On this page we will be assembling materials that may be useful for the development of curricula relating to Mesoamerican calendars. The study of calendars provides a window onto indigenous conceptualizations of time and relationships between human beings and their surrounding environments, as they tried to manage life in synch with the changing seasons (almanacs are important for agricultural practices). It also intersects with studies of religion (such as beliefs about a possible apocalypse), music (which is also closely linked to religion), medicine (health and curing), mathematics (measurements, cycles, astronomy, geometry, and so on), and genealogy.

 Nahua Region

  • Xiuhpohualli, 365-day solar calendar explained in Wikipedia; 20 x 18 (+5)
  • Tonalpohualli, 260-day lunar/sacred calendar explained in Wikipedia; 20 x 13
  • 52-year cycle = when xiuhpohualli and tonalpohualli calendars coincide, and then a new cycle begins
  • Mesolore tutorial, “The Calendar Stone
  • Mesolore tutorial, “The Ritual Calendar
  • Mesolore tutorial, “The Solar Calendar
  • Mesolore tutorial, “The 52-Year Cycle
  • Mesolore tutorial, “The Ages of Creation
  • Mesolore tutorial, “Secret Names?
  • Mesolore tutorial, “Numeration
  • Mesolore bibliography relating to the calendars
  • Mexicolore offers a good introductory page on “Aztec Calendar(s)
  • Khristiaan Villela, “The Aztec Calendar Stone or Sun Stone” (Mexicolore)
  • Gianluca D’Andrea, “Creating a Sunstone Model” (Mexicolore)
  • Ian Mursell, “Daysign Destinies!” (Mexicolore) — the idea here is to help young people feel a personal connection with the “Aztec” calendar while also coming to understand how an individual’s destiny might have been connected to the calendar and predictions about given dates
  • Tonalpohualli, manuscript at the Library of Congress; “tonalpohualli,” refers to the Nahua sacred calendar, which ruled the life of each Mexica and was consulted on all important occasions. It was made up of 260 days, or 20 months of 13 days. The inner portions of this calendar represent the symbols for the 20 days and the sun, moon, and stars.
Nahua Day Signs

Nahua Day Signs (image from the Internet; must get permission)

Day Signs & Numbers, interlocking wheels (Photo by S. Wood, San Miguel Tequixtepec, 2011)

Day Signs & Numbers, interlocking wheels (Photo by S. Wood, San Miguel Tequixtepec, 2011)

A copy of a rendering of the tonalpohualli. Library of Congress. Public domain.

Oaxaca Region

The longevity of indigenous calendars in the Oaxaca region is truly impressive.  In the middle of the Spanish colonial period, in 1705 and 1705, some 106 separate calendrical texts and four collections of ritual songs were collected by ecclesiastics who were concerned with continuing pre-Columbian religious and philosophical beliefs.  Professor Davíd Tavárez of Vassar College is one of the experts in the study of these manuscripts, many of which have texts in the Sierra Zapotec language.

Zapotec Days Signs (image from Internet; must get permission)
Zapotec Days Signs (image from Internet; must get permission)

The Borgia manuscript group (Mixtec) emphasizes divinatory calendars. See a sample page below, hosted by FAMSI, and for use in teaching by citing the source.

Page from the Borgia Codex (Mixtec) with information about the tonalpohualli. Hosted by FAMSI. Okay to use in teaching with proper citation of John Pohl’s Mesoamerica and FAMSI.

Mixtec Day Signs (from the Internet; must get permission)

Mixtec Day Signs (from the Internet; must get permission)

Maya Region

The year 2012 and the supposed Maya belief in apocalypse received a lot of popular attention. Scholars had to work hard to dispel the sensationalism that the media whipped up around the globe in association with 2012.