Aztec Sun Focus Area
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David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.
Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course. Log in or Sign up. The Sun Stone is an Aztec sculpture created from a single large rock.
It is also known as The Stone of the Five Eras. It is a wonderful example of the Aztec's folklore and understanding of the cosmos, and it is probably the best-known archaeological piece from the Aztec culture.
The dimensions of the Sun Stone are impressive. It has a very regular circular shape with a diameter of almost 12 feet.
It is about 3 feet thick, and its weight is approximately This sculpture was made from a single basalt stone. Although the stone is commonly referred to as the Calendar Stone, its use and exact purpose are still unclear.
However, it isn't considered to be an actual calendar. There isn't a consensus on what the date the stone was carved.
However, most researchers agree that this sculpture was created at some point between the late 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century.
When the Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire, they destroyed the ancient capital. The Sun Stone was buried with other ruins when the new colonial city was built over the old Aztec city.
During that time, repairs were being made to the Mexico City Cathedral and the stone was accidentally rediscovered. After its rediscovery, the Sun Stone was put at one of the outer walls of the Cathedral, where it stood until It was then moved to the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, where it continues to be displayed nowadays.
The Aztec Sun is a circular sculpture and the symbols are placed in a circular array. There are some main elements that organize the composition.
The central disk is the focal part, located right in the middle, with four squares on the sides. There are three rings around the central disk.
Finally, at the uppermost point of the stone, there is an inscription of the Aztec date that marked the start of the fifth and last historical period.
According to Aztec folklore, there were five periods, known as suns. After each one, the world was destroyed. All the other elements covering the stone also refer to the Aztec cosmogony.
The center of the stone is believed to be a representation of the sun god Tonatiuh. The deity is holding a human heart in each of his hands.
The face of the deity is enclosed by a circle, representing movement, and he has a tongue depicting a sacrificial stone knife.
Other scholars considered that the central image could be the primordial earth creature Tlaltecuhtli. It could represent a reference to the devastation of the world when the fifth sun would end and fall to earth.
These sectors symbolize the four past suns or periods that happened before the present time. Each of the eras depicted ends with the destruction of the world and the end of humanity, both of which would be reconstructed by the beginning of the next period.
The Sun Stone has three rings around the central area. The inner ring is segmented into the 20 squares. Each one represents one of the 20 Aztec days that formed a month.
These segments on the stone are what have made the sculpture popularly known as Calendar Stone. The second ring has eight triangles, which are believed to represent the cardinal directions and the rays of the sun.
The outer ring is made by a series of squares that form the body of two fire snakes. The heads of these figures are at the bottom and the tails are at the top of the circle.
Although the exact use and purpose of the Sun Stone are unclear, it has a big importance since it gave historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists information about Aztec mythology and cosmogony.
Not only it is an important historical piece, but this sculpture is also very valued in Mexico and has become a part of Mexican culture.
The Aztec Sun Stone, also known as Stone of the Five Eras , is a sculpture created by the Aztec civilization at some point between the late 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century.
It has a diameter of almost 12 feet. It was discovered in December in Mexico City. The symbols on the Sun Stone are placed in a circular array.
The main elements that organize the composition are the central disk , located right in the middle, with four squares on the sides, the three rings around the central disk, and the inscription of the Aztec date that marked the start of the fifth and last historical period, located at the uppermost point of the stone.
The world was destroyed after each one. Although the exact use and purpose of the Sun Stone are unclear, it has a big historical importance and it is also a part of Mexican culture.
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The sculpted motifs that cover the surface of the stone refer to central components of the Mexica cosmogony. The state-sponsored monument linked aspects of Aztec ideology such as the importance of violence and warfare, the cosmic cycles, and the nature of the relationship between gods and man.
The Aztec elite used this relationship with the cosmos and the bloodshed often associated with it to maintain control over the population, and the Sun Stone was a tool in which the ideology was visually manifested.
Some scholars have argued that the identity of the central face is of the earth monster, Tlaltecuhtli , or of a hybrid deity known as Yohualtecuhtli who is referred to as the "Lord of the Night.
The Aztecs changed the order of the suns and introduced a fifth sun named 4 Movement after they seized power over the central highlands.
The duration of the ages is expressed in years, although they must be observed through the prism of Aztec time. In fact the common thing to figures , and is that they are multiples of 52, and 52 years is the duration of 1 Aztec century, and that is why they can express a certain amount of Aztec centuries.
Thus, years are 13 Aztec centuries; years are 7, and years are 6 Aztec centuries. Placed among these four squares are three additional dates, 1 Flint Tecpatl , 1 Rain Atl , and 7 Monkey Ozomahtli , and a Xiuhuitzolli , or ruler's turquoise diadem, glyph.
It has been suggested that these dates may have had both historical and cosmic significance, and that the diadem may form part of the name of the Mexica ruler Moctezuma II.
The first concentric zone or ring contains the signs corresponding to the 20 days of the 18 months and five nemontemi of the Aztec solar calendar Nahuatl : xiuhpohualli.
It is important to note that the monument is not a functioning calendar, but instead uses the calendrical glyphs to reference the cyclical concepts of time and its relationship to the cosmic conflicts within the Aztec ideology.
The order is as follows:. The second concentric zone or ring contains several square sections, with each section containing five points.
Directly above these square sections are small arches are said to be feather ornaments. Directly above these are spurs or peaked arches that appear in groups of four.
Two fire serpents, Xiuhcoatl , take up almost this entire zone. They are characterized by the flames emerging from their bodies, the square shaped segments that make up their bodies, the points that form their tails, and their unusual heads and mouths.
At the very bottom of the surface of the stone, are human heads emerging from the mouths of these serpents. Scholars have tried to identify these profiles of human heads as deities, but have not come to a consensus.
The tongues of the serpents are touching, referencing the continuity of time and the continuous power struggle between the deities over the earthly and terrestrial worlds.
The edge of the stone measures approximately 8 inches and contains a band of a series of dots as well as what have been said to be flint knives.
This area has been interpreted as representing a starry night sky. From the moment the Sun Stone was discovered in , many scholars have worked at making sense of the stone's complexity.
This provides a long history of over years of archaeologists, scholars, and historians adding to the interpretation of the stone.
In addition to its tremendous aesthetic value, the Sun Stone abounds in symbolism and elements that continue to inspire researchers to search deeper for the meaning of this singular monument.
The earliest interpretations of the stone relate to what early scholars believed was its use for astrology, chronology, or as a sundial.
He disagreed about the material of the stone but generally agreed with Leon y Gama's interpretation. Both of these men incorrectly believed the stone to have been vertically positioned, but it was not until that Alfredo Chavero correctly wrote that the proper position for the stone was horizontal.
Another aspect of the stone is its religious significance. One theory is that the face at the center of the stone represents Tonatiuh , the Aztec deity of the sun.
It is for this reason that the stone became known as the "Sun Stone. Yet another characteristic of the stone is its possible geographic significance.
The four points may relate to the four corners of the earth or the cardinal points. The inner circles may express space as well as time.
Lastly, there is the political aspect of the stone. It may have been intended to show Tenochtitlan as the center of the world and therefore, as the center of authority.
He posits, for example, that 7 Monkey represents the significant day for the cult of a community within Tenochtitlan.
His claim is further supported by the presence of Mexica ruler Moctezuma II 's name on the work. These elements ground the Stone's iconography in history rather than myth and the legitimacy of the state in the cosmos.
The methods of Aztec rule were influenced by the story of their Mexica ancestry, who were migrants to the Mexican territory. The lived history was marked by violence and the conquering of native groups, and their mythic history was used to legitimize their conquests and the establishment of the capital Tenochtitlan.
As the Aztecs grew in power, the state needed to find ways to maintain order and control over the conquered peoples, and they used religion and violence to accomplish the task.
The state religion included a vast canon of deities that were involved in the constant cycles of death and rebirth.
When the gods made the sun and the earth, they sacrificed themselves in order for the cycles of the sun to continue, and therefore for life to continue.
Because the gods sacrificed themselves for humanity, humans had an understanding that they should sacrifice themselves to the gods in return.
The Sun Stone's discovery near the Templo Mayor in the capital connects it to sacred rituals such as the New Fire ceremony, which was conducted to ensure the earth's survival for another year cycle, and human heart sacrifice played an important role in preserving these cosmic cycles.
The state was then exploiting the sacredness of the practice to serve its own ideological intentions. The Sun Stone served as a visual reminder of the Empire's strength as a monumental object in the heart of the city and as a ritualistic object used in relation to the cosmic cycles and terrestrial power struggles.
The sun stone image is displayed on the obverse the Mexican 20 Peso gold coin, which has a gold content of 15 grams 0. Different parts of the sun stone are represented on the current Mexican coins, each denomination has a different section.
After the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish in and the subsequent colonization of the territory, the prominence of the Mesoamerican empire was placed under harsh scrutiny by the Spanish.
The rationale behind the bloodshed and sacrifice conducted by the Aztec was supported by religious and militant purposes, but the Spanish were horrified by what they saw, and the published accounts twisted the perception of the Aztecs into bloodthirsty, barbaric, and inferior people.
The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was covered by the construction of Mexico City, and the monument was lost for centuries until it was unearthed in Although the object was being publicly honored, placing it in the shadow of a Catholic institution for nearly a century sent a message to some people that the Spanish would continue to dominate over the remnants of Aztec culture.
Another debate sparked by the influence of the Western perspective over non-Western cultures surrounds the study and presentation of cultural objects as art objects.
By referring to it as a "sculpture"  and by displaying it vertically on the wall instead of placed horizontally how it was originally used  , the monument is defined within the Western perspective and therefore loses its cultural significance.
The current display and discussion surrounding the Sun Stone is part of a greater debate on how to decolonize non-Western material culture.
There are several other known monuments and sculptures that bear similar inscriptions. Most of them were found underneath the center of Mexico City, while others are of unknown origin.
Many fall under a category known as temalacatl , large stones built for ritual combat and sacrifice. Matos Moctezuma has proposed that the Aztec Sun Stone might also be one of these.
The Stone of Tizoc 's upward-facing side contains a calendrical depiction similar to that of the subject of this page. Many of the formal elements are the same, although the five glyphs at the corners and center are not present.
The tips of the compass here extend to the edge of the sculpture. The Stone of Motecuhzoma I is a massive object approximately 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet high with the 8 pointed compass iconography.
The center depicts the sun deity Tonatiuh with the tongue sticking out. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has another, viewable here.
This one is much smaller, but still bears the calendar iconography and is listed in their catalog as "Calendar Stone". The side surface is split into two bands, the lower of which represents Venus with knives for eyes; the upper band has two rows of citlallo star icons.
This object can be viewed here. It bears similar hieroglyphic inscriptions to the Aztec Sun Stone, with 4-Movement at the center surrounded by 4-Jaguar, 4-Wind, 4-Rain, and 4-Water, all of which represent one of the five suns, or "cosmic eras".
The year sign Reed in the lower middle places the creation of this sculpture in , the year of Motecuhzoma II's coronation, while 1-Crocodile, the day in the upper middle, may indicate the day of the ceremony.
The Throne of Montezuma uses the same cardinal point iconography  as part of a larger whole. The monument was discovered in underneath the National Palace  in Mexico City and is approximately 1 meter square at the base and 1.
The compass motif with Ollin can be found in stone alters built for the New Fire ceremony. The British Museum possesses a cuauhxicalli which may depict the tension between two opposites, the power of the sun represented by the solar face and the power of the moon represented with lunar iconography on the rear of the object.