The Calendar Stone

FIGURE 1. The Calendar Stone. Museo Nacional de Antropologa, Mexico City.

FIGURE 1. The Calendar Stone. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.

FIGURE 2. Calendar Stone souvenirs for sale in Mexico City, October 2010. Photo courtesy of Barbara Mundy and Sara Ryu.

FIGURE 2. Calendar Stone souvenirs for sale in Mexico City, October 2010. Photo courtesy of Barbara Mundy and Sara Ryu.

FIGURE 3. Roberto Sieck Flandes reconstruction of the coloration of the Calendar Stone, published in 1942.

FIGURE 3. Roberto Sieck Flandes’ reconstruction of the coloration of the Calendar Stone, published in 1942.

The Calendar Stone is probably the most famous piece of sculpture created by the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan (Figure 1).1 It was carved in the early years of the sixteenth century, during the reign of tlatoani Moctezuma II (1502-1520).2 Today the original (which weighs over 20 tons and measures over 3 meters across) stands at the center of the Sala Mexica in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology. Portable copies can be found in tourist shops throughout Mexico, in forms ranging from tablecloths to earrings to ashtrays to t-shirts (Figure 2). Many of these copies show the Calendar Stone painted in bright colors. This color scheme is often based on the work of Roberto Sieck Flandes, who proposed a reconstruction of the stone’s original coloration in a 1942 article (Figure 3). More recent analysis of the stone has found that Sieck Flandes’ version was far too colorful. The original stone was painted mostly in red and yellow.3 However, in the discussion which follows we use Sieck Flandes’ image as a basic illustration, mostly because it makes the complex iconography of the Calendar Stone easier to see onscreen.

The images carved into the surface of this monument refer to a number of different temporal scales: from the flow of days, to the commemoration of specific years, to the cataclysmic ruptures separating different Ages of Creation. The following discussion of Central Mexican calendrics will slowly decipher the surface of this complex monument, as well as connect it to related images from the Matrícula de Tributos and Lienzo de Tlaxcala.

The Ritual Calendar >
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1 The subtitle for this tutorial (“Tomorrow, the Day After Tomorrow”) is a translation of the sixteenth-century Nahuatl metaphor in moztla in huiptla, meaning “the time to come” (Montes de Oca Vega 2004, 194).

2 Villela and Miller 2010; Umberger 1988.

3 Sieck Flandes 1942; Solí­s Olguín 2000.