Aztec calendar stone

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Aztec calendar stone
1479 Stein der fünften Sonne, sog. Aztekenkalender, Ollin Tonatiuh anagoria.JPG
Material Basalt
Discovered 17 December 1790 at El Zócalo, Mexico City
Present location National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City

The Aztec calendar stone, Sun Stone, or Stone of the Five Eras is a late post-classic Mexica sculpture saved in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, and is perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture.[1] The stone is 358 centimetres (11.75 ft) in diameter and 98 centimetres (3.22 ft) thick, and it weighs about 24 tons.[2] Shortly after the Spanish Conquest, the monolithic sculpture was buried in the Zócalo, or main square of Mexico City. It was rediscovered on December 17, 1790 during repairs on the Mexico City Cathedral.[3][4] Following its rediscovery, the Calendar Stone was mounted on an exterior wall of the Cathedral, where it remained until 1885.[5]

Physical description[edit]

Detail of the two innermost circles of the monolith.

The sculpted motifs that cover the surface of the stone refer to central components of the Mexica cosmogony.

Central Disk[edit]

In the center of the monolith is the face of the solar deity, Tonatiuh,[6] which appears inside the glyph for "movement" (Nahuatl: 'ollin'), the name of the current era. The central figure is shown holding a human heart in each of his clawed hands, and his tongue is represented by a stone sacrificial knife (Tecpatl), expressing the need for sacrifices to allow the sun to continue moving across the sky.

The Four Previous Suns or Eras[edit]

The four squares that surround the central deity represent the four previous suns or eras, which preceded the present era, 4 Movement (Nahuatl: 'Nahui Ollin'). Each era ended with the destruction of the world and humanity, which were then recreated in the next era.

  • The top right square represents 4 Jaguar (Nahuatl: 'Nahui Ocelotl'), the day on which the first era ended, after having lasted 676 years, due to the appearance of monsters that devoured all of humanity.
  • The top left square shows 4 Wind (Nahuatl: 'Nahui Ehecatl'), the date on which, after 364 years, hurricane winds destroyed the earth, and humans were turned into monkeys.
  • The bottom left square shows 4 Rain (Nahuatl: 'Nahui Quiahuitl'). This era lasted 312 years, before being destroyed by a rain of fire, which transformed humanity into turkeys.
  • The bottom right square represents 4 Water (Nahuatl: 'Nahui Atl'), an era that lasted 676 years and ended when the world was flooded and all the humans were turned into fish.

Placed among these four squares are three additional dates, 1 Flint, 1 Rain, and 7 Monkey, and a Xiuhuitzolli, or ruler's turquoise diadem, glyph. It has been suggested that these dates may have had both historical and cosmic significance, and that the diadem may form part of the name of the Mexica ruler Moctezuma.[7]


The exact purpose and meaning of the Calendar Stone are unclear. Archaeologists and historians have proposed numerous theories, and it seems likely that there are many aspects to the stone.[8]

Although it is known as the "Calendar Stone," modern archaeologists, such as those at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, believe it is more likely to have been used primarily as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar for gladiatorial sacrifices, than as an astrological or astronomical reference.[5]

Mexican anthropologist Antonio de León y Gama (1735-1802) wrote about the Sun Stone.[9]

One aspect of the stone is its religious significance. One theory is that the face at the center of the stone represents Tonatiuh, the Aztec deity of the sun. It is for this reason that the stone became known as the "Sun Stone." Richard Townsend proposed a different theory, claiming that the figure at the centre of the stone represents Tlaltecuhtli, the Mexica earth deity who features in Mexica creation myths.[8] Another feature of the stone relates to time, hence the name, "Calendar Stone." Some of the circles of glyphs are the glyphs for the days of the month. Further, some of the symbols may represent the five ages that the Mexica believed the earth had passed through.[4][8] Yet another characteristic of the stone may be its geographic significance. The four points may relate to the four corners of the earth or the cardinal points. The inner circles may express space as well as time.[10] Moreover, there is the political aspect of the stone. It may have been intended to show Tenochtitlan as the center of the world and therefore, as the center of authority.[11]

Modern use[edit]

Mexican Amate paper craft on Aztec calendar stone

The calendar stone image is displayed in the obverse of the "Aztec" gold coin, which has a gold content of 15 grams (half a troy ounce) and was minted with a nominal value of 20 gold pesos. As of December 2012 its value was almost MXP 11,000 (or about USD 865.00).

The calendar stone image also has been adopted by modern Mexican and Mexican American/Chicano culture figures, and is used in folk art and as a symbol of cultural identity.[12]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City, "Sun Stone"
  2. ^ The Aztec Sun Stone
  3. ^ Florescano, Enrique (2006). National Narratives in Mexico. Nancy T. Hancock (trans.), Raul Velasquez (illus.) (English-language edition of Historia de las historias de la nación mexicana, ©2002 [Mexico City:Taurus] ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3701-0. OCLC 62857841. 
  4. ^ a b Aztec Civilization
  5. ^ a b Getty Museum, "Aztec Calendar Stone"
  6. ^ The public description by the National Anthropology Museum assigns the face to the fire god, Xiuhtecuhtli.
  7. ^ Umberger, Emily. "The Structure of Aztec History." Archaeoastronomy IV, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 1981): 10-18.
  8. ^ a b c K. Mills, W. B. Taylor & S. L. Graham (eds), Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History, 'The Aztec Stone of the Five Eras', p. 23
  9. ^ León y Gama
  10. ^ K. Mills, W. B. Taylor & S. L. Graham (eds), Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History, 'The Aztec Stone of the Five Eras', pp. 23, 25
  11. ^ K. Mills, W. B. Taylor & S. L. Graham (eds), Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History, 'The Aztec Stone of the Five Eras', pp. 25-6
  12. ^ [1]


  • León y Gama, Antonio de. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras: que con ocasión del empedrado que se está formando en la plaza Principal de México, se hallaron en ella el año de 1790. Impr. de F. de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1792. An expanded edition, with descriptions of additional sculptures (like the Stone of Tizoc), edited by Carlos Maria Bustamante, published in 1832. There have been a couple of facsimile editions, published in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo, and Felipe Solís. The Aztec Calendar and other Solar Monuments. Grupo Azabache, Mexico. 2004.
  • Mills, K., W. B. Taylor & S. L. Graham (eds.), Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History, 'The Aztec Stone of the Five Eras'
  • Solis, Felipe. "La Piedra del Sol." Arqueologia Mexicana 7(41):32-39. Enero - Febrero 2000.
  • Villela, Khristaan D., and Mary Ellen Miller (eds.). The Aztec Calendar Stone. Getty Publications, Los Angeles. 2010. (This is an anthology of significant sources about the Calendar Stone, from its discovery to the present day, many presented in English for the first time.)
  • Umberger, Emily. "The Structure of Aztec History." Archaeoastronomy IV, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 1981): 10-18.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 19°25′34″N 99°11′15″W / 19.42611°N 99.18750°W / 19.42611; -99.18750