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Modern recreation of a ceremonial macuahuitl, an Aztec obsidian sword, made by Shai Azoulai. Source: Zuchinni one/CC BY SA 3.0

Macuahuitl: Aztec Wooden ‘Paddles’ Are Obsidian Swords, Sharper Than Steel


By Michael Wing, Epoch Times

The Spanish conquerors of the 16th century were met by the sophisticated Aztec culture when they first landed on the shores of Mexico. The Europeans’ steel weapons and armor and their horses allowed them to dominate the natives. Yet, the Aztec warrior culture wielded a unique weapon of their own that struck fear in the hearts of the conquistadors: the macuahuitl.

The Spanish were familiar with some of the natives’ implements of war: bows and arrows, spears, clubs, and shields. The macuahuitl (maquahuitl), however, delivered a shock to the Europeans.

Illustrations of macuahuitl – Aztec obsidian swords. (The Epoch Times)

Illustrations of macuahuitl – Aztec obsidian swords. (The Epoch Times)

What’s a Macuahuitl?

A simple piece of wood in the shape of a cricket bat—flat and wide on one side, a slender, long hilt on the other—the macuahuitl came to be an icon of the Central American warriors. Carved out of oak or pine, the wood was decorated in intricate designs. The macuahuitl was 1.6 to 3.2 feet (0.5 to 1 m),  in length ThoughtCo reported.

What made this weapon so ferocious was its razor-sharp pieces of obsidian (volcanic glass), which were fitted into a groove along its edges and affixed there with bitumen—a natural glue. Each piece of obsidian was about 1.125 inches (4 cm) long, according to historian Marco Cervera Obregón, via The Vintage News.

The Aztecs Caused Horrific Damage with Their Obsidian Swords

According to a comrade of the most famous of the conquistadors, Hernán Cortés, the macuahuitl was capable of delivering horrific damage to foes. He described how the natives were able to slay Spanish horses with a single blow:

“They have swords of this kind—of wood made like a two-handed sword, but with the hilt not so long; about three fingers in breadth. The edges are grooved, and in the grooves they insert stone knives, that cut like a Toledo blade. I saw one day an Indian fighting with a mounted man, and the Indian gave the horse of his antagonist such a blow in the breast that he opened it to the entrails, and it fell dead on the spot. And the same day I saw another Indian give another horse a blow in the neck, that stretched it dead at his feet.”

The macuahuitl delivered a shock to the Europeans. (Pixabay License)

The macuahuitl delivered a shock to the Europeans. (Pixabay License)

Another man is said to have witnessed the weapon dent the Spaniards’ armor. Modern anthropologists are skeptical, however, according to The Vintage News. It’s believed that they could deliver considerable damage but are not designed to kill, as the blade would not penetrate deep enough.

A Tool Towards Sacrifice

The flat side of the wooden weapon would also serve to deliver non-lethal blows. The Aztecs were known for taking prisoners alive to be used as human sacrifices to appease their gods at their temples. Terrifying rituals were performed where priests would literally cut out the still-beating hearts of their offerings, blood would literally be pouring down the steps of the temple.

From a tactical standpoint, they were designed for close range; once an enemy had closed too close for archers or spears, the macuahuitl could be employed at short-range - even when confined in dense jungle.

The Aztecs quarried the obsidian and created a razor-sharp edge using a technique called knapping.

It is said that Christopher Columbus was also fascinated by this iconic implement of war and that he took examples of Aztec weapons back to Spain with him. One macuahuitl was to have survived and was placed in the Royal Armory in Madrid. Sadly, it was lost in a fire that broke out in 1884, The Vintage News reported.

Top Image: Modern recreation of a ceremonial macuahuitl, an Aztec obsidian sword, made by Shai Azoulai. Source: Zuchinni one/CC BY SA 3.0

The article, originally titled ‘These Aztec Wooden ‘Paddles’ Are Actually Vicious Obsidian Swords–and They’re Sharper Than Steel,was originally published on The Epoch Times and has been republished with permission.

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