Maths Museum Museum
    Aztec Calendar Maths Museum
Aztec Calendar
© Islington Artefact Library
Click Here for Interactive Exhibit The Aztecs adopted the Mayan calendar from Central America, which was made up of a ritual cycle and a civil cycle. The Aztecs' civil calendar was based on the solar year with 18 months of 20 days and 5 odd days, while the ritual calendar consisted of 13 months of 20 days. The 5 extra days needed to complete the civil year were considered to be particularly unlucky and were known as left over and profitless days. The two calendars reached the same positions relative to each other every 52 years, when the Aztecs celebrated with a 'New Fire Ceremony'. During this festival, all sacred and domestic fires were extinguished. At the climax of the ceremony, a new sacred fire was lit on the breast of a sacrifical victim, from which the people re-lit their hearth fires and feasted.

The Aztecs believed in the periodic destruction and recreation of the world, and that their present sun was the fifth. The first sun had been destroyed by Jaguars, the second by hurricanes, the third by fire and the fourth by floods. The four previous incarnations of the sun - the Jaguar, wind, fire, and water - are represented on the calendar surrounding the central sun Tonatiuh. The Aztecs believe this present sun will eventually be destroyed by earthquakes. Around the picture of the Aztec sun god Tonatiuh in the centre of the calendar are signs representing the 20 days of the Aztec month. The wrinkles on his face are supposed to indicate his great age and his protruding tongue was to remind the Aztecs that they needed to 'feed' him with blood and human hearts from human sacrifices.

Back to the Gallery Back to the Foyer