MEXICO CITY -- A four-pound chunk of gold unearthed from a construction site may be the the first item ever recovered from the fabled Montezuma Treasure plundered by Spanish conquistadors 460 years ago.
'It gives me goosebumps,' said Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo Thursday as he displayed the 10-inch piece, molded over four centuries ago to fit inside the armor of a conquistador of Hernan Cortes, conqueror of the Aztec Empire.
Anthropologists said they were convinced the piece, worth about $32,000 at current gold prices, is the first item ever recovered of the fabulous treasure of gold and jewels stolen from Aztec Emperor Montezuma.
Francisco Bauhista, a construction worker helping build a new bank beside Mexico City's downtown Alameda Park, found the gold March 13 and his bosses turned the precious piece over to the National Institute of Anthropology.
The loot, described by Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo in his chronicle 'The Conquest of New Spain,' was stolen on June 30, 1520, on what became known as 'The Sad Night.'
That night Aztec warriors attacked the greedy conquistadors commanded by Cortes. The Spaniards fled in terror but first overloaded themselves with part of the treasure of Montezuma, who had befriended them.
Many of Cortes' men fell from bridges that connected the Aztec island city of Tenochtitlan -- the present Mexico City -- to the mainland.
Weighed down with pieces of gold stuffed beneath their armor, such as the four-pound chunk just recovered, the soldiers of fortune floundered helplessly in the water, unable to swim.
Anthropoligists believe the gold piece found by Bautista was clandestinely molded to fit inside Spanish armor while the conquistadors were being hosted as gods by Montezuma.
One year after the rout, Cortes returned to Tenochtitlan, laid seige for 75 days and conquered it on Aug. 13, 1521, destroying the Aztec civilization.