Made Your New Tonalpohualli’s Resolutions Yet? (13th C – 16th C AD)

By: The Scribe on Friday, January 4, 2008

These images from the Codex Magliabechiano show the first four day-symbols for the “year”, or ‘tonalpohualli’. They represent flint, the rain, a flower, and a crocodile.

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, a year of time wasn’t measured in the same way that a year is measured in the 21st century. Instead, the Aztecs used several calendars to measure time in the sense that marked periods were devoted to specific deities. The tonalpohualli was a calendar whose name meant “count of days”, and marked out a 260-day sacred period.

The tonalpohualli was not based on either a lunar or solar rotation, but instead was composed of twenty 13-day periods called ‘trecena’/ Each trecena was devoted to a particular deity, and was directly associated with a specific feast for that god or goddess.

Due to its rather ancient place in Mesoamerican history, the origins of the tonalpohualli calendar remain unknown – however, some historians have postulated theories about its meaning, such as: that it is representative of the human gestation period; that it reflects a time of year relative to the sun’s position in the tropics; or that it is a primitive Venusian cycle. Opponents to these theories suggest that perhaps its creation had nothing to do with natural phenomena at all, and instead may simply be related to the importance the Aztecs gave to the numbers 13 and 20.

Complementary to the tonalpohualli is the Aztec xiuhpohualli, a solar calendar that divides the year into 18 months consisting of 20 months each. Each xiuhpohualli year was named after the first tonalpohualli day that it fell on, since the two calendars only coincided with each other once every 52 years.

Other Mesoamerican cultures also kept similar calendars – for example, the Mayan equivalent of the tonalpohualli was called the Tzolk’in, while the Mayan version of the xiuhpohualli calendar is known as the Haab’.

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Tomorrow: Prehistoric Goddess


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