How to Read an Aztec Calendar
The Great and Venerable Aztec Mechanism of the Universe
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Aztec Sun Stone
Is the stone a calendar or a sculpture representing the Aztec gods?
The Epochs of Earth according to the Aztecs
- The current sun, called the fifth sun, surrounds the four inner suns or ages which surround the center face. This ring encompasses the four earlier faces. This circle also contains the calendar months - 20 named glyphs. The current sun age belief is that it will end by great earthquakes that shake the world.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 use. In fact, they borrowed it for themselves. They replace the Mayan glyphs with Aztec glyph equivalents. The Mayan calendar is widespread and is 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.
A typical date such as, May 8, 2012, is expressed in the long count calendar as:
- 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 date, May 8, 2012, 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. This date 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
Questions & Answers
How does one use an Aztec calendar?
The Aztec calendar is not in use today except by scientists, archeologists, and paleontologists. Perhaps some Aztecs and Mayans still recognize the old naming conventions of the old calendar, but the Julian calendar is used today. You can use the link in this article to find the Aztec or Mayan equivalent of today's date or any other date.
© 2012 Lela