Mathematician knows location of lost Maya Gold – UPDATE

After this rather sensationalistic headline, let me put the things in place first:

The German “newspaper” BILD brings us the story of German Mathematician Joachim Rittstieg, who studied the Mayan Codices and thinks he found the location of some lost gold treasure. This treasure consists of 2156 golden tablets on which the Maya inscribed their laws. The tablets are located in the old capital of the Maya Empire – Atlan. The location is revealed on page 52 of the Dresden Codex. The town Atlan was located where is now the lake Izabal in eastern Guatemala. It was destroyed October 30th 666 BC during an earthquake.

For my readers capable of reading German, here is the original story:

This all is written in the article, but there are some doubts rising about that story, when you have a look at the details.

1. The Gold

Although there are minor findings of gold at some sites (namely gold from Panama in the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza), the handling of gold seems to have been of minor importance to the Pre-Classic Maya. Until the Post-Classic Period, we can’t find any gold used in figures, decoration or anything like that. Unlike to Peru, where the Moche used gold. But so far there is no evidence, that there has been a trade connection between the Classic Maya and the Moche.

Not Mayan: Mocha Gold
picture: Pattych/

That means, that it’s probable that the Maya didn’t have any real goldwork prior to the Post-Classic – not to mention golden tablets with the weight of eight tons.

Which leads us to the next point of doubt…

2. The Date

The Post-Classic Period began around 900 AD. Here some Mayan tribes began to use goldwork. The destruction of the city Atlan is reported for 666 BC (yes, BC!). That is Middle Pre-Classic. We wouldn’t suspect any findings of gold in a city that was destroyed in 666 BC, especially of that amount and type. Also we wouldn’t expect such a town to be called Mayan. It must have been earlier than El Mirador, which some call the cradle of Maya culture. Basically, a city like that wouldn’t fit in the time and place.

And something else wouldn’t fit…

3. The Law

Yes, the Maya had a law system, but it was never as complex as it had to be, that you would have to inscribe it on 2156 golden plates. We certainly know more about Aztec laws, their tax system and so on, but we are talking about Classic Maya here. From some codices we know what they did with murderers, thieves, adulterers and so on. Also that they thought that a criminal was possessed by spirits. But a legal system in the capital city of the Middle Pre-Classic period with that degree, that you would inscribe it to 2156 golden tablets – highly improbable. Mention the great capital city leads us to the next point…

4. The Capital City Atlán

You have never heard of Atlan being a Mayan City? You know Atlan just from the word Atlantean, how the stele figurines are called? You think that the existance of a Middle Pre-Classic Maya Capital in nowadays Guatemala is weird?

You’re not alone! The existence of such a Pre-Classic Period city in the Area of the Izabal lake in south-eastern Guatemala would be very, very surprising. Right next to the lake lie the ruins of the Classic Period site of Quiriguá. No single inscription of this very active site, ranging from 400 BC far into the Postclassic Period, mentions Atlán, a capital city or another city nearby that would fit to the description. It’s impossible, that such a city would have been invisible. Quiriguá however was strongly entangled with Copán, which also lies nearby and was settled at around 1300 BC. And also there you can’t see one single piece of evidence for the existence of Atlán. I won’t start talking about how every other town seems to have forgotten to take notice of earthquakes…

Stela E of Quiriguá: Erected in 771, 12 Meters high
picture: Jan Pešula/

But we should briefly talk about…

5. The Word Atlán

Very briefly, really. There is no word Atlán in any Mayan language. There are however two lakes in Guatemala: Lake Amatitlán and Lake Atitlán. Did someone maybe just cut one syllable more?! A(ma)(ti)tlán…

Addendum: We know of the locative -tlan in Nahuatl, of course. And there are more places in Guatemala, that carry Nahuatl names. Those places were named later, however, when the Aztec triple Alliance extended even until nowadays south-west Guatemala in the late 15th century. Please consider, that the mathematician derived his information from the Dresden Codex, written at around 1200. And also consider, that the Aztec Empire never reached to north-east Guatemala, where Lake Izabal is located.

We also covered the word Atlan(tis) in an earlier blog post.

What is left is…

6. The Evidence

After these five points of doubts, surely there will be some evidence. Sure, this man is a mathematician and as such he analyzed numbers. Numbers in the Dresden Codex and the patterns behind them. I don’t know the method of his analysis, I just know, that he is sure, that there are supposed to be 2156 tablets of gold.

The Dresden Codex was probably written in 1200-1250 in the area of Yucatan. To encode the information in the Codex, the writers obviously had to have knowledge about the existence of the gold in a totally different area from around 1900 years ago. It would be as if a nowadays Egyptian would know, where Pontius Pilatus had lost his wallet. He refers to page 52. There is a page 52 and it has a long count date on it. The date is 12 Lamat and refers probably to a date in February 1181. There has to be a way however to interpret this page as the position of a treasure in a totally different time and area.


We discussed a lot of information about this and I would be happy about additions or critique. As I see it, it is highly doubtful if not impropable, that there are 2156 golden tablets with laws in Izabal Lake in Guatemala. I could be wrong though, but if there really were, it would change our understanding of Pre-Columbian substantially.

I will keep you updated about this story, because Mr. Rittstieg plans an expedition with excavation of the golden tablets soon. With a sonar he could already locate the sarcophagus (sic!) in the castle ruin (sic!!!) where the gold lies. Did I mention, that with the Dresden Codex data he can give the location with an accuracy of 10cm?*

If you come along that story in other media these days, you know a bit more about it. If you find the story credible however, it might be worth to support Mr. Rittstieg financially. The material value alone would extend 211 Million Euro.

UPDATE: If this information was interesting, don’t miss the follow-up.
BILD gets down to business and organized an expedition to find the treasure.
Pictures of how the treasure looks like – according to BILD – are presented.
The treasure hunters frustrate the officials in Guatemala.
BILD looks for hints, where there are none.
I told you, there are none in Copán.
BILD gets an “escort” away from the lake (cause they’re very much illegal).
BILD really found something!
BILD gives coordinates of Atlantis

*) Mr. Rittstieg also propagates more interesting theories – Vikings in Mesoamerica for example. There we learn the origin of the name Kukulkan. He is named after Max, who came in a “Kahn” (German for barge) and communicated with his fellow Viking warriors by shouting “Kuckuck” (a weird German signal sound) in the jungle. Max Kuckuckkahn… Yes, I know…

TCMAM trying to be hip: lolcat

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