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MEXICO: Whose Bones?

2 minute read

When the National Museum’s greying Eulalia Guzmán announced in the backwoods village of Ixcateopan that “the remains of the last emperor of the Aztecs have been found” (TIME, Oct. 10), all Mexico went wild. Nearly every town in the country held a special fiesta; on Columbus Day, Dia de la Raza, the discoverer was nearly forgotten in the flowery eulogies of Cuauhtemoc, last chief of the discovered.

Though the government set up a commission to investigate the find, hardly anyone doubted its authenticity. The Bank of Mexico’s research laboratories announced that the documents which led to the unearthing of Cuauhtemoc’s bones were indeed 400 years old, and that the ink, writing and signature on them appeared genuine. Leading archaeologists agreed. Crowds of tourists began to make the five-hour trip over rock-strewn roads from Taxco to the Ixcateopan church, where they goggled at a few shoe boxes full of bone fragments and the copper disc found under the altar bearing the inscription: “Señor y Rey, Coatemo.”

Last week the official commission, headed by Manuel Gual Vidal, Minister of Education, made a bone-chilling announcement. “The documents and copper disc inscription,” it stated flatly, “are both false . . . Taking into consideration the examination of the human bones [which turned out to be those of five persons, one of them a woman and at least two children], this commission concludes that there are no scientific proofs to permit confirmation that the remains are those of the Emperor Cuauhtemoc.”

Proclaiming her unshaken belief that the bones actually were those of the last Aztec ruler, Eulalia Guzman packed up for another trip to Ixcateopan. The red-faced Bank of Mexico kept its own counsel. One question remained unsolved: Was the hoax the work of a 20th Century man, or had it been perpetrated by some long-forgotten 16th Century prankster?

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