GeoWorld February 2013

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Further Examining Cort��s��� Quest for Gold POSITION T BY TODD DANIELSON his issue of GeoWorld focuses on Energy and Natural Resources, and there are several articles that describe how geotechnology is making it easier and more cost-effective to search for and locate these essential commodities. But one story piqued my interest as a student of history. ���Conquistadors��� Quest Continues���Modern Technologies Uncover Aztec Silver and Gold,��� beginning on page 14, describes how a mining company uses ancient and modern mapping, combined with investigative sleuthing, to ���nd economically viable gold and silver mines in central Mexico. Many of these mines were originally Aztec mines, dating back before the time of the Spanish Conquistadors (the 16th century). The article includes some history of what took place 500 years ago, before getting into the relevant geotechnology details required for inclusion in this magazine. But the brief summary got me looking further into that history, and I found it fascinating. A Thirst for Gold Todd Danielson is editor of GeoWorld magazine, PO Box 773498, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477; e-mail: 4 G E O W O R L D / F E B R U A R Y 2 O 1 3 The story begins with the arrival of Hern��n Cort��s on the Mexican shores in 1519, with 550 men and 15 horses in tow. Leaving a checkered past in Spain and Cuba, Cort��s sought fame in this relatively unexplored area of The New World. But his main objective was simple: ���nd and acquire as much gold as possible. And to prevent his men from losing their resolve, he really did burn his ships upon arrival. During his exploits, Cort��s learned of the great Aztec city of Tenochtitl��n and its leader, Montezuma (also found as Moctezuma II and other aliases). According to ���Cort��s and Aztec Gold��� by Stuart Mathews, the Aztecs had so much gold that it was relatively unimportant and only used for ceremonial purposes���the Aztecs referred to gold as ���the excrement of the gods.��� Feathers and turquoise were considered much more valuable. Montezuma supposedly showered Cort��s with this abundant and unimportant-to-them metal in hopes that he and his men would just go away. However, because gold was so valued in Europe, these gifts had the opposite effect and only steeled Cort��s to acquire as much of this Aztec gold as possible. According to the Florentine Codex (an account of the Spanish conquest from the Aztec perspective, written by Bernardino de Sahag��n), the Aztecs were trans���xed by the behavior of the Spaniards in the presence of gold: ���They picked it up and ���ngered it like monkeys. It was as if their hearts were satis���ed, brightened, calmed. For in truth they thirsted mightily for gold; they stuffed themselves with it; they starved for it; they lusted for it like pigs.��� This Didn���t End Well If you remember anything from your old history lessons, it may be that the crossroads of Cort��s and his men with the Aztecs and their gold ended in the destruction of this once-great civilization. Cort��s conquered the city Tenochtitl��n, destroyed it and took its resources. Montezuma was killed, and, lacking immunities, most of the Aztec people who survived the military campaign died from European diseases. Within four decades of Cort��s��� arrival, all of Mexico was under Spanish control, and the new city built on top of Tenochtitl��n, Mexico City, became the most important ���European city��� in North America. According to Mathews, in the period after the fall of the Aztecs, Mexico contributed 9 percent of world���s total production of gold, signi���cantly boosting Spain���s fortunes. Admittedly, this story has little to do with mapping (although much cartography was created by Conquistadors and other explorers), but it certainly highlights the importance that resource extraction has held throughout history. And thanks, in some part, to modern geotechnologies, such tragic tales related to resource acquisition have (mostly) become a relic of the past.

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