El Dorado Wasn’t Lost

El Dorado is the stuff of legends; a lost “city of gold” in the jungles of South America, a myth stemming from Spanish conquistadors lust for gold. Within a few years of Francisco Pizarro’s 1532 arrival in Peru, the search for El Dorado was on. No one knows how much gold and silver was taken from South America; some estimates put the value at 500 billion in today’s dollars. Still – it was never enough, El Dorado was always just around the corner.


In 1537, conquistador Jimenez de Quesada left Peru with an army of 800 men, following the trail of El Dorado whispers. Quesada travelled into the Andes,  stumbling upon the Muisca people in what is now Columbia. The Muisca had a lot of gold; gold of spiritual and ceremonial, rather than monetary value.

To the Muisca, El Dorado was a ruler – a man so rich and powerful he covered himself in gold dust every day only to wash it off in their sacred lake by nightfall. Muisca crafted gold “Tunjos” , exquisite gold “offerings”, far superior to any gold crafted in Europe. These Tunjos had no relation to wealth or status. They were offerings, tossed into the sacred lake during ceremonies and rituals.


In 1636 Juan Rodriguez Freyle published a book called The Conquest and Discovery of the New Kingdom of Granada. He wrote of the ceremony of “El Dorado”, an elaborate ritual to appoint the “golden one” as successor when a king died. The ceremony took place over many days, culminating in the golden one – naked but for a covering of gold dust – travelling by raft to the middle of the lake to make offerings of gold and gems to the waters. Hundreds lined the shore, burning incense and throwing Tunjos into watery oblivion. Despite his accurate account of Muisca culture, the legend of the lost city El Dorado gained momentum. Gold was one powerful fever.

Archaeological evidence points more and more to El Dorado the man, rather than a lost city. I’m not sure how I feel about El Dorado; at least we don’t have to look for it any longer. It was never lost.

Gold raft from the Muisca people, found 1969 in a cave near Bogotá – depicting the ceremony of El Dorado.

7 thoughts on “El Dorado Wasn’t Lost

  1. Hmmmm…. as someone who has never had a love affair with wealth I find the whole search for the lost city thing to be baffling.

    (But then I’ve never been destitute either — so many my viewpoint is skewed — LOL — not that I’m saying you have — just that I’ve never been SO needy of money that it became a fever)

    It is fascinating where different cultures see ‘value.’ In a non-moneyed culture evidences of moneyed wealth are easily discounted as valueless while devotion is valuable. Here in the U.S. busy-ness is valued and time spent sitting with friends and family can be seen as value-less, or wasteful. And yet friends and family will be there for you when there is no money gained by busy-ness. How cultures ARRIVE at those sets of values in the first place is now something you have ME pondering…….

    A retired photographer looks at life from behind an RV steering wheel.
    Life Unscripted

    • I’m with you and could care less about matters of wealth or material goods. That said, I find it fascinating that for some – despite a clear documentation of the true El Dorado – the lure of gold was simply too much to accept anything other than a lost city.

      • Yeah — well who ever said that humans were RATIONAL?

        I truly believe that what we believe, or accept as true, has more to do with who WE are than whether the thing we believe if ‘true’ — or on what level it might be true.

        I happen to believe in God and a lot of other things; whether I can ‘prove’ them by arguments another can accept has nothing to do with my belief. I think there are an infinite variety of things that have nothing to do with rationality, or factuality. In the same sense as your penchant for Faeries. 🙂

      • My fondness for fairies is no more fantastic than another’s fondness for God. It doesn’t make the slightest difference to me – I’m fond of Parmesan Cheese – I still maintain the highest regard for those who think it tastes like old socks. Sigh.

        And you’re SO RIGHT – what we choose to believe has everything to do with who we are. I only wish it didn’t have to “define” us, because it simply doesn’t 🙂

      • Ah… well, defining… that’s something else.

        I’m a cantankerous olde foole. I’ve never been one for caring much who was defining me which way — but then I didn’t have a catering business that depended on clients. 🙂

        The thing about being defined is it has nothing to do with us. Definitions are always about the other party and some of them, perhaps many of them, occasionally all of them seem to need to put people in boxes so they know what to do with them.

        Definitions seem to me rather like habits. No one wants to think about how to tie their shoe everyday so we rely upon habit. The fact that doing the same metaphorical thing to other people seems dehumanizing slips past our sensitivity filters and we all, or most of us, just do it.

        I agree, but I see no glimmer that it will ever change. Not even in the enlightened 21st C.


  2. Pingback: Ancient Colombian culture and gold | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: 5 pueblitos near Bogotá | strivetoengage

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