General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Apr 2021/4 Wind
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Gold dust as tribute for the Aztecs

Gold dust

Gold - considered to be ‘excrement of the gods’ by the Aztecs - was delivered as tribute to the Aztecs in two forms: as bars (consisting of ten tablets) and as dust. Essentially, the bars were mined and the dust was panned. The only tributary town to provide gold in the form of bars and dust recorded in the Codex Mendoza was Tlapan, south-west of Tenochtitlan. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

A plain Mexican gourd bowl - perfect for panning gold!
A plain Mexican gourd bowl - perfect for panning gold! (Click on image to enlarge)

Gold was an important part of the tribute paid by the people of the Tlapan province to the Aztec state. The gold dust was delivered every year in 20 gourd bowls (see photo), and the amount to be contained in each bowl was defined as the amount that fills ‘the hollow of both hands placed together’. Gold dust was obtained from rivers or streams. Apparently Moctezuma II told Cortés that ‘they collected gold in gourds by washing away the earth, and that when the earth was washed away some small grains remained.’

The Spanish also reported another technique:-
An Indian could leave [home] and reach the source [of the gold] by midday, and have time before dark to fill a reed as thick as a finger. In order to get the gold they had to go to the bottom of the water and fill their hands with sand in which they searched for the grains, which they kept in their mouths.
Of course the poor folk of Tlapan were forced by the Spanish to keep up their payments of gold dust long after the Conquest.

Info from The Codex Mendoza Vol II by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, University of California Press, London, 1992
Image from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our copy of the 1938 James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London
Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

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Mexicolore replies: Thanks, Paul. We’ll always remember you with huge affection. RIP xxxxx