The Sun Stone: The Aztec Calendar Stone

The Aztec calendar stone—the original Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun)—is in the anthropology museum's Room 7 (Sala Mexica). The 12-foot, 25-ton, intricately carved, basalt slab describing Aztec life is one of Mexico's most famous symbols. Nobel Prize–winning poet and essayist Octavio Paz immortalized the stone in his epic poem "Piedra del Sol." The stone was carved in the late 1400s; it was discovered buried beneath the Zócalo in 1790. It was originally thought to be a calendar, and, for a brief time, a sacrificial altar. In the stone's center is the sun god Tonatiuh. The rest of the carvings explain the Aztecs' idea of the cosmos: namely, that prior to their existence, the world had endured four periods (called suns) of creation and destruction. Four square panels surrounding the center image represent these four worlds and their destruction (by jaguars, wind, firestorms, and water, respectively). The ring around the panels is filled with symbols representing the 20 days of the Aztec month. Finally, two snakes form an outer ring and point to a date, 1011 AD—the date the fifth sun, or the Aztecs' current world, was created. The Aztecs believed that this fifth sun was the final sun; they believed that one day they would witness a catastrophic end of the world.

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