Observatory Temple Unveils Ancient Aztec Calendar Secrets

Observatory Temple Unveils Ancient Aztec Calendar Secrets

The famous Aztec Calendar Secrets may be finally revealed.

Archaeologists have long been baffled by how sky watchers in Mexico managed to keep track of the sun over time in order to preserve their agricultural calendar. A recent study demonstrates how Mexica temples used entire mountain ranges as observatories.

Aztec Calendar Secrets archaeological site

When Spanish conquistadors first landed in the Basin of Mexico in 1519 AD, the agricultural center, now known as Mexico City, was a thriving ancient city that fed and housed around three million Mexica, or Aztecs. To feed such a hungry city during the summer monsoon rains and dry springs, it requires advanced agricultural systems and technology to absorb, store, and channel water.

To properly accomplish this, Aztec agriculturalists had to anticipate seasonal changes in order to design irrigation channels and growing terraces in advance. If the Mexica had planted or harvested too early or too late within a single season, there would be no Aztec culture to speak about. But until recently, nobody knew how they made it work.

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Aztec observatory Mount Tlaloc
We now know more about how the Mexica established their calendars and planned their agricultural activities thanks to the Aztec observatory on Mount Tlaloc

To ascertain the day and month, Aztec astronomer-priests had to keep an eye on the sun. Additionally, a phenomena called as solar declination creates a drift in the calendar from what actually occurs in the sky due to the tilt of the Earth. This suggests that Aztec scientists had to modify their calendars to take leap years into account. If this hadn’t been considered, there might have been a disaster and a failure of the crop.

Exequiel Ezcurra, a well-known professor of ecology at UC Riverside, has published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to the findings of his research team, ancient Mexica sky watchers “stood in a constant spot, staring eastwards from one day to the next, to tell the time of year by watching the rising sun.” The research demonstrates how such “a location” would have worked as an observatory.

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Mount Tlaloc’s view of Mount Tepeyac. This ancient Aztec observatory used the natural world to tell the time

As they searched for one of these “sites,” which must have been very sacred, in ancient Mexica writings, the researchers came across a reference to an observatory on Mount Tlaloc. This mountain and archaeological site in central Mexico are located east of the basin, close to the state border with Puebla, in the settlements of Ixtapaluca and Texcoco. It seems to have been used as a site for ceremonies starting in the seventh century AD.

The study team spent more than a year scouring the mountain ranges surrounding the basin before finding “an ancient stone causeway” atop Mount Tlaloc, according to a report in News UCR. The archaeologists made a number of geodetic and astronomical observations from what they discovered to be an Aztec temple. Astronomy software that later processed the gathered data determined that the causeway “aligns with the rising sun on Feb. 24, the first day of the Aztec new year.”

Aztec Calendar Secrets Decoding

aztec observatory Mount Tlaloc in Mexico
To coordinate with the natural world on solstices and equinoxes, the ancient Aztec observatory at Mount Tlaloc was constructed. Mexican Mount Tlaloc’s stone causeway, with the rising sun in the background

According to Dr. Ezcurra, trained Mexica observers would have been stationed near the center of the temple. The sun was then observed rising and setting against the horizon in what is essentially an outdoor solar observatory in order to establish the season using the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as indicators. The new study came to the conclusion that “the entire Valley of Mexico, the basin itself” served as a useful tool.

Almost all architectural remains have ground plans that line up with the solstices, equinoxes, and other significant dates in the Mexica agricultural calendar. Spanish documents from the fifteenth century make reference to Aztec calendars. However, prior to the publishing of this new study, it was unclear how precisely Mexica sky watchers used the sun, mountains, and other landmarks to track passing time.

In order to know when to plant seeds and harvest specific crops before the arrival of frosts, groups of experienced sky watchers stood at the ends of ritualized stone causeways and watched the sun rise from behind particular peaks and landmarks in the Sierras. One of the thousands of little platforms and the hundreds of large temple observatories that were used in ancient Mexico to measure the sun’s position in relation to the horizon and make accurate agricultural predictions that were essential to survival is the study’s temple causeway.

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