Gold Bar Found in Mexico City Park Was an Aztec Treasure Looted by Conquistadors

A gold bullion bar like this one was found in a park, and now archeologists know more of the story behind this unlikely find. Bullion Vault [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr

Imagine strolling through a popular city park and having a glint of gold catch your eye, and discovering an ancient gold bar half-buried in the dirt. Apparently, this can actually happen to you in Mexico City.

Back in 1981, one fortunate construction worker who was excavating for a new building along the Alameda, a picturesque park in the heart of the Mexican capital, caught such a glint. There, in the dirt, was a gold bar. Now nearly 40 years later, that lucky find has been confirmed by archaeologists to be a lost item from Moctezuma's stolen treasure, reports

In fact, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) recently performed specialized X-rays which definitively demonstrate not only that the bullion was ancient Aztec treasure, but that it was likely dropped by Spanish conquistadors who stole the loot and were being chased from the city by Aztec warriors.

The event was known as "Noche Triste," or "Sad Night." On June 30th, 1520, Hernan Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors slaughtered Aztec priests and nobles in Tenochtitlan-- the Aztec capital, grabbed as much loot as they could carry, and took off running. While they fled, the Aztecs hunted them down. This gold bar was one of two known to have been dropped during the conquistador retreat, the other being a gold bar that sank 500 years ago in the canals of Tenochtitlan.

"This bar is a key piece in the puzzle of this historical event," INAH said.

Cortes was the true villain in the whole episode. He had launched his expedition into Mexico without authorization, and after being welcomed into Tenochtitlan by Moctezuma, proceeded to systematically pilfer the Aztec emperor's treasure, effectively holding him hostage. Although Cortes was set to be arrested by the Spanish governor in Cuba, he defeated the governor's soldiers before they could apprehend him.

Tension accumulated among the Aztecs amidst this chaos, and they attacked the conquistadors, causing them to flee with whatever they could carry. That's when this gold bar was dropped.

Moctezuma was killed, and Cortes' men ultimately escaped. They returned a year later to lay siege to Tenochtitlan, after the residents were weakened by diseases introduced by the Spanish raiders. It's a tragic bit of history, but one that is solemnly remembered as a pivotal moment in America's story of colonization.

This gold bar can now be a token of this event, to help archaeologists piece together this story using more than just records left behind by the Spanish conquerors.