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Gold Bar known as the ‘Golden Yew’. Source: INAH.

Test Show’s Aztec Gold Bar Was Lost By Fleeing Conquistadors


A chemical analysis of a gold bar in Mexico revealed that it was part of the treasure stolen by the Spanish conquistadors during the conquest of the Aztec Empire. Researchers believe that they have proven that it belongs to one of the most significant episodes in the conquest, namely the ‘Night of Sorrows’ (La Noche Triste) in 1520. Remarkably, this bar was identified as the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Mexico is about to be commemorated.

The bar was discovered in 1981 during a construction project deep beneath central Mexico City. The modern metropolis was built on the remains of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. It was found by a worker in what was once the Toltecaacaloco Canal. The bar weighs about 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) and is 11 inches long (26 centimeters) and is three fingers in width. It is part of the collection of the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA).

Aztec Gold Bar Discovered In a Canal

Since the 1970s there has been a series of tests on the chemical composition of historic precious artifacts found in Mexico. The gold bar was analyzed by specialists from The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). This was done in order to determine “their relative percentage content of gold, silver, and copper” said a INAH bulletin.

Researchers used a fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis to identify the origin of the gold bar. This process is “a proven multi-elemental technique of high sensitivity, non-destructive, non-invasive, and extremely fast” stated Dr. José Luis Ruvalcaba, of UNAM reports INAH.

The ingot was analyzed along with “six pieces of the Moctezuma Plume of the Weltmuseum in Vienna, and the Texcoco Warrior of the Cleveland Museum of Art’ according to INAH. The results of the chemical analysis found that the bar had a composition very similar to other artifacts found in Templo Mayo, in Mexico City during an archaeological project led by Leonardo Lopez Lujan.

Reproduction of Moctezuma's headdress. (Stefan Fadinger / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Reproduction of Moctezuma's headdress. (Stefan Fadinger / CC BY-SA 4.0)

These are mainly offerings to the Aztec goddess Tlaltecuhtli. Further analysis showed that the bar had a very different make-up from artifacts from other parts of Mesoamerica. These all indicated that the gold item was made by the local Aztecs.

Templo Mayor, Mexico City, where the gold bar was found. (MichRoudoy / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Templo Mayor, Mexico City, where the gold bar was found. (MichRoudoy / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Gold Bar Was Lost During the Night of Sorrows

The researchers then examined the accounts of the Spanish Conquistadors, they found that the gold bar’s dimensions “matched measurements given by the conquerors” in their records reports ABC News. Further analysis revealed that the bar was probably made by goldsmiths working under the supervision of the Spanish in 1519-1520. It was possibly made from the treasure that they extorted from Montezuma.

These findings and the fact that it was originally found on a route that was taken by the Spanish as they fled Tenochtitlan, on the night of the 30th June 1520. states that the “location of the find coincided with the path followed by Cortés and his men on the La Noche Triste”. This was a night when many Spaniards were killed or taken captive and sacrificed by the Aztecs.

The Aztec gold bar was lost as the Spanish fled during the battle of La Noche Triste. (Ptcamn~commonswiki / Public Domain)

The Aztec gold bar was lost as the Spanish fled during the battle of La Noche Triste. (Ptcamn~commonswiki / Public Domain)

The Gold Bar Was Part of Montezuma’s Treasure

In 1519 the Spaniards, under Hernan Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan, they were seen as gods by many Aztecs. They were invited into the capital and treated with honor and respect.

Despite this, they placed the emperor Montezuma under arrest and forced him to hand over a huge ransom of gold. The Europeans ransacked the city and its temples, which led to an Aztec uprising and the Spaniards were forced to flee for their lives.

Moctezuma captured by Cortés. (Historypictures / Public Domain)

They were forced to escape the city by the Toltecaacaloco Canal because the Aztecs had destroyed the main bridge out of Tenochtitlan. During the retreat, the Spanish lost much of the treasure that was taken from Montezuma and his people in the water, including the gold bar. The following year Cortés and his indigenous allies returned and conquered the Aztec city in an orgy of bloodshed.

The Aztec Gold Bar Links Us With the Past

The latest research offers material evidence that corroborates the Spanish accounts of the ‘Sad Night’. Previously the only evidence for this event came from the records of the conquistadors. Leonardo Lopez Lujan, director of the Templo Mayor Project stated that “the golden bar is a unique historical testimony to a transcendent moment in world history” according to INAH. This is especially the case given the fact that Mexico is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest. A full report on the findings is going to be published in the Arqueologia Mexicana.

Top image: Gold Bar known as the ‘Golden Yew’. Source: INAH.

By Ed Whelan



Interesting article but biased. The Spanish encountered deceit and treachery by Montezuma’s ambassadors and allies all the way up from their landing to their arrival in Mexico.  The Mexicans were known for human sacrifice and the eating of human flesh in addition to other horrors including skinning and tanning the conquistadors. The Mexican empire was built on fear and violence which was how Spanish were able to assemble an army of forces to assist them in their overthrow of the Mexicans.

DB Daglish's picture

Just as a note. Many point to Cortez as an invader and murderer and on the face of it he was as we look at it now. But let’s not forget the Aztecs grew out of a people who took the area from the Culhuacan after being allowed to settle their after migrating there. Howeevr, these ‘nice’ people skinned the daughter of the Culhuacan ruler and disaplyed it to them. They ended up being a people of immense cruelty demanding daily sacrifices. So they were also immigrnats who took the lake area, were cruel and bloodthirsty and ended up suffering what they did to others.   

Mary Madeline's picture

Wouldn't it be something to stumble upon a gold bar!

Mary Madeline

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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