Mexico is perhaps most well-known, archaeologically speaking, as the
home of the Aztec civilization. Yet, before the arrival of the Aztecs,
another sophisticated civilization, the Olmecs, ruled the region for
almost 1000 years. Although pre-Olmec cultures had already existed in
the region, the Olmecs have been called the cultura madre, meaning the
‘mother culture’, of Central America. By 400 B.C., the Olmecs
mysteriously vanished, the cause of which is still unknown.
The Stone Masks of Teotihuacan, Mexico
Stone masks associated with the ancient city of Teotihuacan have come to serve as emblems of the pre-Columbian past itself, yet many questions remain about these objects.
The Aztec calendar is the calendar system that was used by the Aztecs as well as other Pre-Columbian peoples of central Mexico. It is one of the Mesoamerican calendars, sharing the basic structure of calendars from throughout ancient Mesoamerica.
The calendar consisted of a 365-day calendar cycle called xiuhpohualli (year count) and a 260-day ritual cycle called tonalpohualli (day count). These two cycles together formed a 52-year “century,” sometimes called the “calendar round”. The xiuhpohualli is considered to be the agricultural calendar, since it is based on the sun, and the tonalpohualli is considered to be the sacred calendar.
The calendric year may have begun at some point in the distant past with the first appearance of the Pleiades (Tianquiztli) asterism in the east immediately before the dawn light. But due to the precession of the Earth’s axis, it fell out of favor to a more constant reference point such as a solstice or equinox. Early Spanish chroniclers recorded it being celebrated in proximity with the Spring equinox.
The Aztecs adopted human sacrifice from earlier cultures (such as the Olmecs) because they believed the universe would come to an end and the sun would cease to move without human blood.
During an Aztec human sacrifice, five priests, sometimes with their faces painted with different colors, held the sacrificial victims’ arms and legs. The heart, referred to as “precious eagle cactus fruit,” was cut from the live victim and burned on a fire in the temple.
Aztec solar disc stone
The solar disc was the emblem of the sun, known to the Aztecs as Tonatiuh, whom they imagined as a vigorous youth covered in red body paint and with ochre and yellow face paint. They believed that he was guided in his passage across the sky by Xiuhcoatl, the legendary fiery serpent that was also the deadly weapon that Tonatiuh used against his enemies in the underworld, the stars and the moon….
[This disc] is a simplified version of [the Sunstone]. The sun is represented here by four rays and by four sacred cactus thorns on the outside… In the centre is the calendrical number of the Fifth Sun (“4-Movement”). The date “6-Rabbit” appears in the border. It may refer to the year in which the stone was carved or to that of a historical event.