Aztec Technology

Despite what you might think, the Aztecs were a civilization actually very well-known for their advanced technology and other cultural feats. Though their technology centered around combat was not effective enough to eventually fight off their colonization by the Spaniards, they excelled in many other areas.

Science & Medicine

The ways in which Aztecs used science was unusually advanced for societies of their time.

For example, they showed a significant understanding of placebo effects in both studies and treatment, with documentation suggesting that they used placebo treatment sometimes to make patients feel as though they had been cured. Because this shows a very balanced view on not only science but also psychology, it's important to highlight when showing how advanced Aztec science was.

The Aztecs were also advanced in their understanding of mathematics — they had a reliable system of numeric notation that was on par with that of Egyptian society. They would also use this for scientific purposes, involving equations into scientific experiments that would subsequently inform medical decisions and procedures.

Aztecs had a nuanced view of medicine and healthcare that we would typically associate with forms of Eastern thought in a modern-day context. Instead of curing the illness or trying to find a be all, end all solution, the Aztecs would focus instead on tempering the symptoms to reduce the overall condition.

They would also believe that disease and its related symptoms is either caused by natural or divine sources, meaning that they considered one's overall health to be a reflection of their personal and religious well-being.

Despite this seemingly mystical view on health, the Aztecs practiced incredibly advanced techniques that are comparable with treatment we use today.

For example, the Aztec emphasis on using plants as a way of treating illness was advanced because they understood the properties that certain plants have that can be harnessed for certain health benefits.

The passion flower was particularly useful as a medication to prevent muscular disruption, often being referred to as an antispasmodic medication. It was also used to help put patients to sleep or relax the muscles during surgery, something resembling our modern-day understanding of sedatives.

On the religious side of Aztec medicinal technology, they believed that fevers were the result of spiritual intervention, which meant that people had to respond by taking repeated steam baths in other to ward off the spirits.

They believed that this was because the heat would help the body sweat profusely, expelling the spirits along with the sweat. This way of treating fevers isn't too unlike modern-day recommendations of "sweating it out", something that has stayed an effective way of dealing with a fever well into the 21st century.

Calendar

The concept of a calendar was a big influence on a majority of Aztec society. This is because calendars can help societies understand astrology, cultural influence, and how to budget time.

In particular, the Aztecs valued astrology as a main method for relating the humans back to the stars, something they thought was integral to understanding mankind's general purpose in the world. The calendar was one of the most prominent pieces of Aztec technology to feature this, utilizing a good deal of symbolism to convey meaning.

The Aztec calendar was comprised of two main sections, the first one being 365 days long and the second being 260 days long. The term "century" was applied to the calendar, but not after 100 years like we do with our modern-day calendar. Instead, the Aztecs would use the term century to describe any period of 52 years, with each year comprising one of each of these cycles.

Aztec Calendar Codex

© Paul K - Aztec Calendar Symbol Depictions

Farming

The Aztecs employed specific farming technology to cultivate their crops. Using the two main methods of terracing and chinampas, they would farm a majority of their crops, such as corn, squash, beans, and even tomatoes, chili peppers, limes, and peanuts.

The first method, terracing was a type of field that involved irrigation by way of canals. The Aztecs would dig these canals as a way of bringing water to the are, allowing the water to flow easily down the canals to the crops effectively.

The second method of chinampas characterized much of the context for the Aztec agricultural industry. Chinampas were floating man-made islands that were built out of foundation that was discovered at the bottom of lakes. They were sustained and integrated with reed mats that were floated above the water, making the chinampas like floating farms. The Aztecs would attach the chinampas to the bottom of the lakes by planting willow trees that would grow incredibly fast, allowing the floating islands to be secured to the lake floor.

Inventions, Tools, and Weaponry

The Aztecs are largely known to have used technological advancement to gain superiority in warfare. Because of this, the lines between inventions, tools, and weaponry was always blurred, with all three categories influencing each other.

Some of the most impressive inventions the Aztecs constructed were primarily used for war. Out of all of their weaponry, the tlahhuitolli was an incredibly powerful, five-foot-long war bow. Characterized by its design reliant on animal sinew, it was frequently coupled with bows made from flint, chert, or even obsidian to attack enemies during conflict.

Aztec Weapon Macuahuitl

© vmax137 - Aztec Weapon - Macuahuitl

Blowguns (called tlacalhuazcuahuitl) were also a great example of the subtle nature of Aztec inventions. These were used as weaponry just as much as they were hunting tools, allowing those who used them to have clear shots of any human or animals within a long range. The darts themselves would be dipped with poisonous venom sourced from tree frogs.

A less threatening invention that the Aztecs created was chewing gum, believe it or not! Also utilized by Mayan society, the process of converting liquid harvested from sapodilla trees into a type of chewing gum began the gum phenomenon that is still heavily present in our society today.

To Review

  • Had a calendar comprised of 52 different years in each century
  • Each century held within it 2 cycles, the first containing 365 days and the second containing 260 days
  • The calendar had plenty of spiritual and literal significance, with each day being assigned a different symbol
  • The cardinal directions played a huge role in the calendar, with each day also being assigned to a direction
  • Aztecs farmed by using chinampas, otherwise known as floating islands
  • These chinampas were manmade and was where a majority of their crops were cultivated
  • On land, Aztecs would also use "terraced farming", another way of referring to canals they would dig in farming plots to ensure that plants were sufficiently watered
  • The Aztecs had an advanced view of medicine, sometimes even using placebo effects to induce feelings of being cured
  • They would also use natural elements in curing symptoms, believing that somebody's health was a result of their balance with natural and religious elements