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A Room of Gold and Silver


It is November 15, 1532...at Cajamarca, Peru. Atahualpa, leader of the Incans, and his army of eighty thousand warriers are facing Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish explorer, and his army of 169 men.

Despite the vast difference in armed strength, Pizarro defeated and captured Atahualpa, sending the latter's army running away in fright. The difference: Pizarro had firearms and a calvary involving 69 horses.

In captivity, Atahualpa offered a ransom to the Spaniards: Enough gold to fill his rectangualar cell (23 foot by 16 feet) as high as he could reach (which on tiptoes was 9 feet)....plus, enough silver to fill the cell twice within the next two months.

Your Task: What would be the value of this ransom in terms of today's market value for gold and silver?

Note: The standard gold bar found in bank vaults and traded by dealers has a volume of 722 cm3 and a weight of 12.4 kg. The standard silver bar (assume of same volume) has a weight of 1.81 kg.

To end the story, Pizarro and the Spaniards first accepted Atahualpa's offer, but then declined...and tried him on made-up charges then sentenced him to death (by garrotting).

Source: Adapted from Reader's Digest Book of Facts, 1987, p. 29.