One of the most significant moments in Mexico’s history was Hernán Cortés’ arrival on the Yucatán Peninsula in 1519. The Spanish conquistador came to conquer and colonize, which he did to great effect, wresting control from the Aztec empire in a bloody and ruthless campaign.
The few documents Cortés left behind have since been protected by tight security in Mexico’s National Archives – or, at least, that’s where they’re supposed to be. A recent auction listing shows that a few seem to have slipped out.
Lauren Villagran, a reporter for the El Paso Times, told Texas Standard that some of Cortés’ papers were recently on auction in New York.
“I heard from a longtime source in Oaxaca, actually, about a student who had noticed that certain papers he was looking for in the national archive were no longer there,” Villagran said.
She said historians had pictures of the documents, which were taken when they were in the archive. Researchers reported the thefts to Mexican authorities this summer.
“There’s clearly some kind of leak from the archive across the border, and into New York,” Villagran said.
The stolen documents are precious to researchers, who have only a limited glimpse into Cortés’ conquests 500 years ago.
“Researchers say that it’s impossible to understand modern Mexico, and the modern Mexican context, without understanding this period of the conquests,” Villagran said.
If a buyer or seller of stolen items can be identified, the parties could be prosecuted, she said.