How to Read an Aztec Calendar

Updated on November 5, 2016
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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.

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.
  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 Aztec Sun Stone

Is the stone a calendar or a sculpture representing the Aztec gods?

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The Epochs of Earth according to the Aztecs

  1. 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.
  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 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 (
  • 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

© 2012 Lela


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    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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.

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 5 years ago from California


      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

    • profile image 5 years ago

      Marvelous information - thank you

    • abarth76 profile image

      James Clark 5 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.

    • Rebecca Pasternak profile image

      Rebecca Pasternak 5 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.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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...

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 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

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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 Woods 5 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

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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.

    • s4176766 profile image

      s4176766 5 years ago

      very cool, loved it!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 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!

    • taazakhabar profile image

      taazakhabar 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Thanks for sharing this really interesting and wonderful information.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

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

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 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

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

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

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 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

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 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

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      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.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 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.