When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs had not yet developed iron or bronze metals. Their tools were made from bone, stone, and obsidian. They also did not use beasts of burden or the wheel. However, despite their lack of these basic technologies, the Aztecs had a fairly developed society. They also had some writing and technology of their own.
The Aztecs spoke the language Nahuatl. It is still used to today in some parts of Mexico. Some English words come from Nahuatl including coyote, avocado, chili, and chocolate.
The Aztecs wrote using symbols called glyphs or pictographs. They didn't have an alphabet, but used pictures to represent events, items, or sounds. Only the priests knew how to read and write. They would write on long sheets made of animal skins or plant fibers. An Aztec book is called a codex. Most of the codices were burned or destroyed, but a few survived and archeologists have been able to learn a lot about Aztec life from them.
Examples of some Aztec glyphs (artist Unknown)
One of the most famous aspects of Aztec technology was their use of calendars. The Aztecs used two calendars.
One calendar was used for tracking religious ceremonies and festivals. This calendar was called the tonalpohualli which means "day count". It was sacred to the Aztecs and was very important as it divided time equally among the various gods and kept the universe in balance. The calendar had 260 days. Each day was represented by a combination of 21 day signs and thirteen day signs.
The other calendar was used to track time. This calendar was called the Xiuhpohualli or "solar year". It had 365 days divided up into 18 months of 20 days each. There were 5 days left over that were considered unlucky days.
Every 52 years the two calendars would start on the same day. The Aztecs were afraid that the world would end on this day. They performed the New Fire Ceremony on this day.
The Aztec calendar stone by Unknown
The Aztecs used agriculture to grow food such as maize, beans, and squash. One innovative technique they used in swampy areas was called the chinampa. A chinampa was an artificial island that the Aztecs built up in the lake. They built many chinampas and used these manmade islands to plant crops. The chinampas worked well for crops because the soil was fertile and the crops had plenty of water to grow.
A major part of Aztec culture was bathing at least once per day. They needed fresh water in the city to do this. At the capital city of Tenochtitlan the Aztecs built two large aqueducts that carried fresh water from springs located over two and a half miles away.
The Aztecs believed that illness could come from natural causes as well as supernatural causes (the gods). They used a wide variety of herbs to cure sickness. One of the main cures doctors suggested was steam baths. They thought that by sweating, the poisons making the person sick would leave their body.
Interesting Facts about Aztec Writing and Technology
Aztec codices were made from one long sheet of paper that was folded like an accordion. Many of the codices were over 10 meters long.
The chinampa farms were often called floating gardens as they appeared to float on top of the lake. They were built in rectangles and the farmers would travel between the fields in canoes.
The Aztecs used canoes for transport and carrying goods around the waterways of the Valley of Mexico.
Aztec doctors would use splints to help support broken bones while they healed.
The Aztecs introduced the world to two of our favorite foods: popcorn and chocolate!
One of the innovations the Aztecs had before much of the rest of the world was mandatory education for all. Everyone, boys and girls, rich and poor, were required by law to attend school.