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January 13, 2020 3 min read

Cortez and his men virtually destroyed the Aztec civilisation and their artefacts. The Spanish melted down other artefacts of gold, so the existence of the Aztec sun stone is a rare look into this civilisation’s beliefs. So, what is the sun stone, how was it discovered and what does it mean?

The stones diameter is 141 inches (358 cm) and it is 39 inches (98 cm) thick, weighing 53,210 lb (24,590kg). Shortly after the Spanish conquest, the stone was buried in the main square of Mexico City, on instructions of the archbishop of Mexico City, so that the memories of sacrifices would be lost. On 17 December 1790 during repairs on the Mexico City Cathedral, it was rediscovered. It was subsequently mounted on an exterior wall of the Cathedral, where it remained until 1885. It is currently housed in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. Although the exact date of the stone’s creation is unknown, the name glyph of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in the central disc dates the monument to his reign between 1502–1520 CE.

The stone carvings give is insight into the central components of Aztec ideology concerning the origins of the cosmos and Astrological signs. The Aztec elite used this relationship with the cosmos to maintain control over the population, and the sun stone was a tool in which the ideology was visually manifested. The face of the solar deity, Tonatiuh, is believed to be the central figure on the stone. Tonatiuh is holding a human heart in each of his clawed hands, and his tongue is represented by a stone sacrificial knife. Four squares that surround Tonatiuh represent the four previous suns or eras, which preceded the present fifth era. The Aztecs believed each era ends with the destruction of the world and humanity, which were then recreated in the next era, in on ongoing cycle. The duration of the ages is expressed in years and each era is 676, 364, 312 and 676 years respectfully. Each of these figures is a multiple of 52, and 52 years is the duration of 1 Aztec century. Thus, 676 years are 13, 364 years are 7, and 312 years are 6 Aztec centuries respectively.

The first concentric ring contains the 20 Aztec Astrological signs each 1 day long repeated over 18 months of the Aztec solar calendar (360 days) and are in counter clockwise order as follows: -

1. cipactli – crocodile, 2. ehécatl – wind, 3. calli – house, 4. cuetzpallin – lizard, 5. cóatl – serpent, 6. miquiztli – skull/death, 7. mázatl – deer, 8. tochtli – rabbit, 9. atl – water, 10. itzcuintli – dog, 11. ozomatli – monkey, 12. malinalli – herb, 13. ácatl – cane, 14. océlotl – jaguar, 15. cuauhtli – eagle, 16. cozcacuauhtli – vulture, 17. ollín – movement, 18. técpatl – flint, 19. quiahuitl – rain, 20. xóchitl – flower

The second concentric ring contains several square sections, with each section containing five points. Directly above these square sections are feather ornaments and above these are peaked arches that appear in groups of four. Eight angles that divide the stone into eight parts, probably represent the sun's rays placed in the direction of the cardinal points.

The third outermost ring is made up of two fire serpents (Xiuhcoatl). Flames emerge from their bodies and at the very bottom of the surface of the stone, human heads appear from the mouths of these serpents. Some believe that the two serpents represent two rival deities who were involved in the creation story of the fifth and current sun (era), Queztalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. The tongues of the serpents are touching, in reference to the continuous power struggle between the deities over the terrestrial and solar realms.

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