Aztec Technology Revealed


Aztecs were an advanced civilization that invented many incredible technologies, from calendars and floating gardens to complex systems that helped their society prosper.

The Aztecs had a more holistic view of medicine and health. Instead of searching for one-size-fits-all solutions to illnesses, they preferred using different herbs and medicines to ease symptoms instead of finding one solution to all ailments.


The Aztecs, who ruled central Mexico before Spanish arrival, were widely revered for their impressive architecture, engineering, and astronomy skills – but recent research demonstrates they possessed even more excellent mathematics abilities than was thought possible. Utilizing symbols such as arrows, hearts, and hands for tracking land areas far more precisely than researchers had initially assumed.

This research project used two manuscripts documenting land surveying in Tepetlaoztoc, an Aztec city-state. These drawings date to between 1540 and 1544 and were studied by Maria del Carmen Jorge y Jorge of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Barbara Williams from the University of Wisconsin Rock County.

She and her colleagues were shocked to discover that Aztec glyphs represented fractional distances. If a measurement did not correspond precisely with one land rod–their standard unit of linear measure–they added symbols such as arrows, hearts, or hands to indicate how many “rods” were missing from a measurement.

Students can see this process unfold through the Library of Congress lesson AzTech: Meet the Maya. After 15-20 minutes, move on to the Computation activity of this lesson.


Complex civilizations such as that of the Aztecs required rigorous record keeping. Their symbols or glyphs represented objects and ideas on carvings, paintings, and long strips of paper known as codices; their count system used units of 20 to keep track of time while simultaneously developing an essential calendar for religious purposes.

Like other Mesoamerican civilizations, Aztecs were highly adept at observing celestial bodies. They studied the Sun, Moon, and stars for many reasons – but most obviously, as deities they depended upon for life – especially rain, paying their respects through ritual sacrifice for plentiful crops to harvest, defeating enemy opponents with powerful weaponry, and continuing as a culture.

The Aztecs had an extraordinary ability to predict eclipses. They did this using their complex calendar – with its 365-day count of solar years and ritual calendar – and mountain alignments such as those which aligned toward the rising sun on February 24 every 52 years, providing them with solar observatories on these hills.


Though they lacked iron or bronze, and their defense technology fell short of Spain’s, the Aztecs made considerable advances. They invented an agriculture system known as chinampa, were skilled stone carvers; adept builders; invented dugout canoes which proved especially helpful for traversing canals and lakes around Tenochtitlan; and developed agriculture methods that produced massive harvests (chinampa).

The Aztecs were skilled herbalists who relied heavily on plants to treat and prevent illness, believing it came from natural causes or divine intervention. Furthermore, steam baths were frequently employed in treating fevers with sweat, thought to drive away evil spirits from the body through sweating.

One of the key sources that sheds light on this subject is a 1552 book called Badianus Manuscript that describes more than 180 herbs and their medicinal uses, while the Florentine Codex published in 1950 provides information about all of the herbal remedies the Aztecs employed, along with hallucinogen use among their culture. These sources have enabled researchers to gain more insight into this ancient civilization.


Aztec technology was awe-inspiring. Before the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, people outside Mexico had never seen fabric dyed with such deep scarlet hues – a feat made possible thanks to cochineal beetle pigmentation.

The Aztecs did not possess iron or copper but still managed to produce weapons and tools from wood, obsidian, and andesite (a form of volcanic rock). They invented dugout canoes for transportation across lakes and canals while producing pottery tools, figurines, and jewelry.

Archeologists have learned a great deal from these ancient documents, known as codices, about daily life in Aztec civilization from these ancient writings.

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The Aztecs were a significantly agricultural society. They produced large volumes of crops so that everyone had enough to eat. This allowed them to focus more energy and time on religious observances, craft production, government services, and military duties.

Corn (maize), their staple crop, was used in multiple ways – as food (grain or otherwise), for stews and soups, in tamales, and in various forms of gruels; currency trading occurred between nations using corn as its basis.

The Aztecs could grow so much corn thanks to their innovative farming techniques, particularly chinampas – floating islands made of mud on swampy lake beds which enabled multiple crops to be produced simultaneously in one area with rich soil. Another innovative farming practice they utilized was terracing, in which stone walls were constructed on hillsides to provide more usable land – all these methods enabled the empire to prosper over time.


The Aztecs were highly adept at using metalworking to produce tools and weapons against enemies, having a highly developed agriculture sector, and employing an unusual farming technique known as chinampa in lakes by creating floating islands out of reed mats to harvest their produce.

Aztec warriors were also powerful forces on the battlefield. Equipped with various types of weapons, such as the mezcal spear tipped with sharp points made of flint, and macuahuitl club weapons containing obsidian blades on each side for elite warriors to favor, their numbers on battlefields were impressive.

According to Aztec legend, these razor-sharp blades were said to pierce through muscle and bone with ease. A single blow could even decapitate an entire horse!

Aztec warriors used slingshots as another tool of combat. Scouting ahead of their enemies, they would collect stones along their route and use this weapon against enemy soldiers on the battlefield. Ruse tactics such as pretending to flee or hiding behind covered trenches were often employed if diplomacy failed; defeated rulers must agree to regular tribute payments of goods and people.


The Aztecs made tremendous advances in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and education. They also invented many valuable tools and created their number system based on 20. In addition, one of their achievements was pioneering compulsory schooling for both boys and girls alike.

Mexica (Aztecs), as they were commonly known, utilized an intricate calendar system used for religious ceremonies and tracking time. But how they calibrated their solar year has long remained unknown until recently uncovered research from UC Riverside revealed their method.

Mexica were remarkably adept at following the 260-day calendar cycle with remarkable accuracy; for instance, they knew that 4 Olin, which marked when they believed the world would end, repeated every 260 days – leading them to sacrifice prisoners on this date.

Researchers conducted extensive analyses on Mexica manuscripts and codexes, such as one depicting an eclipse monster with its tongue sticking out and an icon familiar with eclipse monsters. A computer model then showed them how the sunrise on Tlaloc mountain coincided with the light specified in a codex. Furthermore, they conducted fieldwork around Tlaloc peak, where Tepeyac temple is aligned to sunrise each Feb 24 – an important clue.