Secrets of the Sunstone: Part Three

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

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 third 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 3: Calli - House

The third day of the Aztec calendar is connected to the god Tepeyollotl. This was a day of rest associated with tranquility and family.

Teocalli de la guerra sagrada (1325/1521) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México


Teocalli is Nahuatl for temple or sacred house. This stone model represents a staircase plinth with side rafters finished with dices, an element typical in the Mexica architecture. The monument is decorated with strong symbolic images.

The front side has a solar disc with the sign of Nahui Olin (Four Movement) at the center, a symbol associated with the Fifth Sun. At the sides there are two figures; the one on the left side has a bird helmet, and a hummingbird with one leg turned into a snake head.

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

Symbol 7: Mazatl - Deer

The seventh day of the Aztec calendar was represented by a deer and governed by Tlaloc, the god of rain and thunderstorms. The deer was a favourite animal to hunt throughout ancient Mesoamerica for its meat, skin, and antlers. 

Plato trípode (0600/0900) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Tripod Plate

This tripod plate presents a scene showing a dance or ceremony that reenacts deer hunting. The painted image displays four individuals disguised as deer, three hunters playing musical instruments, two deer, and in the centre, a squatting hunter holding the captured prey.

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

Symbol 11: Ozomahtli - Monkey

Ozomahtli, meaning 'monkey', is the 11th day in the Aztec calendar, and was a day of lightheartedness. This day was associated with the god Xochipili, sometimes known as the Flower Prince.

Ozomahtli by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Monkey Vessel

This Maya vessel shows the figure of a monkey. It is possible that this was used to mix pigments for writing, as the howler monkey was the god of scribes.

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

Symbol 15: Cuauhtli - Eagle

Cuauhtli, meaning eagle, is the 15th  symbol on the sunstone's inner ring and 15th day-sign of the Aztec calendar. This day was protected by the goddess Xipe Totec, and was associated with the Warriors of Huitzilopochtli.

Brasero del guerrero muerto (1250/1500) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

Brazier of a Dead Warrior

This splendid ceramic brazier in the shape of a figure dressed as a warrior of the military order of the eagles still retains brightly colored paint. The elements that characterize him as an eagle warrior are the dress he wears – an eagle head helmet with a very open beak from which the face of the person emerges – and the bird claw that protrudes from the lower limb, as well as the shield and the arrows that he holds in one of his hands.

This represents a dead warrior, as indicated by the fleshless face and the ornaments he wears, such as the hand-like earflaps and the necklace made of cut hands and hearts, like the ones that are worn by death deities. The warriors that were sacrificed to the Sun are called cuauhtécatl or “dwellers of the eagle land”, since their vital energy went to heaven to become part of the sun army. 

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

Symbol 19: Quiahuitl - Rain

Linked to Tlaloc, god of water, rain and fertility, the 19th day of the Aztec calendar was known as Quiahuitl, meaning 'rain'.

Olla Tláloc (1325/1521) by unknownMuseo Nacional de Antropología, México

 In the Nahua worldview, Tláloc personified the water stored inside the mounts that were considered to be big containers full of the vital liquid; his servants, called tlaloques, filled their jars with this water to make it rain.

Tlaloc Pot

This beautiful pot, painted originally in blue, has attached a polychrome mask that represents Tláloc, god of the rain. The god’s face is formed with two serpents that coil around the eyes, go down to form the nose and join their heads on the mouth showing their long fangs. 

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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