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Making Sense of the Aztec Calendar


The Sun Stone calendar is evidence of Aztec knowledge of math and astronomy. ... The priests used this religious calendar to determine 'luck days' for activities ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Making Sense of the Aztec Calendar

Making Sense of the Aztec Calendar
Why do we use calendars?
  • Xihuitl Trecena Tonalli

This is October 21, 2005 on the Aztec calendar.
  • Xihuitl Trecena Tonalli

Solar year 13-day period
day The Aztec calendar is complicated!
Today, we will discuss
  • Time cycles of the Aztec calendar
  • How the ancient Aztecs used the calendar in their
    daily lives
  • How the modern-day calendar is related to the
    Aztec calendar
  • Religious and astronomical influences on the
    Aztec calendar

Origination of the Aztec Calendar
Brief Description of the Sun Stone
  • The Sun Stone calendar is evidence of Aztec
    knowledge of math and astronomy.
  • The Sun Stone is dedicated to the principal
    Aztec deity the Sun God Tonatiuh
  • The Stone is 12 ft in diameter and weighs 24
    metric tons.
  • The Stone took 52 years to construct (1427-1479).

Brief Description of the Sun Stone
  • Originally, the calendar was placed on top of the
    main temple in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital.
  • The stone faced south in a vertical position.
  • Today, Mexico Citys cathedral is located here,
    and the Sun Stone is in the National Museum of
    Anthropology in Mexico City.

Aztec Calendar Is Made up of Two Different
  • A religious calendar called Tonalpohualli
  • An agricultural/ceremonial calendar called

Tonalpohualli (the Religious Calendar)
  • This calendar was used to count the days.
  • The Aztecs used a 260-day cycle for this
    religious calendar.

Tonalpohualli (the Religious Calendar)
  • The 260 days were divided into 20 periods each
    period was given a name with a hieroglyphic sign.
  • Each of the 20 periods consisted of 13 days
    called trecenas each day was given a number and
    a god.
  • 20 periods x 13 days (trecenas) 260 days
  • The priests used this religious calendar to
    determine luck days for activities such as
    growing crops, building houses, and going to war.

Xiupohualli (The Agricultural and Ceremonial
  • This calendar was used to count the years.
  • This calendar was kept on a 365-day solar count.
  • The 365 days were divided up into 18 months. A
    ritualistic ceremony was assigned to each month.
  • The 18 months were divided up into 20 days called

Xiupohualli (The Agricultural and Ceremonial
  • Five days x four weeks 20 days
  • 20 days x 18 periods 360 days
  • 365 360 5 days unaccounted for

What Happened to the Other Five Days?
  • The five days not represented were called
  • These days were days of nothing.
  • The nemontemi were a transition between the old
    and new year.
  • Normal activity of daily life stopped completely.

Why Did the Aztecs Need to Count the Years?
  • The Aztecs thought of time as cyclical (a cycle).
  • They thought they were chosen people whose
    calling was to collaborate with the gods to
    maintain cosmic order.
  • Since the days were represented by certain gods,
    the calendar told the Aztec priests how to behave
    in order to achieve the results they wanted
    (agriculture, war, ceremonies, etc.).

Why Did the Aztecs Need to Count the Years?
  • The two calendars align, and the counting of the
    days and the years starts over every 52 years.
  • Aztecs called these 52 years a bundle which is
    similar to our century.
  • The Aztecs used the counting of the bundles to
    mark historical events and to track events of the

The New Fire Ceremony
  • Five days before the end of the 52nd year, all of
    the Aztec people put out the fires in their homes
    and awaited the possible end of the world.
  • On the evening of the last day of the 52-year
    cycle, priests climbed a hill called Mount
    Huixachtlan in Mexico Basin and watched the
  • When the Pleiades constellation crossed the
    highest point in the sky, the priests knew that
    the sun would rise again to start another 52-year

New Fire Ceremony
  • The priests would then build a fire on a
    sacrificial victims chest using a fire drill.
  • When the flames grew into a full fire, the victim
    was sacrificed.
  • The priest then ripped the victims heart out of
    his chest and threw it into the fire.

New Fire Ceremony
  • This fire was then used to relight all of the
    fires in the homes of the people.
  • This ritual happened in all of the communities
    throughout the Aztec empire.
  • People of different communities sat and waited to
    see the fires lit on Mount Huixachtlan.
  • People burned all of their possessions and
    domestic goods five days before and renewed them
    in the new cycle.

Making Connections
  • Can you think of a time in our civilization when
    we celebrate new beginnings?

New Years!!!
Think About It
  • New Years marks the end of our cycle.
  • 12 months
  • The Aztec cycle is marked by the New Fire.
  • 52 years

We use calendars for the same reasons
  • Keeping track of important dates
  • - Birthdays
  • - Marriages
  • - Deaths
  • - Wars
  • 2. Planning for the future
  • - Planting crops
  • - Taking vacation

Designing A Calendar
  • Our calendar was designed by priests based on
    Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.
  • The time periods of our calendar are based on the
    relationships between the sun, the moon, and the
  • - 1 day time it takes for the Earth to rotate
  • - 1 month time it takes for the moon to orbit
  • - 1 year time it takes the Earth to orbit the

Summing it Up
  • Both the modern-day calendar and the Aztec
    calendar were designed with the same ideas in
  • - keep track of passage of time
  • - use sun, moon, and stars
  • - mark important religious events

  • The Aztec calendar could only be read by priests,
    ours is simple to understand for everyone.
  • The Aztec calendar cycle is longer than ours 18,
    980 days vs. 365 days.
  • The Aztecs had two calendars.
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