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Antonio de Leon : “Aztec Calendar (Sun) Stone” (1792)

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This engraving of the Aztec Calendar Stone, or Sun Stone, appeared in the essay in which the artifact was first described: Antonio de León y Gama’s Historical and chronological description of the two stones found during the new paving of the Mexico main plaza (1792). Carved of rock extracted from the Xitle volcano sometime between 1502 and 1521, it was discovered buried beneath the main square of Mexico City on December 17th, 1790.

The central figure is variously theorized to be the solar deity Tonatiuh, the earth monster Tlaltecuhtli, or possibly a hybrid deity known as Yohualtecuhtli, “The Lord of the Night.” His tongue is represented by a sacrificial knife and he holds a human heart in each of his clawed hands. Aztec deities sacrificed themselves in order for the cycles of the sun to continue, and thus it was understood that humans should sacrifice themselves to the gods in return. According to the Dominican friar Diego Durán, Alonso de Montúfar, Archbishop of Mexico from 1551 to 1572, ordered the burial of the Sun Stone so that “the memory of the ancient sacrifice that was made there would be lost.”

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