day of May 8, 2012 is expressed as 2,456,055.5 for comparison. Today would be 2,456,055.5 days since the beginning of the Julian calendar.

Whew! That's a lot of math. I used my computer's calculator to work this out, so if you spot an error, let me know below in the comments section.

There is no direct correlation with today's date in the Haab calendar. The Haab calendar was simply a daily calendar that repeated every year. It was used as a civil calendar to keep track of planting seasons and holidays and the like. The Haab calendar consisted of 18 "months" with 20 "days" in each month and an extra 5 days at the end of the Haab. This equaled to our solar calendar of 365 days.

The Tzolkin calendar was strictly a religious calendar for priests to use. There is also no corresponding day that can be matched to the Tzolkin calendar. The Tzolkin calendar had 20 "months" of 13 "days" each and the "year" equaled 260 days. The Tzolkin was used to mark religious events. The months and days were two cogs that meshed together to keep the count straight.

How the three calendars worked together

The Aztec Calendar (Aztec Sun Stone)

925 Sterling Silver Aztec Charm Mayan Calendar Pendant (25.4 Millimeters)
925 Sterling Silver Aztec Charm Mayan Calendar Pendant (25.4 Millimeters)

Behold a piece of rich history and wonder with this intricately detailed sterling silver Aztec/Mayan calendar pendant. This calendar has the image depiction of the ancient sun god in the center surrounded by elaborate symbols to calculate days, seasons, and year. This well-crafted pendant has an amazing amount of detail and design to replicate the original sun calendar stone, and a diamond cut accent will sure to have this pendant glitter and shine. The brilliant Aztec Calendar pendant is a unisex piece that honors the great history and culture of ancient Mexico.

 
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© 2012 Austinstar

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Comments - How many of you thought the Aztec Sun Stone was a calendar? 22 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

I knew it had been lost and found, but hadn't known how long ago it was dug up. If you had asked me, I would have said the last century.

That's a wonderful museum that houses it. They were marvellous people.

Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

The Aztecs were beautiful people. They were smart and strong and industrious. Sure, they liked to sacrifice people and maybe even eat them, a minor flaw (unless you were the one being sacrificed), but they did it for the good of the people and the Earth.

I'm glad that a part of their culture and beliefs still remain.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

It is good to see someone who is highlighting some of the positives about the Aztecs. They have always had a rather "bad press" because of human sacrifice etc. They really were not any worse than the Romans, who get off much more lightly from historians. The calendar stone must be one of the greatest works of art in the world.

Thanks for a very interesting hub.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

At 26 tons, it is automatically a great work of art! It's probably in the top 10 anyway.

I would really love to see it in person, but I would also love to see the Mona Lisa too.


barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 4 years ago from Hemet, Ca

I am so glad that our calendars that we have today are so much easier... and lighter... than the Aztec Calendar. Interesting hub and I won't even try to recheck your calculations! :)


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

Thanks, Stacy. I wouldn't be surprised if I made an error somewhere. I have trouble enough reading our own calendar!


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Hi, Lela, I would go so far as to call the gigantic Aztec Sun Stone one of the Wonders of the World. Would you agree?


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

Oh definitely, drbj. Heck, I wonder about it daily!


taazakhabar profile image

taazakhabar 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

Thanks for sharing this really interesting and wonderful information.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Very cool info! I love all things Indian, Mayan, Aztec..whatever. And right - they HAD to sacrifice an occasional person that doesn't make them bad:) lol

UP and Excellent!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

I have always found that the notion of sacrificing virgins was a hoax for sure. I doubt they were virgins after the "priests" got them ready for sacrifice.


s4176766 profile image

s4176766 4 years ago

very cool, loved it!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

I just re-read the whole thing. I think it's a bit technical and still hard to understand, but I tried to explain things in a logical manner. Those Aztecs were a lot smarter than me, that's for sure.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Lela,

Liked your original artwork at the end of the hub. Seemed very fitting. That stone calendar is a thing of beauty! I am another person who won't challenge your computations. Ha!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

I don't dare challenge my own math :-) I had to do these calculations about 20 times before I thought it might be right. If I go back over it, I'm sure I'll spot something amiss.

Those Aztecs were too darn clever.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Being clever seemed to serve them well for many years! I would love to visit that anthropological museum in Mexico City someday to see this calendar and many other things. It is reputed to be wonderful.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

Mexico City is beautiful, but so huge! I consider it a dangerous city and would not go there without escorts. But, there is a lot to see and do. I would really like to see Tenochtitlan and the Museum you mention. Now if I were only younger...


Rebecca Pasternak profile image

Rebecca Pasternak 3 years ago from Evanston, Illinois

This hub is fascinating - and quite timely for any doomsdayers!

I studied world religions in college and loved it. I missed the course taught by my favorite professor on Mayan and Aztec religions and have always regretted it.


abarth76 profile image

abarth76 3 years ago from Ayr

Great hub. I have visited Mexico and it is such a great place to visit with a great deal of history.


quester.ltd profile image

quester.ltd 3 years ago

Marvelous information - thank you


Rusticliving profile image

Rusticliving 3 years ago from California

Lela,

I really liked this hub. My parents had a beautiful Aztec calendar hanging on the wall in our living room while I was a teenager. I always had a fascination for it and it really intrigued me. I really didn't understand what it was until later when I was an adult. What I enjoyed about your hub was the Epochs of the Earth according to the Aztecs. Thank you for your research on this and for sharing. A big Thumbs up and definitely shared with others! Happy New Year---Lisa


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

Thanks, Lisa. I still have my Aztec calendar hanging in my home office. I appreciate the art of the ancient ones. So stylized and colorful.

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    Austinstar profile image

    Austinstar1,080 Followers
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    Lela earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from Sam Houston University in Huntsville, TX. She has been writing for the online world for years.



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