The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

Art in the New World

What is the Aztec Calendar Stone?

Like the Mayans, the Aztec were deeply interested in calendars, which were linked to concepts of creation. The Aztec Calendar Stone (c. 1502–1520) is large—over eleven feet in diameter and over twenty-five tons. Also called the Sun Stone, the carved stone emphasizes the Aztec concept of cyclical time and reflects the Aztec’s cosmology and mythology. At the center of the stone is an image of the creature Ollin, its tongue in the shape of a knife. Also depicted on the stone are the first four suns, and the bodies of two fire gods, according to Aztec tradition.

The monumental carving is not exactly a marker of time, though there are markings that indicate the twenty-day Aztec calendar, and the date of the birth of the current (fifth) sun. The stone was excavated in the center of Mexico City, which now lies at the heart of the former Aztec empire: the city of Teotihuacán. Teotihuacán was considered the birthplace of the fifth and current sun, and was the political center of the empire. Although the meaning of the Aztec Calendar Stone remains mysterious, its image continues to influence modern Mexican art and culture.


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