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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 25 Jun 2017/13 Deer
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KIDS! Download a Sunstone map...
KIDS! Download a Sunstone map...
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Stone Aztec sculpture of a Mexica ‘bundle of reeds’

Aztec Calendar(s)

We have a lot to learn from the ancient Mexicans about time – its measurement, its management and its meaning. In the modern world we tend to relate the passing of time to movement along a straight line (look at history timelines in our classrooms!) and assume automatically that ‘latest is best’ - a computer is instantly ‘out of date’ the day after we’ve bought it. We’re only now beginning to rediscover the ‘wisdom of the ancients’ and to realise how arrogant we’ve been in ‘writing off’ - for centuries – their sophisticated knowledge of time, mathematics, astronomy, geometry and music, all of which relate to each other through rhythm patterns at the very heart of our universe. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Night and day, Codex Borbonicus
Night and day, Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of years before us, the Mesoamericans had discovered zero, measured leap years to 4 decimal points of accuracy, allowed for the influence on us not only of the sun but also of the moon and Venus (the 3 brightest bodies in the sky), clocked the motion of Venus to an accuracy of better than two hours in five centuries, played different notes simultaneously in musical performances, and even very likely calculated the Precession of the Equinoxes – a period of 26,000 years.

‘Anniversary wheel’ no. 4 in the 18th. century Codex Veytia - Europeanised but still solidly based on pre-Columbian fate signs
‘Anniversary wheel’ no. 4 in the 18th. century Codex Veytia - Europeanised but still solidly based on pre-Columbian fate signs (Click on image to enlarge)

Counting in 20s – presumably because we have 20 fingers and toes – they developed complex time rounds that, like wheels, are far more natural in design than our modern Western European calendar with its odd mix of 30-, 31- and 28-day months.

One too many daysigns... (Redriff Primary School)
One too many daysigns... (Redriff Primary School) (Click on image to enlarge)

There’s no doubt that, as far as calendars go, the Mesoamericans could literally run rings round us ...!

The Aztec calendar features strongly in our school programmes. Good friends Steve and Michelle (and pupils) at Little Green Junior School, Croxley Green, Herts., produced this beautiful wall hanging illustrating the Aztec day signs (well, 19 of them anyway...)

Can you spot which calendar sign is missing?! (Little Green Junior School)
Can you spot which calendar sign is missing?! (Little Green Junior School) (Click on image to enlarge)

Whilst in the snap above we took of the daysigns at one of our all-time favourite schools, Redriff Primary, Rotherhithe, we noticed they’d been a bit TOO keen and ended up with 21!

Studying the Sunstone, Cranleigh, Surrey
Studying the Sunstone, Cranleigh, Surrey (Click on image to enlarge)

The Aztec Sunstone/Calendar Stone continues to fascinate young and old alike. We recently snapped a group of Year 6 boys at St. Nicolas School in Cranleigh, Surrey, who spontaneously gave up their lunch break to study our large Sunstone model before we packed it away after a workshop. We were just sorry that the copy in their classroom was VERY ‘cheap-and-nasty’: follow the link below...

A double-page sequence of 65 day signs - part of the sacred calendar in the Codex Cospi
A double-page sequence of 65 day signs - part of the sacred calendar in the Codex Cospi (Click on image to enlarge)

We’re delighted to hear that our downloadable resources on the Sunstone (follow link below) are being used to good effect on the other side of the world: our good friend Eduardo Tocatzin sent us (May 2010) this photo (below) with the message ’The students and community of Wilson High School in Los Angeles CA are enjoying all that it has to offer. Thanks again.’

Photo courtesy of Eduardo Tocatzin Sanchez
Photo courtesy of Eduardo Tocatzin Sanchez (Click on image to enlarge)

Every day our website shows (top right corner on all pages) the changing names of our days in the Aztec Calendar - using a correlation (match) calculated by the famous Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso; the same system is used on the Azteccalendar.com website.

Learn more of how the orbits of the earth, moon and Venus were inter-connected by reading our feature on Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (the Morning Star) - follow link below.

Venus, The Morning Star

‘Schools beware!’

Download two resource sheets on the Sunstone here

Azteccalendar.com website

Watch a beautiful explanation of the Sunstone on Youtube

‘The Calendar After The End?’

Follow the meaning of the day signs in this ongoing online journal

Mesoamericancalendarstudies.com: how to bury yourself in constellations, correlations and calendar corrections...

A useful introduction to Maya calendar systems

‘Azteca/Mexica Calendar Correlations: the Good, the Bad, and the Completely Useless’

‘The Aztecs did not need a leap year: Introducing the Nuttall-Ochoa model for the Aztec Calendar’

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Thanks, Rui. I’m afraid our level of expertise doesn’t run to answering this for you. What we DO know is that this issue of correlation is a veritable nightmare! An excellent website that tries to make sense of the correlations problem is given above, recently added (2016). Recommended!
Mexicolore replies: Gracias, Juan Carlos. Ya tenemos un enlace a ellos. Hace varios añoa ya ellos nos pidieron reproducir nuestro juego de 20 signos de los días calendáricos, tan finamente dibujados para nosotros por Felipe Dávalos. Les dimos permiso, y ahí están en su sitio también...
Mexicolore replies: 2013, as a year in our ‘solar’ calendar, would be named, in the equivalent Aztec xihuitl Ce-Calli, or ‘1-House’. (2012 is ‘13-Flint’ and 2014 will be ‘2-Rabbit’, followed by ‘3-Reed’ in 2015). House-Rabbit-Reed-Flint was the cycle of four year signs which, accompanied by a number from 1-13, made up the very important period of 4x13=52 years, something like the Aztec equivalent of our ‘century’. You can’t read too much into one single factor such as the ‘name’ of next year (Calli or House): for ‘meaning’ you need to look at a whole range of extra elements, combining solar and lunar calendars.
Mexicolore replies: Good point, Julio! We hadn’t realised that readers would link the page title so closely to the Sunstone, so we’ve changed the main image. We hope it improves things...
Mexicolore replies: If you mean the great Calendar Stone (‘Sunstone’) most people think it was made during the reign of the Emperor Axayácatl, and that it dates from 1479 AD/CE in our calendar; but some scholars disagree!
Mexicolore replies: The short answer is No, I’m afraid! What a good idea, though, Leslie - thanks for this: we’ll try and find a good model or instructions to put on the website...
Mexicolore replies: We suggest you try entering this date into the database at the website www.azteccalendar.com (we gave them permission to use our beautiful daysign glyphs). Hope this helps!
Mexicolore replies: We’d love to do this, Maria, but it’s a huge job and we’re a very small, overworked team. Calling all bilingual friends who have a few hours spare to translate, for starters...! We’ll get there, eventually...
Mexicolore replies: He was called Acamapichtli. You can find out his name’s meaning and the dates he ruled in our ‘Ask the Experts’ section, in the answer for November 2004.
Mexicolore replies: This is always going to be a hard question to answer in any clear-cut way. Sahagún noted in the Florentine Codex that in the 16th century the Aztec year began on 2 February by our calendar. But remember for a start a) just how inaccurate the old Julian calendar from Europe was in those days and b) that there were even regional differences in pre-Hispanic Mexico concerning the calendar round. Traditionally (see the work of Paso y Troncoso and Seler, or look at the Codex Borbonicus) the Aztec agricultural year began with the festival of Izcalli, matching the European calendar in 1521 CE with the dates January 24 to February 12 (each festival was a 20-day ‘month’). But several scholars have shown that this starting point was not standardised even within the Basin of Mexico: Kirchhoff, for example, suggested back in 1950 that there were 13 different calendric systems in use simultaneously by 13 different ethnic groups in and around the Basin of Mexico! This meant that the year 1-Reed for the Aztecs would be 7-Reed for the Texcocanos, 3-Reed for the Matlatzinca, 12-Reed for the Colhua, etc. Correlating the calendars is a minefield...!
Mexicolore replies: We answered Amy’s question in our ‘Ask Us’ section (see left menu)
Mexicolore replies: Yes, you’re right, each number had its own significance. Very briefly, the numbers 3, 7, 10-13 were generally lucky, while 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 brought bad luck. The number 2 linked to the daysign Rabbit was particularly unfortunate. 1 was considered neutral, though it was associated with (new) beginnings and in this sense was a positive number.
Mexicolore replies: We think your confusion stems from the fact that ages of children by reference to year dots are only (to our knowledge) found in the Codex Mendoza - written AFTER the Conquest. These ages are clearly written as ‘European’/solar/tonalpohualli years. All birth ‘day’ signs/names in pre-Hispanic codices refer to the ritual 260-day xiuhpohualli calendar round. As far as we know, yearly birthday celebrations, as we know them today, were not a part of Aztec life.