How will the end of the world come? There are several options (Walla! News. Director and Narration: Aviv Abramovich)
While a Vatican scholar claims Leonardo da Vinci hid the date of the apocalypse in his painting The Last Supper, a curator of art and archaeology believes the Aztec Empire predicted the date of the apocalypse long before it — and even "managed" to reject it.
One of the best-known myths about the apocalypse is the Mayan prediction that the world will come to an end in 2012. Archaeologists who are experts on the subject have repeatedly pointed out that the Mayans never had a prediction about the end of the world – and that's no excuse for the fact that 2012 is long behind us and we're still here. However, if you walk a few thousand miles north, you'll find another civilization that definitely worried about the impending apocalypse: the Aztecs.
They were so worried about the end of the world, in fact, that they regularly sacrificed humans in the hope of postponing the end by another year. At least that's what Susan Milbath, curator of Latin American art and archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, claims after deciphering the giant relic known as the "Sun Stone"—a round calendar stone made of 24 tons of basalt stone—and concluding that for centuries we haven't read it correctly.
While researchers have long been confident that the central image in the stone depicts Tonatio, the Aztec sun god, a 2017 paper by Millbrath suggests that the image may have more nuance than we thought. Instead of simply showing God's face, she interpreted the image as depicting the deaths of humans during an eclipse—an event that the old civilization believed would lead to a world apocalypse.
Aztec calendar (Photo: ShutterStock, Jirik V/Shutterstock)
They did not believe that the apocalypse would occur on some distant and amorphous date. Based on the metal drawings surrounding Tonatio (claws gripping human hearts alluding to the eclipse monster, a circle of "zodiac signs" symbolizing the 260 days of the calendar used by the priesthood to predict future events, and fire snakes representing a constellation associated with the sun during the dry season), modern scholars have concluded exactly when the Aztecs believed the world would come to an end: 4 Olin. This date may not tell you much, but it is a specific day of the year (such as August 17) when the world is supposedly supposed to end. They believed that if they didn't want the world to come to an end on that day of year, they needed to do something to prevent the end in the middle of summer vacation.
What did they do? You may not be surprised to learn that for the Aztecs, the way to delay the end is human sacrifice. "The Sun Stone was almost like a stage for a public ceremony," Milbrath said, "Every 4 Olin, a high-value prisoner was sacrificed to the Sun God in a desperate attempt to prevent an eclipse and keep the world alive for another year."
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The Aztecs would sacrifice humans to postpone the apocalypse (Photo: Apocalypto)
It sounds shocking, but to a terrified population, this act certainly made sense. "Pregnant women stayed home during a solar eclipse because they thought their children would be born with terrible deformities," Milbrath explained. "Most of the details about how the Aztecs dealt with the solar eclipse are unknown, but they were definitely trying to scare the monster they thought was eating the sun."
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Indeed, while the empire is best known today for its bloodthirsty reputation for ritual human sacrifice, Millbrath believes that the real lesson from this new interpretation of the Sun Stone is that the Aztecs were actually smarter than we thought, "So yes, they may have had a somewhat awkward view of the future of humanity than people have today, but the Aztecs were more sophisticated in terms of astronomy than many think. When they created their mythology, they made sure that at 4 Olin there would never be an eclipse in their world. The possibility of deliberate manipulation should not be ignored."
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