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Boot of Cortez: The Largest Gold Nugget Ever Discovered

gold nugget
The Boot of Cortez was discovered by a metal detector in 1989. Credit: Heritage Auctions

One of the largest surviving gold nuggets found in the western hemisphere is a breathtaking nugget named The Boot of Cortez. It is an amazing piece of gold, weighing in at a massive 389.4 troy ounces.

In 1989, an amateur treasure hunter in Mexico purchased an entry-level metal detector at a local Radio Shack and ventured out into the forbidding Sonoran Desert. Gold and silver mines are scattered across Northern Mexico, but the odds of randomly finding a gold nugget (also known as “placer gold”) in the middle of the desert are impossibly low.

Honing his detecting skills on buried coins in his backyard, the man got to work slowly scanning an area of the Gran Desierto de Altar that was rumored to contain gold nuggets.

The prospector swung his new detector for days, recovering little more than nails, a few bullets, and other assorted junk. Then one morning he got a large signal from his detector, and to his surprise he unearthed this amazing gold nugget.

On his hands and knees, the man carefully excavated the nugget, but the more he dug, the bigger the hunk of gold became. When he finally excavated the massive, solid-gold nugget, it measured 10¾ inches high by 7¼ inches wide. Holding it in his hands, the boot-shaped gem weighed more than 26 pounds.

Known as the “Boot of Cortez,” it remains the largest gold nugget ever recovered in the Western Hemisphere. It trumps the second-largest existing gold nugget from the western hemisphere, which was found in Alaska, by nearly 100 ounces.

The gold nugget is composed of nearly 80 percent gold

It was composed of nearly 80% gold, with the rest being a combination of silver and quartz.

It was named after Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who played a key role in the conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century.

The original discoverer reportedly sold it to his boss for $30,000 and it has changed hands many times since. In 2008, the Boot of Cortez sold at auction for $1,553,500.

Gold nuggets of various sizes have been found throughout the world. Historically, the nuggets are melted down and formed into new objects. The Welcome Stranger is the largest alluvial gold nugget ever found, which had a calculated refined weight of 97.14 kilograms (3,123 ozt). Three of the biggest nuggets come from the Brazilian Serra Pelada mine.

However, the Boot of Cortez remains the largest discovered by a metal detector belonging to an amateur metal hunter.

Related: Top Ten Gold Treasure Discoveries of the Century

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