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Digging for Aztec ‘rain-gold’, Florentine Codex

Rare ‘rain-gold’

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Matthew McDavitt, an attorney and an independent ethnozoologist who makes a special study of documenting Mexica (Aztec) animal symbolism, the identity of the mineral called by the Aztecs quiauhteocuitlatl - ‘rain gold’, or ‘gold of the rain[-god]’ can be revealed... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

‘Medicinal stones...’ - quiauhteocuitlatl, Florentine Codex Book XI
‘Medicinal stones...’ - quiauhteocuitlatl, Florentine Codex Book XI (Click on image to enlarge)

There is a reference to quiauhteocuitlatl in Book XI of the Florentine Codex: it appears at the end of a lengthy section on herbal plants and their uses. One could easily be forgiven for supposing that this image (main picture) depicts an Aztec farmer harvesting the fruits of the sun-blessed earth. Thanks to Matthew McDavitt’s careful research, we now know differently. The entry on quiauhteocuitlatl in fact comes at the very start of a new section in the Codex entitled ‘stones which are also medicines’ (pic 1). It is lightning that is shown raining down on the earth, a dual good/bad force associated by the Mexica with the power to split open the Mountain of Sustenance (revealing food for humans) and corn kernels - yet also to destroy life - and with the powers of the Tlaloque (rain deities). Matthew explains:-
’We know from ethnohistorical sources that when lightning struck, it was believed that the Tlaloque had cast down a stone, and as such, many types of precious stone were deposited in Tlaloc shrines. Presumably, these beautiful Quiauhteocuitlatl meteors (which fall with a thunderous sound) were offered at Tlaloc’s teocallis [shrines] as lightning-stones...’

Pic 2: A slice of the Esquel meteorite, in the collection of Doug Bowman
Pic 2: A slice of the Esquel meteorite, in the collection of Doug Bowman (Click on image to enlarge)

Matthew has identified quiauhteocuitlatl as a pallasite - a class of stony-iron meteorite that contains within it large ‘olivine’ coloured crystals suspended in the mineral deposit. The description in the Florentine Codex is interesting:-

It is really a stone, though not very hard; it is like porous rock. It is very heavy; mottled black and white. It tastes good - not bitter, not sweet, just like pure water. It is not ground up; it is just abraded on some small stone.
It is required by one on whom lightning has flashed, who is as if possessed, struck dumb. It tastes good. He drinks it in cold water; thus he can see; thus he is revived. And it is the cure for one whose body is as if burning...
Those of Xalapa know of the quiauhteocuitlatl stone. It occurs in their territory; hence they know of it. When it thunders, there in the forest... the quiauhteocuitlatl stone penetrates into the earth there. It is still very small when it falls; year by year it enlarges, it grows bigger.
And thus it comes to light; thus the inhabitants seek it: a single stalk of grass stands; it is visible on the surface as the grass-stalk of the quiauhteocuitlatl stone. When they dig it out, it is very thick...

Pic 3: Detail from the Codex Borgia (restoration) showing Tlaloc cultivating maize with a digging stick. A smaller Tlaloc can be seen, centre right, throwing curved lighting at a corn plant, destroying it (plate 20)
Pic 3: Detail from the Codex Borgia (restoration) showing Tlaloc cultivating maize with a digging stick. A smaller Tlaloc can be seen, centre right, throwing curved lighting at a corn plant, destroying it (plate 20) (Click on image to enlarge)

Matthew goes on to suggest that ‘The association between Tlaloc and this black and yellow meteorite may explain why lightning in the Codex Borgia is colored black and yellow!’ Interesting idea (though the Codex is replete with these colours)...

Quote from Florentine Codex, Book XI - Earthly Things (translated and edited by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J.O. Anderson), Part XII, School of American Research and University of Utah, New Mexico, 1963, p. 188.

Images:-
• 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
• Pic 2: Photo of meteorite by Doug Bowman, Wikipedia
• Pic 3: Image scanned from our own copy of ‘The Codex Borgia, a Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript’ by Gisele Díaz and Alan Rodgers, Dover Publications, 1993.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Feb 17th 2015

emoticon Where do you think Wagner got his inspiration for his Rheingold opera from?! It features the god of thunder, the earth goddess, and the magic derived from golden treasure signalled to the maidens by a golden glow on top of a rock... Very Mexica!

Learn more about lightning in Mesoamerica (academic article!)...

‘Smoke signals - an Aztec archaeologist’s best clue’

Learn about rare pallasite meteorites from Wikipedia
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