The Quest for El Dorado – Golden Man of the Amazon Jungle

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El doradoThe Amazon Jungle, according to legend, was the birthplace of El Dorado, a tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust. This tale of fabulous gold lured Spanish Conquistadors and others into the area.

Although the Conquistadors did not find El Dorado, they reported seeing white glistening cities with temples, public squares, and superb artifacts. Later explorers never found similar settlements, so these wondrous cities were thought to be figments of imaginations.

Conquistadors’ Quest for El Dorado

According to legend, Francisco Pizarro led one hundred-and-eighty-two men, primarily plunderers and mercenaries, Spanish Conquistadors in 1532, in the quest for El Dorado and used the evasive excuse that it was for “God and the Crown.”

Conquistador and historian Ciezo de Leon recorded some of the events. They found a gold figure of the sun with many precious gems embedded in it in the richest house in one settlement. There was a garden, with gold earth, bearing golden maize.

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The Conquistadors kidnapped Incan Atuhualpa and ransomed him for gold. Incas, including Prince Choqe Auki, brought gold from their empire. While the Incas were on their way to ransom Atuhualpa, they heard Pizarro killed him.

Choqe Auki raced through Calca, Lores, Choque, and Kancho Lago with two hundred thousand llamas laden with gold and other Incan treasures. The Spaniards tried to capture him, but they never found him or his treasures. Legend, fact or a mix? What is known that the Conquistadors stole so much gold that it changed Europe’s economic system.

El Dorado and Lake Guatavita

Natives told the Conquistadors about people living in the jungle having a king who was covered with gold dust and swam in a lake of gold. Jiminez de Quesada led five hundred men to find it in 1536. They encountered two Chibchas tribes who had large amounts of silver, gold and emeralds, but not El Dorado.

They told him there was a lake in the middle of a large volcanic crater not far from them. The Ceremony of the Golden Man was a yearly event. A tribal chief was smeared with mud covered by gold dust. People brought sacrifices and gifts for their god.

El Dorado and four other chiefs wore their finest jewels and sailed to the center of the lake. When the men reached the lake’s center, they tossed the offerings into the water. Quesada went to Lake Guatavita, but found no trace of the fabled civilization and their chief. Other Conquistadors tried to find the lost civilization and failed.

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In 1584, there was a rumor that implied that Incans fleeing from the Conquistadors built a new city of gold, Manoa. In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh led two expeditions to find Manoa for Elizabeth I of England and failed. Yet another legend arouse about mystical Lake Parima which was almost identical to Guatavita. Both were not found.

British Surveyor’s Search for El Dorado

Percy Harrison Fawcett, was educated at the esteemed Royal Geographic Society in London. He spent two decades working in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. Fawcett believed there were one or more ancient civilizations in the Amazon jungle.

In 1925, he, armed with a machete, compass and strong sense of purpose, led an expedition to discover what he called the City of Z. He made contact with previously unknown tribes and recorded how they survived in the jungle.

The search lasted for almost twenty years, ending when Fawcett and his party vanished and were never heard from again. Fawcett’s disappearance generated many searches to find his remains and the cause of his death. Many search parties turned back, some were killed by natives and others disappeared without a trace.

El Dorado: Archeological Finds

Archeologist Michael Heckenberger discovered twenty pre-Columbian settlements in the Xingu region in the southern basin of the Amazon, the area where Fawcett believed he would find the City of Z and where he disappeared.

These were occupied approximately from 800 to 1600 CE. There were houses, moats, plazas and roads that connected the settlements.

Anna Roosevelt, a great-granddaughter of US President Theodore Roosevelt and an archeologist at the University of Illinois, discovered pottery that dated back to seventy-five hundred years ago.

El Dorado: Only a Legend?

Scholars are reevaluating the El Dorado records that Fawcett used for his city of Z theory. Although no one has found undeniable evidence of El Dorado, anthropologist Neil Whitehead said that, with some cautious reservations, El Dorado existed.

Researchers say that theories and traditional paradigms must be reevaluated. Modern explorers see small tribes in the Amazon jungle and, mistakenly believe that’s all there is and was. The problem is that many AmerIndian tribes were wiped out by smallpox and other scourges that Europeans brought with them, which wiped out the huge Incan empire and other settlements.

Peruvian economist Virgilio Rool estimated that the gold and silver, Incan Sweat of the Sun and Tears of the Moon, the Conquistadors stole and the damage and destruction caused was around $600 billion.

He demanded that the Spanish government make reparations. The Spaniards offered to pay for churches’ upkeep. It’s ironic that some AmerIndians and others viewed churches as representations of the Conquistadors’ genocide, done in the name of God, while the motive was greed.

Recently, explorers using satellite technology have found gigantic mounds across an area that spans over one hundred and fifty miles that appear to be a sophisticated pre-Columbian culture near the Brazilian border with Bolivia.

Are these undiscovered remnants of the Incan Empire? Is it possible that El Dorado existed and was plundered and destroyed by the Conquistadors? It appears the answer is hidden in the mists of history.

Source: 100 Strangest Mysteries, Matt Lamy, (MetroBooks, 2005)