For the Aztec people, the concept of time was vital to social, ritual and economic life. The Aztec calendar, therefore, was not based on one measurement of time but rather merged two different counting methods, related to the gods. Studying this calendar system offers a fascinating insight into Aztec culture and beliefs. Using a series of activities, teaching children about this complex calendrical system calendar can be fun and interactive for all ages and abilities.
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Explain the principles of the Aztec calendar. Tell students that there are two systems within the Aztec calendar: the sacred tonalpohualli based on a 260-day cycle, used for rituals and divination; and the xiuhpohualli, a 365-day cycle relating to the seasons. According to the Aztec calendar, the year was divided into 13-day periods. Ask students to compare the Aztec calendar to the one used by Americans today that is divided into days and months. Note any similarities and differences.
Practice using the Aztec calendar. Help students better understand the Aztec calendar by working out their birthday on the calendar. Explore whether the Aztecs thought this was a good or bad day and which god was responsible for it.
Explore the Aztec gods. In the Aztec calendar, each day belonged to a different god who determined what kind of day it would be. Use this as an opportunity for a research project where students choose one god and use books and the Internet to find out as much as information as possible. Students should then create an informative poster, complete with their facts and an image or representation of that god.
Study the Aztec Calendar Stone. Carved in 1479, this famous Aztec artefact was dedicated to the principal Aztec sun god. Show students an image of this artefact and split the class into four groups: First Ring, Second Ring, Third Ring and Outer Ring. Students in each group must now choose one symbol from their ring to learn about. On an index card, each student will then draw the symbol and write a brief description. Display a large copy of the sun stone on the class wall and place the index cards around it.
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