Aztec
Tenochtitlan, Mexico
Coronation Stone of Motecuhzoma II (Stone of the Five Suns)
1503

Basalt
55.9 x 66 x 22.9 cm (22 x 26 x 9 in.)
Major Acquisitions Fund, 1990.21

Scholars believe that Stone of the Five Suns came from the ritual precinct of Tenochtitlán (present-day Mexico City), which was once the capital of the Aztec empire. Before it was destroyed by the Spaniards in 1521, Tenochtitlán contained numerous open plazas with impressive pyramid-temples, buildings, and monuments. Many stone sculptures, such as this commemorative piece, have been discovered in the area near the Main Pyramid, site of two principal temples: one to rain and the other to the deified Aztec founder and warrior.

Like other architectural sculptures bearing hieroglyphs, this one provides information about Aztec mythology and its connection to actual historical events. According to Aztec beliefs, the earth has been created and destroyed four times so far. The present is actually the fifth era of creation. The hieroglyphic symbols in each corner correspond to the four previous cosmic eras. Each era is named for its date of destruction, starting counterclockwise from the lower right corner. The first era is identified with the name "jaguar," followed by "wind," "rain," and "water." The carved X in the center refers to the fifth era, "movement," implying the movement of the earth, an age that Aztecs believed would end in violent earthquakes.

Other dates given on the stele help place the object within recorded Aztec history. The square area at the bottom of the stone corresponds to the year "11 Reed" (1503), in which the stone was carved, and the crocodile figure at the top corresponds to July 15, the coronation day of Motecuhzoma II, the last ruler before the Spanish conquest.

Although shown here in an upright position, this six-sided block was originally laid flat, hiding the image of a rabbit, a revered creature in Aztec culture. Images of rabbits were associated with the calendrical year of the earth’s creation. When the block rested on the ground, the rabbit figure was facing the earth (to which it referred). Thus, the entire monument was a three-dimensional, hieroglyphic text.