« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
Quezalcoatl*, and compelled the Aztec nobility to yield homage to the king of Spain, the quantity of precious metals offered to Cortez was estimated at the value of 162,000 pesos de oro. "Besides the great mass of gold and silver, says the conquistador, in his first letter to the emperor Charles the 5thf, I was presented with gold plate and jewels of such precious workmanship, that unwilling to allow them to be melted, I set apart more than a hundred thousand ducats worth of them to be presented to your imperial highness. These objects were of the greatest beauty, and I doubt if any other prince of earth ever possessed any thing similar to them. That your highness may not imagine I am advancing fables, I add, that all which the earth and ocean produces, of which king Montezuma could have any knowledge, he had caused to be imitated in gold and silver, in precious stones, and feathers, and the whole in such great perfection, that one could not help believing he saw the very objects represented. Although he gave me a great share of them for your highness, I gave orders to the natives to execute several other works in gold after designs
* See my work entitled, Vues des Cordilleres des Andes, et Monumens des peuples indigenes de I'Amerique, p. 30.
t Lorenzana, p. 99.—The booty in gold taken by the Spaniards after the taking of Tenochtitlan, was only ettinated at 130,000 casiellanas de oro (1. c. p. 301).
which I furnished them with, such as images of saints, crucifixes, medals, and necklaces. As the fifth or eighth on the silver paid to your highness, amounted to more than a hundred marcs, I gave orders to the native goldsmiths to convert them into plate of various sizes, spoons, cups, and other vessels for drinking. All these works were imitated with the greatest exactness." When we read this passage, we cannot help believing, that we are reading the account of a European ambassador, returned from China or Japan. Yet we can hardly accuse the Spanish general of exaggeration, when we consider that the emperor Charles the 5th, could judge with his own eyes of the perfection or imperfection of die objects sent to him.
The art of founding had also made considerable progress among the Muyscas in the kingdom of New Grenada, among the Peruvians, and the inhabitants of Quito. In this last country, very precious works of the antient American goldsmiths, have been preserved for several centuries in the royal treasury, (en caxas reales). Within these few years, from a system of economy which may be stiled barbarous, these works which proved that several nations of the New Continent had reached a degree of civilization, very superior to what is generally attributed to them, have been all melted down.
The Aztec tribes extracted before the conquest, lead and tin, from the veins of Tlachco (Tasco) to the north of Chilpansingo and Izmiquilpan; and they drew (cinnabar), employed by the painters as a colour, from the mines of Chilapan. Of all the metals, copper was that which was most commonly employed in the mechanical arts; it supplied the place of iron and steel to a certain extent; and their arms, axes, chisels, and all their tools, were made of the copper which they extracted from the mountains of Zacotollan and Cohuixco. In every part of the globe, the use of copper seems to have preceded that of iron; and the abundance of copper in its natural state in the most northern parts of America, may have contributed to the extraordinary predilection which the Mexican tribes, who issued from those regions, have always shewn for it. Nature exhibited to the Mexicans enormous masses of iron and nickel; and these masses which are scattered over the surface of the ground, are fibrous, malleable, and of so great a tenacity, that it is with great difficulty a few fragments can be separated from them with steel instruments. The true native iron, that to which we cannot attribute a meteoric origin, and which is constantly found mixed with lead and copper, is infinitely rare in all parts of the globe; consequently we are not to be astonished, that in the commencement of civilization, the AmeriVOL. III. I
cans, like most other nations, turned their attention 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 ocresf, 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 value? 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 Lican, the antient inhabitants of Quito smelted silver minerals 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.
f Yellow ocre, called tecozaktiitl, was employed in painting as well as cinnabar. Ocre was part of the objects which composed the list of tributes of Malinaltepec.
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 a mixture with 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 x**TMs of the Greeks, and the Aes of the Romans. The Mexican and Peruvian sculptors executed large works in the hardest greenstone ((/tiinstein), 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 silicious 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 closeness of the particles, its specific weight was 8.815, while, according to the experiments of M. Briche*, the chemists never obtain this maximum of density, but by a mixture of 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 de* mines, An. 5, p. 881.