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TitleOld America - The Mexican Calendar
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number9
Date Published1 May 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Calendar System; Mesoamerica; Mexico; Native Americans - Toltec; Timekeeping

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

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The abbe Don Lorenzo Hervas, having read the work of Clavigero, when in manuscript, made some curious and learned observations on the old Toltec calendar, and communicated them to the author of the Mexican history in a letter dated July 31, 1780. We will give a few extracts from the learned abbe's epistle.

"The year and century have, from time immemorial, been regulated by the Mexicans with a decree of intelligence which does not at all correspond with their arts and sciences. In them they were certainly extremely inferior to the Greeks or Romans; but the discernment which appears in their calendar equals that of the cultivated nations. Hence we ought to imagine that this calendar has, not been the discovery of the Mexicans, but a communication from some more enlightened people; and as the last are not to be found in America, we must seek for them elsewhere in Asia or in Egypt. The Mexican year began upon the twenty-sixth of February, a day celebrated in the era of Nabonassar, which was fixed by the Egyptians 747 years before the Christian era; for the beginning of their month -- 'Toth' corresponded with the meridian of the same day. If those priests fixed also upon this day as an epoch, because it was celebrated in Egypt, we have there the Mexican calendar agreeing with the Egyptian. But independent of this, if is certain that the Mexican calendar conformed greatly with the Egyptian. * * * Boturini determined by the Mexican paintings the year of the confusion of tongues, and the years of the creation of the world, which determination appears not to be difficult. As the eclipses are noted in the Mexican paintings, there is not a doubt but the true epoch of chronology may be obtained from them. Respecting the symbols of the Mexican months and year, they discover ideas entirely conformable with those of the ancient Egyptians. The latter distinguished, as appears from their monuments, each month or part of the zodiac, where the sun stood, with characteristical figures of that which happened in every season of the year. Therefore, we see the signs of Aries, Taurus, and the two young goats (which now are Gemini), used to mark the months of the birth of those animals; the signs of Cancer, Leo, and Virgo, with the ear of corn, for those months in which the sun goes backward like a crab, in which there is greater heat, and in which the harvests are reaped. The sign of the scorpion (which in the Egyptian sphere occupies the space which at present is occupied by the sign Libra), and that of Sagitarius, in the months of virulent, contagious distempers, and the chase; and lastly, the signs of Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces, in those months in which the sun begins to ascend -- in which it rains much and in which there is abundant fishing. These ideas at least are similar to those which the Mexicans associated with their clime. They called their first month 'Acahualcol' that is the cessation of the waters, which began on the twenty-sixth of February, and they symbolized this month by a house, with the figure of water above it; they gave also to the same month the name 'Quahuitlehua,' that is the moving or budding of trees. The Mexicans afterwards distinguished their first month by two names, of which the first, "Acahualco," or the cessation of the waters, did not correspond with their climate, where the rains came in October; but it agrees with northern climes of America, from whence their ancestors (Toltecs) came; and from that the origin of this name appears evidently very ancient. The second name, that is 'Quahulitlehua,' or the budding of the trees, agrees much with the word 'Kimath,' used by Job to signify the pleiades (chap. ix verse 9) which in his time announced the spring, when the trees begin to move. The symbol of the second Mexican month was a pavilion, which indicated the great heat prevalent in Mexico in April, before the rains of May came on. The symbol of the third month was a bird which appeared at that time. The twelfth and thirteenth months had for their symbol the plant 'pactli,' which springs up and matures in these months. The fourteenth month was expressed by a cord and a hand which pulled it, expressive of the binding power of the cold in that month, which is January, and to this same circumstance the name 'Tititl,' which they gave it alludes. The constellation 'Kesii,' of which Job speaks to signify winter, signifies in the Arabic root (which is Kesal) to be cold and asleep, and in the text of Job it is read, 'Couldst thou break the cords or ties of Kesil?' The symbol for the Mexican century convinces me that it is the same which the ancient Egyptians and Chaldeans had. In the Mexican symbol we see the sun as it were eclipsed by the moon, and surrounded with a serpent which makes four twists, and embraces the four periods of thirteen years. This very idea of the serpent with the sun has, from time immemorial, in the world, signified the periodical or annual course of the sun. The Egyptians more particularly agree with the Mexicans; for to symbolize the sun they employed a circle with one or two serpents, but still more the ancient Persians, among whom their 'Mitras' was symbolized by a sun, and a serpent. There is no doubt that the symbol of the serpent is a thing totally arbitrary to signify the sun, with which it has no physical relation; wherefore then, I ask, have so many nations dispersed over the globe, and of which some have had no reciprocal intercourse, unless in the first ages after the deluge agreed in using one same symbol, and chose to express by it the same object. When we find the word 'sacco' in the Hebrew, Greek, Teutonic, Latin languages, etc., it obliges us to believe that it belongs to the primitive language of man after the deluge, and when we see one same arbitrary symbol, signifying the sun and his course, used by the Mexicans, the Chinese, the ancient Egyptians and Persians, does it not prompt us to believe the real origin of it was in the time of Noah, or the first men after the deluge? This fair conclusion is strongly confirmed by the Chiapanese calendar (which is totally Mexican), in which the Chiapanese, according to De la Vega, bishop of Chiapa, in his preface to his synodal constitutions, put forth the first symbol or name of the first year of the century, as 'Votan,' nephew of him who built a wall up to heaven, and gave to men the languages which they now speak."

Humboldt has devoted several pages of his "Researches in America" in describing the similarity which exists between the Chinese, Japanese, Calmucks, Moguls, and other Tartar nations, also the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, and ancient Celtic nations of Europe with the Mexicans in their representations of astrology, astronomy, and divisions of time. For his interesting and minute description of the Aztec calendar stone the reader is referred to the edition of his Researches Vol. I, translated by Williams.

In the centre of the stone is sculptured the god "Tonatiuh," (the sun) opening his mouth. This yawning mouth is like the image "Kala," or Time, a divinity of Hindostan. Its meaning, denotes that Tonatiuh, or time, devours the world, days, months, years, as fast as they come. The same figure or image, under the name "Moloch," was used by the Phoenicians. Humboldt says the Mexicans have evidently followed the Persians in the division of time, judging from the figures carved on the calendar stone. The Persians flourished fifteen hundred years before Christ.