General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Sep 2017/9 Jaguar
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Article suitable for older students

How did the Aztecs use stars?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Samuel Lopez Matos: I’d like to know how the Aztecs used stars. I’ve had trouble finding what I need elsewhere, so I chose to turn to you. Please help! (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

In the codices there are many representations of temples with a star in the roof; many of these buildings must have been stellar observatories. Codex Zouche-Nuttall, pl. 50 (detail)
In the codices there are many representations of temples with a star in the roof; many of these buildings must have been stellar observatories. Codex Zouche-Nuttall, pl. 50 (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

The Mexican scholar Yolotl González Torres discusses this in detail in her little book El culto a los astros entre los mexicas (SEP, Mexico, 1975, p.16) (our translation):-
The central importance of observing the stars was economic, ie it was a way to mark key moments in the farming cycle and of other activities linked to the seasons. Stars acted as compass, map and calendar. The combination of two calendars, solar and lunar, allowed the Aztecs to pinpoint the main phases in their economic life. Sun and moon are the two celestial bodies most linked to nature and act(ed) as symbols of those key pairs of opposites so necessary for life - fire and water, light and darkness, the very cycle of life and matter.
Solar phases and the completion of a star or constellation’s zenith in the sky marked cycles and ‘coincidences’ celebrated by religious festivals: for example, the moment when the Pleiades reached their zenith signalled the start of a new calendar cycle of 52 years.

Image from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1987.

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