Page images
PDF
EPUB

cans, like most other nations, tur ned their atten. tion to copper in preference to iron. But how did it happen, that these same Americans, who wrought by means of fire * a great variety of minerals, were never led to the discovery of iron by the mixture of combustible substances with the red and yellow ocrest, extremely common in several parts of Mexico ? If, on the other hand, this metal was known to them, which I am inclined to believe, how happened it that they never learned to appreciate its just vaiue ? These considerations seem to indicate that the civilization of the Aztec nations was not of a very antient date. We know that in the time of Homer, the use of copper still prevailed over that of iron, although the latter had been long known.

Several men of great learning, but unacquainted with chemical knowledge, have maintained, that the Mexicans and Peruvians possessed a particular secret for tempering copper

According to the traditions collected by me, near Riobamba, among the Indians of the village of Liean, the antient inhabitants of Quito smelted silver ores by stratifying them with charcoal, and blowing the fire with long bambou reeds. A great number of Indians were placed circularly around the hole which contained the minerals ; so that the currents of air proceeded at once from several reeds.

+ Yellow ocre, called tecozahuitl, was employed in painting as well as cinnabar. Ocre was part of the objects which composed the list of tributes of Malinaltepec.

[ocr errors]

and converting it into steel. There is no doubt that the axes and other Mexican tools were almost as sharp as steel instruments; but it was by the admixture of tin, and not by any tempering, that they acquired their extreme hardness. What the first historians of the conquest call hard or sharp copper, resembled the

χαλκος

of the Greeks, and the Aes of the Romans. The Mexican and Peruvian sculptors executed large works in the hardest greenstone, (grünstein), and basaltic porphyry:

The jeweller cut and pierced the emeralds and other precious stones by using at the same time a metal tool and a siliceous powder. I brought from Lima an antient Peruvian chisel, in which M. Vauquelin found 0.94 of copper, and 0.06 of tin. This mixture was so well forged, that by the condensation of the particles, its specific gravity was 8.815, while, according to the experiments of M. Briche #, the chemists never obtain this maximum of density, but by alloying 16 parts of tin, with 100 parts of copper. It appears, that the Greeks made use of both tin and iron at the same time in the hardening of copper. Even a Gaulish axe found in France by, M. Dupont de Nemours, which cuts wood like a steel axe, without breaking or yielding, contains according to the analysis of M. Vauquelin, 0.87 of copper, 0.03 of iron, and 0.09 of tin.

* Journal des mines, An. 5, p. 881,

Tin being a metal very little spread over the globe, it is rather surprising that it should have been used on both Continents in the hardening of copper.

A single mineral which has been no where discovered but at Wheal Rock, in Cornwall, the sulphuret of tin (tinpyrites) contains both copper and tin in equal parts. We know not whether the Mexican nations worked veins in which copper and oxyde of tin were found united, or if this latter metal, which we found in the alluvial soil in the intendancy of Guanaxuato, under the globulous and fibrous form of wood tin (holz-zinn) was added to pure copper in a constant proportion. However the fact be, it is certain that the want of iron would be much less felt among nations who possessed the art of forming alloys of other metals, in a manner equally advantageous. The edge-tools of the Mexicans, were some of copper and others of obsidian (itztli). The last substance was even the object of great mining undertakings, of which the traces are still to be perceived in an innumerable quantity of pits dug in the mountain of Knives, near the Indian village of Atotonilco el Grande. *

Besides the cocoa bags, each of which contained three xiquipilli or 24,000 grains, besides the patolquachtli, or small bales of cotton

* See Vol. ii. p. 66.

cloth, also some metals were used by the antient Mexicans as money, that is to say, as representative signs of things.

In the great market of Tenochtitlan, all sorts of goods were purchased with gold dust, contained in tubes of the feathers of aquatic birds. It was requisite that these tubes should be transparent for the sake of discovering the size of the grains of gold. In several provinces, pieces of copper to which the form of a T was given where used as a currency. Cortez relates that having undertaken to found cannons in Mexico, and having dispatched emissaries for the discovery of mines of tin and copper, he learned that in the environs of Tachco (Tlachco or Tasco) the natives employed in exchange, pieces of melted tin *, which were as thin as the smallest coins in Spain.

[ocr errors]

on

* Cortez complains in his last letter to Charles the 5th, that after the taking of the capital, he was left without artillery and without arms. “ Nothing”, says he, “sharpens the

genius of man more (no hay cosa que mas los ingenios de los hombres aviva) than the idea of danger. Seeing myself

the point of losing what had cost us so much labour in acquiring, I was obliged to 'fall upon means of making can

nons with the materials to be found in the country.”. I shall transcribe here the remarkable passage in which Cortez speaks of tin as money: “Topé entre los naturales de una provincia

que se dice Tachco ciertas piecezuelas de estaño, a manera da “moneda muy delgada y procediendo en mi pesquisa hallé que

la dicha provincia y aun en otras, se trataba por moneda.(Lorenzana, p. 379. $ XVII.)

en

Such is the imperfect idea which the first historians have transmited to us of the use made by the natives of Mexico, of gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, and of the mercury mines. I thought it necessary to enter into these details, not only to throw some light on the antient cultivation of these countries, but also to show that the European colonists in the first years which succeeded the destruction of Tenochtitlan, only followed the indications of mines given them by the natives.

The kingdom of New Spain in its actual state contains nearly 500 places (reales y reali, tos) celebrated for the mines in their environs, More than two thirds of these places are marked in the general map of the country drawn up by me. It is probable that these 500 reales comprehend nearly three thousand mines (minas), designating by that name the whole of the subterraneous works, which communicate with one another, by which one or more metallic depositories are worked. These mines are divided into 37 districts, over which are placed the same number of Councils of mines called Diputaciones de Mineria. We shall collect in one view the names of these Diputaciones and of the Reales de Minas, contained in the twelve Intendancies of New Spain. The materials employed for this purpose are partly taken from a manuscript memoir drawn up by the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »