The macuahuitl is a weapon shaped like a wooden sword whose name is derived from the Nahuatl language. Its sides are embedded with prismatic blades made from obsidian, a volcanic glass stone. It was similar to a large wooden club with cuts in the side to hold the sharpened obsidian.
The maquahuitl (Nahuatl: macuahuitl, other orthographical variants include maquahutil, macquahuitl and maccuahuitl) is a type of macana, was a common weapon used by the Aztec military forces and other cultures of central Mexico, that was noted during the 16th-century Spanish conquest of the region.
They also used other implements such as the round shield, the bow, and the spear-thrower. It is sometimes referred to as a sword or club, but it lacks a true European equivalent. It was capable of inflicting serious lacerations from the rows of obsidian blades embedded in its sides.
According to one source, the macuahuitl was 3 to 4 feet (0.91 to 1.2 m) long, and three inches (80 mm) broad, with a groove along either edge, into which sharp-edged pieces of flint or obsidian were inserted, and firmly fixed with some adhesive compound. 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.
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'.
According to Ross Hassig, the last authentic macuahuitl was destroyed in 1884 in a fire in the Armería Real in Madrid, where it was housed beside the last tepoztopilli. However, according to ENAH archaeologist Marco Cervera Obregón, there is supposed to be at least one macuahuitl in MNA’s warehouse but it is possibly lost.
The maquahuitl predates the Aztecs. Tools made from obsidian fragments were used by some of the earliest Mesoamericans. Obsidian used in ceramic vessels has been found at Aztec sites. Obsidian cutting knives, sickles, scrapers, drills, razors, and arrow points have also been found.
Several obsidian mines were close to the Aztec civilizations in the Valley of Mexico as well as in the mountains north of the valley. In a Chichen Itza carving, a possible ancestor of the macuahuitl is shown as a club having separate blades sticking out from each side. In a mural, a warrior holds a club with many blades on one side and one sharp point on the other, a possible ancestor of the macuahuitl.
The maquahuitl was sharp enough to decapitate a man. According to an account by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Hernán Cortés’s conquistadors, it could even decapitate a horse. Another account by the a companion of Cortés known as The Anoynymous Conquerer tells a similar story of its effectiveness.
The maquahuitl also had some drawbacks. It takes more time to lift and swing a club than it does to thrust with a sword. More space is needed as well, so warriors advanced in loose formations. No actual maquahuitl specimens remain and the present knowledge of them comes from contemporaneous accounts and illustrations that date to the sixteenth century and earlier.