Search for El Dorado The Lost City of Gold: History of the Search Part 1

About the search for the lost city of Gold known as El Dorado in the land of the Incas and Aztecs, history and background of the search.

The Continuing Search for . . . El Dorado, the City of Gold

BACKGROUND: Centuries before Columbus, 3 great civilizations--Inca, Aztec, and Chibcha--flourished in the New World. High in the Andes Mountains of present-day Colombia in South America and some 7,500' above sea level, the Chibchas, specifically the Muisca tribe, ruled the isolated plateau of Bogota, called Cundinamarca or "land of the condor." This area where the lakes looked black and the rivers ran white was protected from above by mountains and from below by surrounding jungles and savannas infested with cannibals, with Amazon women under the rule of Queen Califa (after which California may have been named), with pygmies, and-if early Spanish maps are to be believed-with men without heads.

Near Cundinamarca's capital lies Lake Guatavita. Muisca legend had it that the wife of one of the kings had drowned herself there, became the "Goddess of the Lake," and now required annual placation. At some unknown point in pre-Colombian history-the Chibchas had no written records-the custom began for the ruling King to strip naked, cover himself with resinous gums, and roll in gold dust, In a canoe, followed by his subjects, he paddled to the center of the 400' lake, threw emeralds and gold trinkets in the water and then, "in a flash of brightness," plunged into the water to wash himself. This ceremony was followed by gross festivities that included tribewide drunkenness and, according to Collier's Encyclopedia, homosexuality. For some reason-perhaps the obvious one of law and order-the ritual of the golden King and the ensuant revelries were suppressed at least by the year 1500. But the story was pretty heady stuff, even for Indians of antiquity, and news of the custom spread far and wide. When the Spaniards heard the story, they called the King el hombre dorado (the gilded man), which was later shortened to El Dorado and came to mean "golden city."

Gold, of course, meant nothing to the Indians. You could neither eat it nor buy anything with it. However, in the Americas it was abundant and so pure that it didn't need to be refined by the mercury process used for European gold. And it was considered ornamental. Indians decorated themselves with golden nose and ear plugs and breastplates, so that they would "blaze in the sun," and used sheets of beaten gold as wind chimes outside their houses.

In Europe the Spanish Kings in the late 15th and 16th centuries were nearly bankrupt. They had expelled the Jews and Moors, who had taken their gold with them. Almost as bad, when the 1st shipments of gold from Mexico began arriving in the Old World, economic stability was thrown out of balance. Still the conquistadores-the Spanish conquerors-as well as other Europeans, were seized with gold fever. Historian Joachim Leithauser says pointblank that gold was "the object of almost every voyage of exploration." It was at once an adventurer's incentive and his recompense.

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