A Matter of Light and Death

26 MayCommunity / Events


For the Mesoamerican people, the astronomer was a person who tossed his eyes to the sky, and the stars were the eyes of the sky.

The Aztec sun stone – also known as the calendar stone – is one of the most iconic artefacts in archaeology. At its centre, the grinning visage of Tonatiuh, the sun god; surrounding him are dozens of intricately carved glyphs depicting animals, dates, and the cataclysms that ended the four previous eras of Aztec mythology. The stone is a symbol of the Sun’s importance to Aztec culture.

On Thursday 28 May at 5.30pm in the Te Manawa foyer, Her Excellency Leonora Rueda, Ambassador of Mexico, will give an engaging public talk on the Aztec calendar stone and how their culture closely linked the Sun to life itself.

“The Aztec Calendar Stone is the vivid result of the astronomy developed by the Mesoamerican people, based on their observations of the sky and its impact on life,” she says. “Natural elements of the landscape and man-made constructions such as pyramids were used to track the path of the Sun and develop seasonal and ritual calendars.”

Every 52 years, according to these calendars, a festival of sacrifice was held to ensure the Sun’s continued wellbeing. The Aztecs buried pyramids, extinguished fires, broke pottery and sacrificed warriors upon the altars. If the Sun rose in the morning, they knew Tonatiuh had received the strength for another 52-year cycle.

The notion of sacrifice as a means to continued life was central to Aztec religion. Believing their gods sacrificed themselves to give humans life, the Aztecs strove to return the favour.

Mrs Rueda will discuss how calendar stones throughout Mesoamerica governed many aspects of the ritual and agricultural lives of the peoples who created them.

“We will see how the Sun was considered to be the main God who decided life and death,” she says.

Mrs Rueda’s presentation is part of Te Manawa’s events programme in support of “Sunlight – Ihi Komaru”, the new interactive exhibition that tells the story of how light has shaped life and culture for millions of years.

“Sunlight – Ihi Komaru” is open at Te Manawa until 6 September.