The bar was originally discovered beneath Mexico City in 1981. New analysis has revealed more about its provenance. Image: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.
The bar was originally discovered beneath Mexico City in 1981. New analysis has revealed more about its provenance. Image: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

In desperate situations, even priceless objects get left behind.

Now, new scientific analysis has confirmed that a large gold bar found in Mexico City was part of the plunder Spanish conquistadors abandoned during a retreat.

The finding was announced by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History just months before the 500th anniversary of La Noche Triste (‘The Sad Night’).

The event, on 30 June 1520, saw Spanish forces serving under Hernan Cortes driven out of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, on the site of modern-day Mexico City.

The previous day, the Aztec emperor Moctezuma had been assassinated, forcing Spaniards to flee for their lives.

However, the following year, Cortes returned and laid siege to the city, eventually leading to the fall of the Aztec Empire.

It is believed that Cortes and his men were weighed down by the plundered gold, which they decided to abandon during the frenzied evacuation.

Discovered in 1981, the bar weighs around 2kg and is 26.2cm long, 5.4cm wide, and 1.4cm thick. It was dated using fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis.

‘The gold bar is a unique historical testimony to a transcendent moment in world history,’ said archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, who leads excavations on Aztec sites in the city.

Until recently, historians of the fall of the Aztec Empire only had documents upon which to rely for information. The new types of analysis have thrown fresh light on the period.

This article was published in the March 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.




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