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Montezuma's Treasure

The Spanish decimation of the Aztec empire in Mexico came to a head on July 1, 1520. After mortally wounding Emperor Montezuma, Hernando Cortés and his men were besieged by enraged Aztec warriors in the capital city of Tenochtitlán.

After days of fierce fighting, Cortés ordered his men to pack up the vast treasures of Montezuma in preparation for a night flight, but they didn't get far before the Aztecs fell upon them. The ensuing carnage filled Lake Tezcuco with Spanish bodies and the stolen treasures of Montezuma.

The terrified army had thrown the booty away in a vain attempt to escape with their lives. The hoard consisted of countless gold and silver ornaments, along with a huge array of jewels.

Cortés and a handful of his men got away with their lives and returned a year later to exact their revenge. When the inhabitants of Tenochtitlán got wind of the approaching invaders, they buried the remains of the city's treasure in and around Lake Tezcuco to prevent it from falling prey to the gold-crazed Spanish.

Today, a vast treasure trove remains hidden beneath nearly five centuries of mud and sludge on the outskirts of Mexico City, the modern day incarnation of Tenochtitlán. Generations of treasure seekers have sought the lost hoard without success. A former president of Mexico even had the lake bed dredged, but no treasure was found.

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS:

Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen

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