Human beings have always had a thing for counting: whether it’s money, food, the amount of space around us, how many stops left to our destination, or of course, time.
Counting time has allowed us some measure of control over our actions, both on a personal and on a communal level. Counting time is a tool to measure our own lives and the changes the passing of time brings.
A very old example of this human obsession with counting time is the so-called Aztec Calendar, represented on the monolith known as the Sun Stone, in glorious exhibition at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. If you have never been to see it, we highly recommend you do. In the meantime, check out these five things you (probably) didn’t know about the Aztec Calendar.
What exactly is it?
This 24-ton olivine basalt monolith measures over 3.60 meters across, and is 122 centimeters thick. Its naturally greenish color, from the deposites of olivine, has faded due to element exposure.
When and how was it found?
The Stone Sun was discovered in 1790 when Viceroy Revillagigedo ordered the leveling of the floor of the Plaza Central (approximately today’s Zocalo). Some chronicles from the time tell of how “it almost touched the surface of the ground, the superior part was not carved out, but the lower part, buried, was highly carved.”
The Viceroy pointed out the recently discovered object was a remnant of the ruling system before the Conquest and gave the order to protect it for future generations.
For over 100 years, it was exhibited outside the West Tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral, until President Porfirio Díaz ordered it to be taken to the National Museum, then located on Moneda Street, a few blocks from the Cathedral.
In 1964, it was taken to the National Museum of Anthropology and History, that had just been inaugurated, located a few miles from the place where it was found.
But, what was it used for?
Some theories posit that it might have been used to perform ritual man-to-man combats. The stone also has a cavity that might have been used for offerings, kind of like a boxing ring, but with a ritualistic sense to it.
What do all those carvings mean?
The stone was carved with giant symbols for the four cardinal pointers, a 52-year cycle, and the five cosmogonic eras the ancient Mexicas believed were part of the fabric of the universe. At the very center, we see the sun deity: Tonatiuh. Experts have interpreted other parts of it, and they believe they represent months, each one of them related to a deity.
The Sun Stone is still present in modern Mexico
The design of Mexican currency has been heavily influenced by this monolith. The $2, $5, and $10 peso coins all are embellished with Sun Stone motifs.
It is also present in many decorative and everyday objects because of the enormous symbolism it conveys and the many ways it connect us with our indigenous past.
Here are other articles you’ll love:
Watermelons, Wild Animals, And The Night: The Paintings Of Rufino Tamayo
The Sculpture Route That Celebrates The World In Mexico City
Candles, Flowers, And Salt: The Elements That Guide The Dead To The World Of The Living