The Aztec empire was miles ahead of the rest of the world with their previously considered primitive culture. Their secret weapon was an advanced method of planning, keeping time and remembering occasions without relying on gadgets.
We just realized it has the basic structure and all the features of a calendar and applies to all time zones; we wouldn’t mind a piece of this sun stone.
Periods of time are plotted using Aztec symbols and sequences. The patterns are not there by default, as each fulfilled a religious purpose or was deemed pleasing to one or more of their gods.
Against all odds, this artifact survived as Christians destroyed others during the Spanish colonial reign over Mexico. Its chronological and astronomical value overshadowed its association with the alleged pagan Aztec religion.
Unfortunately, the famous relic of ancient civilization is sitting in Mexico City at their National Museum of Anthropology, and it’s the only one. In our quest to recreate this Mesoamerican calendar, we realized we needed to understand its science. This is our step-by-step guide to drawing the Aztec calendar.
The Face of Tonatiuh
It is a solar calendar, and you can tell from the image of Tonatiuh that the Aztec sun god in the middle is the heart of the calendar. Although you are free to start from the exterior, we prefer to begin at the core. This way, you can capture the face of Tonatiuh comfortably and scale.
The face should be stoic, exhibiting a capacity for unlimited endurance and resilience. The Aztec civilization was yet to embrace the culture of smiling for the camera, or sketch artist, which seems more plausible. The details you capture depend on your drawing expertise and the desired complexity.
The sun god is placed inside a circle as a show of movement and continuity. The circle also stands for the fifth sun, the prevailing cosmological era for the Aztecs at the time they came up with the Aztec calendar. According to Aztec mythology, the world had already gone through four suns or cycles and was on its fifth cycle.
Each cycle was triggered by a god throwing themself into a fire mischievously or as a result of fierce rivalry between the gods. In the process, an entire race of humans was eliminated, only for another to emerge. It is, therefore, also an illustration of the first five consecutive worlds of the sun.
There are four squares outside the circle. These are the four suns or cycles that preceded the fifth. They were symbols of four forces that were sustaining the prevailing universe. The circle and four squares represented the Mesoamerican religious concept Nahui Ollin—four movements.
It means eternal movement, four states of perception and five bodies. The interaction was beyond the physical world’s limits and responsible for the human race’s invention and reinvention.
The original Aztec calendar had hieroglyphs of the cause of annihilation for each cycle inscribed inside each of the four squares. You can include them in your Aztec calendar, so there is a distinction between sections.
The Mesoamerican calendar was borne under the belief that the earth was circular, flat and divided into North, East, South and West quarters. Aztec art separated them with colors, gods and days.
The first creation, the jaguar sun, was destroyed by giant jaguars and is represented by the box on the upper left (northeast) of the face of Tonatiuh. The second creation, the wind sun on the upper right (northwest), was destroyed by dreadful hurricanes.
The third is the rain sun on the lower left which was destroyed by a rain of fire, and on the lower right, the water sun that was destroyed by a mighty flood.
There is a claw on the right and another on the left of the face of the sun god. These were probably included to symbolize the harvesting of the hearts and blood of warriors. Human sacrifice was necessary to feed the sun so the cycle would stay alive. The gods had created the world with their own blood, after all.
There are four dots above and below the claws on both sides and an upward-pointing triangle which we believe points to the true north for direction. This completes the Nahui Ollin section of the Aztec calendar. Another series of concentric circles separates this section from the next one.
Between this circle and the next is a ring of images representing twenty days of the 260-day calendar. Aztec civilization branded this the Tonalpohualli, which means counting of days. Each day was given its own unique number, hieroglyph and patron. This ring is divided into 20 sections starting directly above the north point. Each is given its unique hieroglyph.
The next concentric circle forms a wider ring than the day count section. Four triangles are pointing north, east, south and west. In between them, at an equal distance, draw four smaller triangles. They have been associated with the rays of the sun.
They are connected by a pattern of small boxes all around the ring, resembling turquoise, a precious stone associated with fire in ancient Mexico.
The outermost ring hosts two dragons whose heads meet at the bottom and tails at the top of the Aztec calendar. The heads have the faces of the Aztec gods of fire and sun, and the tails are inflamed. They protect whatever is in between.
The more details you add, the more authentic your Aztec calendar will look, and the easier it will be to relate with early Aztec civilization. Your drawings might not capture the exact images of some of these Aztec symbols, but the calendar will make sense if you understand its foundation.