Secrets of the Sunstone: Part One

Unlock the meaning of five symbols on the Aztec Piedra del Sol's inner ring

Museo Nacional de Antropología, México

Piedra del Sol (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

The Piedra del Sol, or sun stone, is one of the most famous pieces in Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology. This carved stone disk symbolizes the conception of the time for the Mexicas; it didn't work as a calendar although it's often mistaken for one.

The iconographic elements that decorate the Sun Stone are distributed in concentric circles. The first ring around the center contains 20 symbols with represent the days in the Aztec month, which formed a cycle of 260 days also called Tonalpohualli.

The Inner Ring

Let's decode five symbols from the inner ring, and explore artifacts related to them. Players can collect these five objects in the first level of the Descent of the Serpent, the video game inspired by ancient Mesoamerica. Play if you dare, and read on to discover the secrets...

Symbol 4: Cuetzpalin - Lizard

The fourth symbol on the Sun Stone and day of the Aztec month is Cuetzpalin, meaning lizard. This day was thought to be protected by Huehuecoyotl, the trickster god of deception.

Pendiente de hueso en forma de reptil (0300/0850) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Bone-Carved Lizard

This piece represents a crouching saurian, perhaps a lizard, which is unfortunately now missing its head.

Along its abdomen, there are five sections of relief carvings, each of which represents mythical characters and animals.

Piedra del Sol (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Symbol 8: Tochtli - Rabbit

The eighth day of the Aztec month, symbolized by the rabbit, is protected by Mayahuel, goddess of fertility. Both the rabbit and Mayahuel were associated with pulque, an intoxicating drink consumed in ancient Mesoamerican culture. 

Tochtli by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Rabbit Sculpture

This sculpture shows a rabbit. During the creation of the fifth sun, two suns were created. Quetzalcoatl threw a rabbit skin bag over the second one to transform it into the moon. 

Piedra del Sol (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Symbol 12: Malinalli - Grass

The 12th day, Malinalli (grass), was protected by Patecatl, a god of fertility, medicine and healing. 

Copa policromada (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Polychrome Cup

This beautiful vessel is known simply as 'flower cup', showing a range of natural imagery and symbols (including the malinalli glyph) across its four twisted stems.

Piedra del Sol (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Symbol 16: Cozcacuahtl - Vulture

The 16th day and icon, Cozcacuahtl meaning 'vulture', signifies the way of the scavenger, who is neither predator nor prey.

Tlalpanhuehuetl o Tambor vertical (1325/1521) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Tlalpanhuehuetl (Vertical Drum)

This splendid drum was carved into a trunk of an ahuehuete with a scene of an eagle and a vulture confronting with their wings spread. From their beaks sprouts the glyph of war (atl tlachinolli) which consists of a stream of water that is intertwined with one of fire.

Vertical drums were known as tlalpanhuehuetl (“Earth drum”) because they were placed directly on the floor. The upper part was covered with animal skin and played with palms and fingers. The iconography of this drum suggests its used by warriors during ceremonies. 

Piedra del Sol (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Symbol 20: Xochitl - Flower

Associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of youth, love, pleasure and beauty, Xochitl, meaning 'flower' was the 20th and final day of the Aztec calendrical cycle, and the last icon on the sunstone's inner ring. 

Diosa de la fertilidad vegetal (1325/1521) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Goddess of Plant Fertility

This small sculpture is the depiction of a young goddess of vegetable fertility, and is shown holding corncobs in each hand.

Piedra del Sol in the Descent of the Serpent gameMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Now, it's your turn - travel back in time to ancient Mesoamerica to race through a maze, locate these objects and save the world by playing The Descent of the Serpent!

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