This is an old story, but it’s so weird I have to tell it. It shows that the beauty of science is that there is nothing that it won’t challenge or test.
In 1599, according to historical accounts, a Spanish governor in colonial Ecuador got a little bit too greedy with the gold trade taxing for the local Jivaro tribe. So they attacked the settlement of Logrono, grabbed the greedy governor, and poured molten gold down his throat, as was the custom at the time.
The sources say that the governor’s “bowels burst.” That’s the part that, more than 400 years later in 2003, was called into question by clinical pathologists in the Netherland. Sounds a bit iffy, after all, and not just because European sources tended to sensationalize accounts of natives in ways that made the natives look bad (see image above).
So they obtained a “bovine larynx” from a local slaughterhouse, sealed the lower end with tissue paper, and poured molten lead down it.
“Immediately, large amounts of steam appeared at both ends of the specimen, and the clot of tissue paper was expelled with force by the steam. Within 10 seconds, the lead had congealed again, completely filling the larynx,” according to the report.
After examining the damage, the scientists found that, yeah, it’s possible that the poor governor’s bowels burst because “the development of steam with increasing pressure might result in both heat induced and mechanical damage to distal organs, possibly leading to over inflation and rupture of these organs.”
But cheer up, he probably died from one of the other horrible things pouring molten gold down a your throat can do to the human body.
“Direct thermal injury to the lungs may lead to instantaneous death, as a result of acute pulmonary dysfunction and shock,” and “Even if this is not the case, the development of a “cast” (once the metal congeals again) would completely block the airways, thus suffocating the victim.”
And thus an ancient report was clarified, and now we know what most likely kills a person when someone pours molten gold down their throat.
[Source: Journal of Clinical Pathology]
Image by Theodor de Bry, Great Voyages, Part IV, 1594