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Calendar Stone

Artist/maker unknown, Mexican, Aztec

Made in central Mexico, Mexico, North and Central America


Green igneous rock?

19 1/2 × 33 inches (49.5 × 83.8 cm) Weight: 1380lb. (625.96 kg)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    According to sixteenth-century Spanish chroniclers, the Aztecs used sacrificial stones such as this, called temalacatls, as altars during important rituals, particularly coronation ceremonies. The precious greenstone and sophisticated decoration of this example, one of several pre-Columbian sculptures from the collection of Louise and Walter Arensberg, suggest it might have been made in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The ollin (literally "movement") symbol carved on the stone’s central panel signifies the era of Aztec rule as well as the fifth, and final, sun in Aztec creation mythology. Its curved outer edge features carvings of two rows of dots, perhaps representing stars, and the mask of the water deity Tlaloc surrounded by obsidian knives, possibly in reference to the object’s function as a sacrificial altar. Mark A. Castro, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 252.

  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    The Aztec believed that every natural and human activity was subject to an order imposed by the universe. Because Aztec rulers were thought to be semidivine, much of the art associated with them was infused with cosmic symbolism to add further legitimacy to their claim to imperial power. The central panel of this altar is carved to represent the fifth, and last, sun in the Aztec creation myths, which signified the era of Aztec rule; the same image appears on the famous Aztec calendar stone in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. This motif is surrounded by the sun's disk, and on the sides are a series of dots representing stars. Other reliefs show flint knives and skull forms, which symbolize sacrifice and the earth. During the ceremonies in which Aztec rulers were confirmed, blood offerings to the earth and sky were made at this altar. It was originally associated with a major but as yet identified temple in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, a site now occupied by central Mexico City. Allen Wardwell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 56.