When Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico he had a thirst for gold and the Aztecs had a large amount of precious metal. While they did not use the metal for a currency like the Europeans, they did use some of it to create Aztec jewelry.
It is hard to know each of the different types of Aztec jewelry. This is because when Cortes conquered the Aztecs he took most of the gold and precious metals and melted them down. However, what we do know is depicted in their art and some small samples have been discovered.
Types of Aztec Jewelry
Jewelry was often a sign of status and the different ornaments an Aztec wore signified what class they were in. Emperors had lavish jewels while some of the lowest class could only afford some jewelry if any at all.
Jewelry was also used in religious rituals and Aztec society was dominated by religious rituals and ceremonies.
With the amount of jewelry used in society and in religious rituals, the trade of the jeweler was not one for just anyone. Those that crafted these jewels were very skilled and professional and dedicated their lives to the craft.
This meant that some of the jewels that were created were the finest in the ancient world and easily caught the eye of the Spanish Conquistadors.
Lip Plugs: Lips plugs were often awarded to young boys for capturing an enemy during battle or to a young woman when she married. Depending on their status the plug’s design could be elaborate or simple. They were made from obsidian and were transparent.
Ear Plug: Ear piercings occurred among both males and females. Children first had their ears pierced at an early age. Ears would often be pierced with a bone awl or a maguey spine then a string would be thread through them until they reached the age in which they could add ornaments to them.
Ears would then be stretched systematically until they could hold the ear spools that were highly desired and given only to persons of a certain age as a show of maturation
Labrets: Aztec men and women practiced labret piercing The initial piercing, like ear and lip piercings, did not include the ornament being placed in the freshly pierced skin.
Part of this was the ritual movement of becoming an adult in which ornamentation signified adulthood. Another reason was that it allowed for more bloodletting practices and appeasement of deities throughout this time