So what's the big rock about?

The Sun Stone calendar would have been brightly painted when it was originally displayed in the Aztec capitol, Tenochtitlan.
The Sun Stone calendar would have been brightly painted when it was originally displayed in the Aztec capitol, Tenochtitlan.Courtesy Ancheta Wis via Wikimedia Commons
What’s this big stone carving doing by the Science Museum elevators, and what does it have to do with 2012? Well, the 2012 thing is all about ancient Mesoamerican calendars, and this is a genuine ancient Mesoamerican calendar.

The people who made this amazing monolith were actually Aztec, not Maya. It was carved in the 15th century in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (which would later become Mexico City). This was long after the peak of the ancient Mayan civilization, and hundreds of miles from the center of the Mayan society, but the carvings are tied to some of the same beliefs held by the Mayans. The calendar indicates that we are in the 5th age of the world, which the Maya believed would come to an end in 2012. The four previous ages, also depicted on the stone, had come and gone without the end of the world, so to say that the Aztecs and Maya believed that the end of the fifth age would be the end of everything isn’t very accurate.

The calendar stone was found in the central square of Mexico City in 1790. It measures 12 feet in diameter, it’s over 3 feet thick, and it weighs nearly 24 tons! It is carved from basalt, a grey volcanic rock, and originally was painted in bright colors.

While scholars still debate the meaning of some of the carvings, many things are certain. The stone contains pictographs for the days of the month and cycles of the sun. The central ring is divided into the 20 days of the Aztec month; depicted as animals, plants or other natural elements. The Aztec and Mayan year consisted of 18 months, each having 20 days which would equal a 360-day year. At the end of the year were added 5 days of sacrifice, denoted by 5 dots added just above the ring and under the central image. This makes a neat 365-day year. The ancient people of Mesoamerica were among the first in the world to accurately estimate the length of the solar year.

Around the central figure, believed to be the sun god Tonatuih, are four squares depicting the four previous suns or worlds of Aztec legend. These suns were brought to end by wild animals, wind, fire, and floods. The Aztecs, like the Mayans, believed we are living under the 5th sun or world. There are many other depictions of important dates, beliefs, astronomy and Earthly cycles on the Sun Stone. Notice the 8 arrow shapes that correspond to the 8 cardinal points of direction. There are also 8 holes around the edge that might have been used to hold sticks make the Sun Stone into a sundial to tell time. The outer circle also depicts two great serpents (their faces are at the bottom), and it is believed they depict the 52-year calendar cycle, a combination of the 260 day and 360 day calendars.

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