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Aztec Sun Stone

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Photo by Juan Carlos Fonseca Mata

Photo by Juan Carlos Fonseca Mata

Of the thousands of artefacts that reflect the complex thinking and creative vigour of the Aztecs, few are more imposing than the sculptured basalt disc that is sometimes known as the Stone of the Sun. A monumental 3.5. metres in diameter and 25 tonnes in weight, it once adorned the Great Temple of Huitzilopochtli in the central square of Tenochtitlan. It depicts in intricately carved relief the Aztecs' cosmos-their gods, their cultural rites and the dates by which they calculated time.

Scholars have yet to decipher all its mysteries. But most agree that. the glowering face in the central medallion represents the sun-god. The two ear-shaped cartouches on either side show claws clutching hearts, reminiscent of the Aztecs' grisly rite of human sacrifice. The four rectangular cartouches around the sun-god portray gods which represent (anticlockwise from upper right) the elements of earth, wind,

fire and water-which, the Aztecs believed, had each in turn destroyed four previous "worlds" or epochs in history antedating their own.

In concentric bands around those figures are hieroglyphic representations of months and years extending back to the beginning of the present world given as 1011 A.D. Girdling the whole are two snakes, their heads confronting each other at the base. and their tails meeting at the top.

The Spaniards, in a frenzy of Christian piety, cast the disc into the rubble of the magnificent city they destroyed. It remained in limbo until 1790, when treasure hunters inspired by lingering tales of Aztec wealth found it while digging in the Zócalo. Today Mexicans, increasingly proud of their Indian heritage, have it prominently displayed at the National Museum of Anthropology in the capital's Chapultepec Park.

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