General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Apr 2019/12 Water
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Our In-House Team

Question for November 2018

Why did the Aztecs believe gold was the poo of the Sun God? Asked by Ardingly College Prep School. Chosen and answered by Our In-House Team.

Pic 1: Aztec goldcaster, Florentine Codex Book 10
Pic 1: Aztec goldcaster, Florentine Codex Book 10 (Click on image to enlarge)

The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think!
One way to answer this is to look at the explanation given in the Florentine Codex, compiled by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún in the years following the Spanish invasion. He compiled this with a group of Mexica informants. Here are the ‘bare bones’ of the section on gold from Chapter 9 of Book 11 (‘Earthly Things’):-
• Gold ‘rests in mother earth’
• When mother earth pees, ‘her urine stains deeply’, so that it appears yellow on the surface
• Gold forms veins in the earth, in mountains, and can then be gathered, sometimes in rivers
• The Mexica people did not mine gold, they ‘just took the river sand; they panned it’. ‘They found the gold where it settled as big as grains of maize... Later they melted it, cast it; they prepared, they formed necklaces, bracelets, ear pendants, lip plugs etc.’

Pic 2: Gold bells adorn a fine piece of Aztec jewellery; Florentine Codex Book 9
Pic 2: Gold bells adorn a fine piece of Aztec jewellery; Florentine Codex Book 9 (Click on image to enlarge)

• The name for gold is ‘god’s excrement’ (follow first link below for more details) ‘because it is wonderful, yellow, good, fine, precious.’ It is the wealth, riches, ‘property of the rulers, our lords’
• The origin of the word springs from the fact that sometimes at dawn can be seen ‘something like a little bit of diarrhea. They named it “the excrement of the sun”... resting like an ember, like molten gold’
• It was named after the ‘pimply god’ Nanahuatzin (the one who bravely jumped into the fire at the start of the fifth creation to become the Sun**
• Gold is ‘perfection, the leader of all. It leads all riches on earth’.

** So gold is a sacred kind of what’s called ‘excrescence’ - an unusual warty (in this case mineral) outgrowth on the earth’s surface, ‘deposited’ by the gods to be a visible sign of their presence on the earth. Sahagún’s informants suggest too that this ‘excrement of the sun’ was sometimes given as a medicine for pustules (warts), and that ‘for this reason pustule medicine, his [Nanahuatzin’s] excrement, sometimes appeared on earth.’ So the story of Nanahuatzin kickstarting our world into life ensured that this sacred waste product of his would forever be something precious to the Mexica.

Pic 3: Gold objects; Florentine Codex Book 9
Pic 3: Gold objects; Florentine Codex Book 9 (Click on image to enlarge)

It’s worth pointing out, incidentally, that several gods were depicted by the Aztecs wearing gold in some form - from Chalchiuhtlicue (water goddess) to agricultural gods and Xipe Totec (god of spring, and patron god of Mexica goldsmiths) - not just the sun god.

Info from Florentine Codex, Book 11 - Earthly Things, translated by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson (part 12 of 13 parts), School of American Research and University of Utah, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1963, pp 233-4.
Images from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

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Our In-House Team has answered 21 questions altogether:

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Did the Aztecs have a god of snow?

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Why did they put holes [gaps] in the [upright huehuetl] drums?

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress?

How big was the Aztec army?

Did they have First Aid?

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite?

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’?

Did the Spanish have an interpreter when they conquered the Aztecs?

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon?

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh?

Did they send post (mail)?

Did they have the same seasons as we do?

What did they do with the shells of armadillos after eating the meat?

Why didn’t Aztec houses have doors?

Which was the biggest group [job sector] in Aztec society?

Why is it better to support loads on the forehead and not on the shoulders?

When children were punished, how long were they held over smoking chillies for?

What was the Aztecs’ greatest fear?

Why did the Aztecs believe gold was the poo of the Sun God?

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