In this alternate history, Christopher Columbus makes landfall in Central America, after passing south of Florida and sailing through the Gulf of Mexico, arriving right on the doorstep of the Aztec Empire.

The First Contact goes badly and most of the expedition is slaughtered. The survivors are taken prisoner and the Aztecs salvage everything they can from Columbus' ships.

Could the Aztecs do something useful with this new technological knowledge; applying and reusing it for their gain, becoming the major power of the Americas and ending up sending their own expedition back to Spain?

In this alternate history, with no news of Columbus, Europe assumes that he is lost and nobody sends another expedition, deeming the very idea foolish. The European powers focus on Africa and Asia.

EDIT: To address some points:

  • I'm only dealing with Columbus first arrival. What happened after that in our history won't happen in this alternate version. Please don't answer with examples of later Conquistadors who came armed to the teeth or what happened when the conquest was in full swing.

  • This is part of the background of the alternate history that I want to make as believable and coherent with what we know of this time as possible, technology-wise. I'm not going to write the story of this alternate First Contact.

  • I'm well aware that what defeated the original civilizations of the Americas are the diseases brought by the Europeans, more than weapons or anything else. That's another fact that I'll deal with later.

  • The expedition that the Aztecs would send back to Spain isn't sent to conquer Spain and Europe, but merely to establish formal contact with the people from the other side of the ocean.

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    $\begingroup$ IIRC, a basic problem is that the ship would have landed in the territory of one of the Aztec's subject peoples. They were not really fond of Aztec rule (human sacrifice tends to do that), which was a major factor in Cortez' later success. So it seems more likely that the technology, if it could be adopted successfully, would be used to overthrow the Aztecs. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 19 '18 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ I could see use of technology - like removing the cannon from the ship and learning how to use them. Reverse engineering them however may be a bit harder. They would need knowledge of the manufacturing processes, which themselves wouldn't have been brought with the ship. $\endgroup$ – Baldrickk Nov 20 '18 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ A timeline very similar to this one (two timelines, actually) is outlined in Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. $\endgroup$ – Michael Seifert Nov 20 '18 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Blue Footed Booby: But other than the coastal regions & the Nile Valley (which had been part of "European" civilization since the Phoenicians & Greeks founded colonies there), there isn't really anything in that top chunk of Africa that the Europeans would want. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 20 '18 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ "The expedition that the Aztecs would send back to Spain isn't sent to conquer Spain and Europe, but merely to establish formal contact with the people form the other side of the ocean" at best this is out of character for the Aztecs. If it's not to gain sacrifices or some other insane advantage, then they're probably not going. $\endgroup$ – Steve Nov 20 '18 at 21:03

14 Answers 14


What technology could the European explorer have on board upon arrival which could be useful for a reverse expedition?

  • Gun powder: usually it was not produced in loco, but rather carried in barrels. I doubt knowledge of how to make it was common. Unlikely it could be transferred. Without this no way to learn usage of fire weapon. Also crafting fire weapons requires refined metallurgy, of the type hardly present on board.
  • Non fire weapons: for this I doubt that the weapons of an easily beaten group could make a great impression on the Emperor. However, it's possible that elementary knowledge of blacksmithing was in possession of part of the crew, as it was necessary at least to perform ordinary maintenance.
  • Ship making: wooden ships were easily damaged, and knowledge on how to fix them had to be present on board. Usually there was even a carpenter. Highly likely.
  • Navigation: learning how to maneuver a large ship was not something to be learned in few months. It required practice and dedication. But it is likely it could be taught. Using navigation instruments to determine the position was probably an art only known by the captain and the officials. This could also be transmitted.

Now, having established the technologies, we have to determine if the captive crew would agree to teach them to the indigenous. I have few doubts that a low level crew member would happily save his life in exchange of details on what he knows.

But the others, in possession of important knowledge, would probably evaluate the possibility of taking their secret in the grave. Those were times when maps with important secrets (like the location of newly discovered islands or trade route) were valued as state secret, and thus official were probably conscious of the risk behind disclosing such and similar secret. It would be a matter of using subtle social engineering to convince the prisoners to cooperate.

But I think that, before venturing into Europe, the Aztec would have probably devoted their attention to the rest of the American continent, which posed less risks than a transoceanic navigation.

  • $\begingroup$ Why would gunpowder be a super secret? I mean, basic gunpowder is 15:3:2 saltpeter, charcoal, sulfer. Not exactly complex. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Nov 19 '18 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't have to be secret to be uncommon knowledge. You need to remember they didn't have google back then. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Nov 19 '18 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk, could you tell without the internet or reference books how to find and refine saltpeter and sulfur? Or how to grind powder without an explosion in the powder mill? $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 19 '18 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk, making gunpowder is more than just "pour 15 cups saltpeter, 3 cups charcoal, and 2 cups sulfur into a large bowl. Stir well." If you try to make gunpowder knowing only the proportions of the ingredients, the likely outcome is somewhere on the range from "blow yourself up" to "make something that emits a cloud of foul smoke" to "produce low-quality serpentine powder" at best. Producing a proper corned powder with a consistent grain size takes quite a bit of specialist knowledge. $\endgroup$ – Mark Nov 20 '18 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk Most people can't even recognize those materials even if they step over them adn there's the quality of the material to consider too $\endgroup$ – jean Nov 21 '18 at 11:53

In order for the Aztec Empire to become a legitimate force in the international community, it would have needed massive structural reformation to reduce internal fractiousness and to build learning, finance, and other institutions needed to transition from a bronze-age kingdom to a middle-ages kingdom. Other folks landed independently in the Americas in 1497 and 1500, so the time for such a transition was limited.

The Aztec society lacked organized advanced schooling in technology, and lacked the concept of the scientific method: This means any investigation would have been haphazard and lengthy before they figured out how to, for example, make steel and gunpowder. That's simply too big of a gap for Aztec researchers to bridge in the time available --even with the help of prisoners (without a common language).

NOTE: European schools and understanding-of-science were also rudimentary by our standards...but that's not relevant: Europeans already had steel and gunpowder and a millenium of experience in technological innovation beyond the bronze age.

More importantly, the Aztecs lacked institutions like banks and companies and associated knowledge like employment practices and good accounting. Institutions foster the widespread labor specialization needed to produce the wealth required to invest in steel and ships.

Without widespread labor specialization, the Aztecs still have full-time soldiers, but only part-time miners and gunsmiths and shipwrights. Institutions ease the way to full-time specialists without draining the Emperor's treasury.

These learning-curves in technology and inefficiencies in economy mean that the Aztec-created weapons and ships would have been (relatively) more expensive and of poorer quality than they could have been. And fewer resources would be available for expeditions and expansion.

Example: Had, by some stretch, new Aztec shipwrights been able to reproduce a Niña-class vessel, the same inefficiencies mean that improvements and cost-reductions would come more slowly than comparable European developments. Being able to reproduce isn't enough - the Aztec Empire lacked the capacity to keep up with the rate of change.

Finally, the Aztec Empire was a delicate political entity - peoples like the Tlascalans rebelled at the first opportunity. It's reasonable to expect rivals to obtain new and (relatively) advanced weapons also, perhaps triggering a series of crippling civil wars. Without a stable, coherent political structure that unified the tribes of Mexico (instead of simply delaying the next war), the Aztec army (and perhaps navy) would necessarily remain focused on maintaining hegemony withing the then-existing restive empire, not expanding into new territory.

That's many decades of political, economic, and social changes that needed to happen...and there just wasn't time for it. Other explorers, in newer and bigger ships and armed with bigger and better guns, would certainly locate the Aztecs within a decade or two - some of them would surely return to tell the tale.

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    $\begingroup$ There were very few advanced schools of technology in the XIV century. Maybe the School of Sagres in Portugal, the portuguese naval tech research center. European universities at this time were theology schools with alchemy, law and astrology classes. And none of the european (or turkish for the matter) schools used the scientific method as understood today, or even as understood in Newton's days. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Nov 19 '18 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Geronimo true, and those rudimentary institutions, with their rudimentary studies, seem far ahead of anything that Bronze-age kingdoms could create or sustain. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 19 '18 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that the medieval universities were beyond what bronze-age societies could support. Ancient Egypt had a permanent educational system to train their engeneers/bureucrats and, more relevant to the question, both the incas and aztecs had institutions, in their capitals, to provide the analogue to superior education, that was quite similar to western curriculum: aztec law, aztec theology, magic (astrology/alchemy/medicine) and some engeneering. Universities are note relevant to question, frankly. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Nov 19 '18 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ “They didn’t have the scientific method,” neither did Europe—or anyone else—for approximately another century. The Arab world was closest to it, and Europe was only just beginning to learn about their work on empiricism. And the discovery of the Americas played a significant role in that development—because it forced Europe to accept that the Classics hadn’t known everything and that their knowledge could be improved upon or even contradicted. This is what prompted a lot of Bacon and Descartes. I’d suggest a different phrase for describing the difference in philosophy between Old and New. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Nov 20 '18 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Downvoted for just being factually wrong in certain areas. Aztec military education was very good for the time, they even taught their solder's math. Honestly this answer shows a massive lack of understanding of the Aztec's military culture. Look at the clay balls that go in their slings. How do you think they all ended up being the same size? I'll give you the political problems their religion called, but as far as the rest of it goes you're just wrong here. One doesn't need banks to advance. Aztec general education was pretty damn good. If japan could do it, the Aztec's have a shot at it. $\endgroup$ – Steve Nov 20 '18 at 20:58

The steel technology is probably beyond them, given the processing steps they can never derive from sampling the finished article. Iron & steel would have been a reach.

Ship-building, on the other hand, is right there before them. They had wood, they could likely have reverse engineered ropes & canvas sails using native hemp. They could have gotten by, scaled down, with wood, sail, tar, dowels, copper & stone.

Artillery/musketry, forging technology dependent, would have been tough. Metal-working (mining/smelting especially) would clearly be the critical path. They would also still have to confront the epidemics from the Europeans which did inevitably decimate their population.

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    $\begingroup$ This is like 5% of an answer. I don't disagree with anything, but I wonder a) how you came to your conclusions. b) how this is going to help them becoming a major power? My guess is that this is the result of 5 minutes of brain storming. There is nothing wrong with that, but if the OP can't do that themselves, they have to give up the project because there is no hope. I wrote a comment saying that a real answer needs to be basically a book so I don't blame you for not doing that, but perhaps consider offering a deeper insight into your points $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 18 '18 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ Firearms, both cannon and arquebuses, were made of bronze in the time of the conquistadores. Iron guns came much later. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 18 '18 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ Just knowing iron-working is not enough. You also need to know what iron ore looks like and how to refine it - and Columbus' crew is unlikely to have those skills. There are iron deposits in Mexico, but I'm not sure if any of them were within the Aztec empire. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Nov 18 '18 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @theRiley You are wrong. Sorry. A blacksmith specialises in working refined metal. At a stretch, he may have a working knowledge of bloomery or smelting, but he certainly isn't a prospector nor a miner. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Nov 19 '18 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ The list of people who sailed with Columbus does not include a blacksmith, only a silver smith. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Nov 19 '18 at 2:03

As previously stated, sailing technology is the most easily assimilated technology that can be gleaned from the capture of Columbus' men.

However what has not been touched on is this: Mesoamerican peoples already had knowledge of bronze working prior to the arrival of Columbus, but the technology was exclusively used for the manufacture of ornamental items. Upon salvaging bronze cannon and arquebus from the captured ships, it could become apparent to the indigenous peoples that bronze can be useful for the manufacture of tools. Effectively kick-starting what would be recognisable to Eurasian eyes as a bronze-age.

If someone aboard the ships happened to know how to make gunpowder, it is possible that this knowledge plus bronze tools and sailing technology could result in a Mesoamerican maritime bronze-age empire who possess cannons.

Furthermore, many of the crewmembers of the ill-fated 1492 voyage were literate. There is a good chance that a written alphabet would be readily adopted by the Aztecs, which aids significantly in the administration of an Empire.

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    $\begingroup$ By written language, you mean the use of an alphabet? Aztecs did have a writting system. $\endgroup$ – Pierre Arlaud Nov 19 '18 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ Copper and Gold working, using native metals, yes but not bronze and no known metal extraction technology that let them get usable material from ore. $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 19 '18 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ Gunpowder was as useful for aztecs as wheels were for the incas: worthless. It almost took no part in the spanish conquest because of. In the extremely wet climate jungle - nothing like modern Mexico - gunpowder was extremely unreliable. Just one week after disembarking, Cortés had only two guns still in fire conditions - if the gunpowder was dry enough. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Nov 19 '18 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ Mesoamerican people were already well aware that metal could be used to make tools, this wouldn’t be new knowledge to them. You could write a book on the reasons why they didn't have more advanced metallurgy (and people have), but it’s much more involved than “they didn’t know better”. In all likelihood, the climate and terrain conspired against the development of advanced metalworking in the new world (metal being heavy, and much of South and Central America being rather punishing, terrain and climate-wise - why schlep a 10 pound sword 500 miles when a 2 pound club works almost as well?) $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Nov 19 '18 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ What "knowledge of bronze working"? Quotation needed. AFAIK the Aztecs were in the late stone age, with some knowledge of working metals which could be found in native state such as gold and silver. @HopelessN00b: There is no such thing as a 10 pound sword -- a 4 or 4.5 pound sword was a very heavy sword, a normal longsword was usually around 3 pounds. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 19 '18 at 17:57

Not exactly a technology, but if they had captured some Spanish horses they could use them to improve communication within their empire, expand their borders in Mesoamerica and be better prepared for the next wave of Europeans once they arrive. While the stories of Americans believing Europeans to be centaurs or gods because of horses are probably exaggerated, they did play a role in convincing some tribes to join the conquistadors and in intimidating the Aztec warriors.

Also as others mentioned sailing technology already, they could load horses on their ships and show up in Europe in style.

  • $\begingroup$ Great idea, I don't know that Columbus had horses though (some of the later expeditions certainly did). $\endgroup$ – theinvisibleduck Nov 19 '18 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ according to this tuesdayshorse.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/… he had some on his second journey. not sure about the first, but you're already doing alternate history and it's not that big stretch, i think. $\endgroup$ – Milo Bem Nov 19 '18 at 16:36

In the Pulitzer winning Guns, Germs & Steel, it was argued that the possession of those 3 things were what enabled Spanish society to cross the ocean and conquer the Aztecs rather than visa versa.

I'll take them in a slightly different order (with one bonus addition):

  • Germs

Europeans had all sorts of nasty germs to (inadvertently) help cull the numbers of the Americans. Smallpox and Malaria were a couple of the biggies. In exchange, the worst the Americans had to offer was Syphilis, which did no small amount of damage, but probably didn't significantly impact European fecundity.

The Aztec's best bet here would have been prior exposure. In particular, if perhaps the Norsemen had managed to get Smallpox established as endemic in the Americas in 1000ish when they tried to settle Vinland (or perhaps the Aleuts managed to carry it over through Beringia), then by the time the Spaniards arrived the Aztecs would have developed some resistances to it, and would not have suddenly had their empire decimated by the disease.

  • Steel

The Aztecs were just starting to smelt bronze when the Spanish arrived. If Spaniards found iron deposits in their territory, and started working them, and the Aztecs had enough time (perhaps due to not being decimated by smallpox) to see that and perhaps hire/capture a Spanish smelter, it would have been quite possible to learn the process.

Steel would have been more work, but Iron would have been a great start.

  • Guns

This would be trickiest, as you probably need good steel for the gun barrels. The gunpowder could be acquired from guano from bat caves, which Mexico is not particularly short of. Still, its possible primitive muskets could have been made, which would have made them competitive, if not equal. Further development of firearms probably requires the kind of squabbling warlike communities that Europe specialized in though. Also required of course is one important thing not brought up much in Mr. Diamond's book:

  • Printing Press

This we know for a fact American society could have easily copied, because the Cherokee did just that. Sequoia was in fact illiterate in English, but saw what English speakers were doing with writing and newspapers, and reverse-engineered how to do it all.

With printing presses, any member of Azetc society who figured out how to do something new could quickly make it common knowledge. This was the real technology advantage Europeans had over them. Europe was a ("Medieval") backwater of the Eastern Hemisphere before they invented the Printing Press in the late 1400's. There's a reason Norsemen failed to colonize North America in 500 years of trying, while Spanish (and then English, French, Dutch, etc.) managed to do it immediately after printing was invented. This was not a coincidence.

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    $\begingroup$ My goodness, a citation! Thank you for that. I have my doubts about the steel and guns—why would the Europeans set up a smelter if they’ve been captured?—but nonetheless, quite enjoyable. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Nov 20 '18 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @KRyan - I'm thinking its the reverse: Spaniards realize they need some more iron, find a deposit, set up a smelter, then the whole shebang gets captured. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Nov 20 '18 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need steel for gun barrels. Bronze works great (even wood works en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wooden_cannon). It's machining the bores and balls to a uniform size that really makes them useful, more than the material. $\endgroup$ – Brizzy Nov 21 '18 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Brizzy - "Wooden cannons were notoriously weak, and could usually fire only a few shots, sometimes even just one shot, before bursting." You're right that such a force could at least attempt to field a resistance, but against a steel-using opponent, their plan had better not be to sit back and exchange fire for a while. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Nov 21 '18 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ exploration of Americas have very little to do with printing press. The reason Spanish went there and were successful was mostly because they have many spare adventurous men with not much to do after completing the Reconquista. Most of the conquistadors were illiterate and they took monks with them as secretaries. Without printing press. $\endgroup$ – Milo Bem Nov 23 '18 at 13:10

The wood working, rope making and weaving technologies of Europe differed mainly in terms of scale, tools used, mechanisation, and standardisation rather than in matters of underlying technique so the Aztecs could almost certainly pick up the particulars necessary to build ships capable of crossing the Atlantic if they decided it was a priority.

Beyond that it depends a great deal on how much information the Aztecs could get from the surviving crew about basic industrial chemistry, for example the recipe for gunpowder was not any great secret in Europe at the time. Nor were any number of other pieces of industrial chemistry like the extraction of iron, lead, copper, and tin, from various ores, or the proportions for making bronze, solder, pewter, and steel, things like amalgam and invar were still trade secrets though.

Whether any of the crew knew these things is a different matter though. I don't know the exact composition of the crew of the Santa Maria, Nina, and Pinto, if Columbus had ex-miners and/or foundry workers in the crew then many possibilities open up. They could identify ores in the field and the local pottery kilns would be sufficient to being scaled up for metal production, they could produce enough heat. Gunpowder can be made in the field, in a rough and ready rule of thumb way, using raw materials that aren't impossible to get in quantity in the Caribbean area, officers of any military force of the era should have known a couple of basic recipes for use in exigent circumstances.


You can't reverse-engineer steel or gunpowder unless you can somehow capture manufacturing facilities which a typical conquistador did not carry with themselves. Those were conquerors relying on stock they brought from their homes. if they were up to mine iron ore or saltpetre, that might have pointed the Aztecs to the right direction, but as far as I can recall, those guys were only after precious metals, spices and such.

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    $\begingroup$ They were in fact explorers looking for any resources that would compensate the royal family for their investment in the voyage. What particular skill sets they had along I don't know but a naturalist that can tell you you're holding silver ore can also point out iron ore, coal seams etc... and make saltpetre, probably gunpowder too. $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 19 '18 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash We are talking about reverse engineering here. You can only reverse-engineer stuff you see working. You can't reverse engineer steel manufacturing without seeing a steel smelter working. The end product simply doesn't say anything about the process. $\endgroup$ – mg30rg Nov 19 '18 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ Given that the "survivors are taken prisoner" we're not just talking about reverse engineering. $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 19 '18 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash Ok, I must have skipped that part. Althought I strongly doubt that any conquistador was such a renaissance-man to be able to create a usable smelthery with late stone- and early bronze age tools. But again, I might be wrong. $\endgroup$ – mg30rg Nov 19 '18 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ Depends what you want to smelt and how, pottery kilns can and do produce enough heat for bloomery iron and more than enough for lower temperature processes like copper and lead smelting. Blast furnaces or any other large-scale process I quite agree won't happen, not soon anyway, but small charcoal fired smelters aren't too hard to build, not the most efficient technology of the age, but workable. $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 19 '18 at 12:34

The Aztecs will have to heavily restructure their entire way of warfare if they ever hope to become an international power since Aztec combat was focused on taking captives for sacrifices. That mindset will have to change to “aim for the kill” if they hope to survive further contact with Europe.

As for the weapons, it will be virtually impossible to reverse engineer gunpowder when they have no idea what’s actually made of or how it’s manufactured (though if someone from the expedition has some basic knowledge that could speed things up) .

You can easily go around this by having the majority of Columbus’s men defect to the Aztecs , Columbus was notorious for being an unpleasant person and cruel even for the standards of his time, its not implausible for him to make a mistake or two that cost him the loyalty of his crews and with a generous bribe from the Aztecs it could be easy to sway them. If there are blacksmiths amongst them then they should know how to make steel or at least have a basic idea for it.

Edit : as pointed out this can also backfire horribly on the Aztecs if the crew is instead taken in by any of the people subjected by the Aztec empire, and use the technology to gain independence . In that case either the Aztecs will have to change to match them or more likely be forced to accept them as equals . Best case scenario is that these newly independent civs remain neutral. I can even see them forming a proto-federation though wether or not the Aztecs are part of it I cannot be sure (assuming it’s not an alliance against them).

Something I also forgot was smallpox. If smallpox spreads I suspect it will actually be less devestating somewhat since the Americans won’t be dealing with an invasion and might be able to deal with it more or less effectively or at least control so its not an apocalypse level plague. By the time of re-contact the people of Mesoamerica might develop partial resistance to smallpox.

  • $\begingroup$ Other answers noted that the Aztecs' subjugated peoples would revolt any time they had a chance. It's plausible for a few of these peoples to band together and co-opt Columbus's defectors. Then given enough time to understand the imported tech, this notional group could credibly rebel against the Aztecs, proclaim independence, and have good odds of defending themselves. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Nov 21 '18 at 15:02

It would be very hard to salvage the naval tech. Shipbuilding demands the right trees and iron/bronze metallurgy to manufacture both the tools and the critical metal parts of a oceanfaring ship. And even if there was a blacksmith among the crew members you will have no iron because what you need is a miner that also knows prospection. Was there europeans that knew how to find virgin ore veins to mine in the XIV century? I don't know but I would bet there wasn't since most mines in Europe were old, ancient mining regions, some from the roman times, other slowly discovered during the middle ages. There was no science and art of finding good places for mining in Europe, geology is hundreds of years in the future. So, no iron.

In the case of bronze you have to find a north american geology map that shows where is tin and where is copper and see if it was viable for the aztec to have access to both mineral resources at the same time. Most probably it wouldn't.


Not much

Let's assume the best case for the Aztecs-they kill all of Columbus' crew, have all the hardware available for inspection, and contract no European diseases. Technology comes as a whole interrelated package. People say the Aztecs could have understood the ship technology. They probably could understand the construction, but not why the ships were designed as they were. As others have said, you can't understand how to make steel just by looking at it, so you can't steal the ship designs in the places steel was used to hold the ship together. They might realize gunpowder was what made the muskets work, but figuring out how to make gunpowder seems difficult. It might have made them use wheels for real work instead of just children's toys. There would clearly be an explosion in technology, but Europe was progressing as well.

I can't imagine it taking more than a few decades before the next European ship came to the Americas. Magellan was only 30 years later and his crew sailed around the world. You can't have steel that fast, which means no useful guns. Gunpowder is not very useful without steel to contain it. The next few ships would have brought the diseases, so I suspect this scenario just delays the conquest of the Americas by a few decades.


Yes, they can do that. But they would need wise emperor and something like culture shock. So your wise leader wins, but understands: his people are ages behind in technology and butchers knife is still hanging over them.

He decides, Aztecs need change and fast. He uses bribes, titles, marriage and piles of gold or torture to get as much information and cooperation from captured Spanish.

They can get close-to-full information or scraps-to-build-on about:

  • Ores and mining, metalwork, guns and gunpowder, ships and navigation.

  • Politics, logistics, merchant and craftsmen organisations.

  • And all you can think of to be revealed from Spanish part.

With said information and deep pockets of emperor, mining and metalworking grow by day. Carpenters try to build ever bigger ships. Soon all needed components of gunpowder are found and wisemen and priests labor day and night to perfect formula and start production.

State managment gets reformed. Guilds are born. Maybe, even religion will take some lessons.

In few short years Empire is reborn and stronger.

Problem is Spanish had little knowledge how to cure and prevent diseases. Maybe, one of your priests would invent variolation to prevent smallpox, problem is they had no cows.. alternative animal? Dogs, cats, horses of Spanish.

Travel to Europe, that would have close to zero chance to have any good results. They are pagans and Pope with Kings would mark them to be done with: be it in Gods name, for their wealth or to weed out a potential rival.

So better course is other nations of Americas and Asia.


I think you need a longer timeline. This can be more plausible, possibly if the invaders are captured and not slaughtered (foreign devils blood on our alters? I think not!) Chris bargains for his life, promising all sorts of new things, and hoping for a chance to later get away.

They become well treated slave skunk works. Blacksmithing. Small sail boats. Small boats make fishing more efficient. Rope walks. Boats get larger.

Plausibly one of the crew is a miner. (Columbus was seeking gold... Certainly the later conquistadors brought along mining expertise.)

You can shift Chris's landing point with a hurricane.

I wonder if you would do better for them to find a different people. The Mississippi mound builders were as organized, but not nearly as blood thirsty. Less is known about them, so you have a freer hand.

Socially, running into the Iroquois Confederacy could be bad news for Chris. They were well organized, living in permanent communities, managed the local forests for game production, had agriculture.

Their territory included much of what is now Pennsylvania -- coal and iron.

A generation later:

Iroquois develop coastal raider sail boats that make life difficult for coastal tribes from Maine to Florida. Coastal tribes respond by fortifying the coast, and acquiring Iroquois technology.

A generation later:

Throw in a smart boatsmith indian and move from the coastal boats to something like the cod schooner used in New England and Maritime Canada. I don't see any real tech revolution between the two. Much faster boat that could sail decently close to the wind.


They could in theory become interested in exploring the atlantic coast. They would set up a port most likely in todays Veracruz and Tuxpan. From there they'd make back the way Colon did the first time. At discovery of the Mississipi river the'd may feel some familiarity with their island City of Tenochtitlan and build a new city there. The city would prosper thanks to their farming technology. The success of this enterprise would infuse legitimacy and therefore stability to the regime. At the same time the emerging coastal economy would introduce pressure for changes. Later on, when the white men came back they would be more cautious. When the struggle finally erupted like it did in OTL they would make most of them prisoners and continue learning from them. I can't go much further but a history along these lines would have a few advantages compared to OTL: -the impact of diseases brought from europe would be more gradual and allowing them to learn how to cope. -The defense ability of the aztecs against the spanish would be better. -The speed of spanish colonization of the continent would be significantly slower.

At some point total war between aboriginals and the spanish would erupt. Depending on the winner you could have later on, 50 or 100 years later, the scenario where they would visit Europe (and the rest of the world).


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