On December 17, 1790, workers excavating a street in downtown Mexico City uncovered an enormous monolith buried face down near what was once a corner of the ceremonial center of Tenotchtitlan. It is commonly known as the Aztec Calendar or as the Piedra del Sol (Sun Stone) and it depicts the mechanism of the universe and of Aztec concepts of their place in the cosmic scheme. This monumental work of art measures 12 feet across and weighs 24 tons. There is a strong possibility that the Piedra del Sol served as an altar for human sacrifice, a good reason for the second archbishop of Mexico to have ordered the stone buried 231 years before in December of 1559.
The Calendar Stone is composed of several concentric rings:
The innermost ring contains the face of either the Sun God Tonatiuh or, more likely, the Earth’s face.
The second circle from the center depicts the four epochs, called “Suns,” survived by Mother Earth. The First Sun is called Nahui Ocelotl (Nah-wee Oh-se-lotl), Four Ocelot (Jaguar) and represents an age where the Earth was inhabited by giants who eventually were devoured by the beasts. The Second Sun is called Nahui Ehecatl (Nah-wee Aye-ekah-tl), Four Wind and represents an age of agriculture that ended when hurricanes and strong winds swept everything away. The Third Sun is called Nahui Quiauhuitl (Nah-wee Kwee-ah-wee-tl), Four Fire Rain and represents an age when cities, temples and pyramids were built only to be destroyed by fire from the interior of the Earth. The Fourth Sun is called Nahui Atl (Nah-wooee Ah-tl), Four Water and represents an era when oceans were being navigated by ships and sailors who perished when the great flood covered the whole Earth. The pattern suggests that the Fifth Sun was destined to be destroyed by earthquake.
The third circle from the center depicts the twenty day signs of the sacred calendar. It starts with (1) Cipactli (See-pahk-tlee), Earth Monster, top left as the first day and proceeds counterclockwise with (2) Ehecatl , Wind, (3) Calli (Kah-lee), House, (4) Cuetzpalin (Kwetz-pah-lin), Lizard, (5) Cóatl (Koh-ah-tl), Serpent, (6) Miquiztli (Mee-kweez-tlee), Death, (7) Mazatl (Mah-zah-tl), Deer, (8) Tochtli (Tosh-tlee), Rabbit, (9) Atl (Ah-tl), Water, (10) Itzcuintli (Eeetz-kween-tlee), Dog, (11) Ozomatli (Oh-zoh-mah-tlee), Monkey, (12) Malinalli (Mah-lee-nah-lee), Dry Grass, (13) Acatl (Ah-kah-tl), Reed, (14) Ocelottl (Oh-seh-loh-tl), Ocelot, (15) Cuauhtli (Kwah-ooh-tlee), Eagle, (16) Cozcacuauhtli (Kohz-kah-kwah-oo-tlee), Turkey, (17) Ollin (Ohl-leen), Movement, (18) Tecpatl (Tess-pah-tl), Flint, (19) Quiauhuitl (Kwee-ah-wee-tl), Fire Rain, and ends with (20) Xochitl (Shoh-shee-tl), Flower.
The fourth circle from the center, shaped like a compass rose, depicts the present Sun or age, the Fifth Sun. Inside this circle is contained the calendar itself, the symbols for the four past Suns, and the identity of the central face.
The outer circle, fifth from the center, depicts two Fire Serpents Xiuhcóatl (Shee-ooh-kwa-tl) which represent the universe that surrounds the Earth. The Xiuhcóatl was believed to carry the sun across the sky from sunrise to sunset, and at night one would find it hiding in the Milky Way, indicated by the star glyphs on its upturned snout. The two groups of stars may represent the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and the seven sisters of Pleiades, which was the most important star group for Mesoamerican cultures. When the seven sisters reached the center of the sky, the Aztecs would be assured that their world would go on for another fifty-two years.