A macuahuitl, a type of macana, is a wooden sword with obsidian blades. The name is derived from the Nahuatl language. Its sides are embedded with prismatic blades traditionally made from obsidian, famous for producing an edge far sharper than even high-quality steel razor blades. It was a common weapon used by the Aztec military forces and other cultures of central Mexico. It was described during the 16th-century Spanish conquest of the region.
Aztec warriors as shown in the 16th-century Florentine Codex (Vol. IX). Each warrior is brandishing a macuahuitl. Wikipedia/Public Domain
According to National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH) archaeologist Marco Cervera Obregón, there were two versions of this weapon:.The macuahuitl, about 70–80 cm long, had six to eight blades on each side, and the mācuāhuitzōctli, a smaller club about 50 cm long, had only four obsidian blades. Other people believe that their length varied from 1.06 to 2.13 meters.
A modern recreation of a ceremonial macuahuitl. Wikipedia/Public Domain
The macuahuitl was made with either one-handed or two-handed grips, as well as in rectangular, ovoid, or pointed forms. The two-handed macuahuitl has been described “as tall as a man.”
The rows of obsidian blades were sometimes discontinuous, leaving gaps along the side, while, at other times the rows were set close together and formed a single edge. It was noted by the Spanish that the macuahuitl was so cleverly constructed that the blades could be neither pulled out nor broken.
This drawing, from the 16th-century Florentine Codex, shows Aztec warriors brandishing macuahuitls. Wikipedia/Public Domain
The macuahuitl was sharp enough to decapitate a man. According to an account in The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of Hernán Cortés’s conquistadors, it could even decapitate a horse:
Pedro de Morón was a very good horseman, and as he charged with three other horsemen into the ranks of the enemy the Indians seized hold of his lance and he was not able to drag it away, and others gave him cuts with their broadswords, and wounded him badly, and then they slashed at the mare, and cut her head off at the neck so that it hung by the skin, and she fell dead.
Drawing part of the Catalog of the Royal Armoury of Madrid by the medievalist Achille Jubinal in the 19th century, original specimen was destroyed by a fire in 1884. Wikipedia/Public Domain
Another account by Francisco de Aguilar read:
They used … cudgels and swords and a great many bows and arrows … One Indian at a single stroke cut open the whole neck of Cristóbal de Olid’s horse, killing the horse. The Indian on the other side slashed at the second horseman and the blow cut through the horse’s pastern, whereupon this horse also fell dead.
As soon as this sentry gave the alarm, they all ran out with their weapons to cut us off, following us with great fury, shooting arrows, spears and stones, and wounding us with their swords. Here many Spaniards fell, some dead and some wounded, and others without any injury who fainted away from fright. – The Conquistadores, Francisco de Agular
According to the historical anthropologist – Ross Hassig, the last authentic macuahuitl was destroyed in 1884 in a fire in the Real Armería in Madrid, where it was housed beside the last tepoztopilli. However, according to Marco Cervera Obregón, there is supposed to be at least one macuahuitl in a Museo Nacional de Antropología warehouse, but it is possibly lost.
A modern replica of a tepoztopilli. Wikipedia/Public Domain
No actual macuahuitl specimens remain, and the present knowledge of them comes from contemporaneous accounts and illustrations that date to the 16th century and earlier.