When the Conquistadors were ravaging and looting the ancient cultures of the Aztecs and Incas, native tribesmen told them about an amazing rumor. They said that there was a race, deep in the jungle, whose king was covered with gold dust and who swam in a golden lake. It was the story of ‘El Dorado’, the ‘Golden Man’. One of the first Spaniards to set off to find this fantasy land was Jimenez de Quesada. In 1536, Quesada and 500 soldiers hacked into the undergrowth from the northwest of what is now Columbia. After many hard days trudging through intense and dangerous jungle, they came upon two tribes of Chibchas, a race with plentiful riches. They had gold, silver and huge amounts of emeralds, but they did not have the fabled ‘El Dorado’. However, they told Quesada of a lake in the middle of a huge volcanic crater on the Bogota plateau not far away.
The natives revealed that the lake was called Guatavita and each year the bizarre ceremony of the Golden Man would take place. Tribal witnesses said the occasion was used to offer sacrifices and gifts to the god that they worshipped. The tribal king was smeared in sticky mud, on which gold dust was set. He and four other chiefs then sailed on a raft with their finest jewels and treasures, whilst the tribe played music at the shoreline. When the king and his party reached the centre of the lake they threw the offerings into the water, and the king then bathed himself to remove his golden covering. Quesada travelled to the lake, but could find no clue hinting at treasure. Other Spaniards heard the rumours about Guatavita, and the first attempt to dredge the lake began in 1545.
As the years passed, each new expedition heard other versions of the El Dorado legend. Each one ploughed into the jungle certain they would find the wealth. None ever did, but they did come across other interesting
things. In 1537, one adventurer, Francisco de Orellana, was trying to find the golden city by sailing down the Napo River. Orellana reached the end of the Napo, and realised it was a tributary to another, massive river. As he floated along this, a tribe of long-haired, fierce female archers attacked his boat. The women reminded Orellano of the Amazons of Scythia in Greek legend, and he named the river ‘Amazonas’.
In 1584 another native rumor appeared. It suggested that Incas fleeing from the Spanish invaders had created a new city of gold called Manoa. This became inseparable from the El Dorado legend, and in 1595 the British adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to find Manoa and its gold for Queen Elizabeth I. He failed, and a further fruitless expedition in 1617 helped to seal his execution. Over the years, yet another myth circulated – that of a lost mystical lake called Parima. It was described as being almost identical to Quesada’s initial discovery, Lake Guatavita. Despite this, more expeditions floundered in the jungle, haphazardly slicing their way through the foliage until they ran out of supplies, funds, men or patience. Meanwhile, other Spaniards had decided to continue attempts at reaching the bottom of Lake Guatavita. In 1580s, Antonio de Sepulveda, a merchant living in Bogota, used 8000 native men to drain the lake by cutting a huge gash in the side. He did manage to remove a fair deal of water, and found considerable gold, but the earth walls
collapsed, killing many workmen and causing the project to be abandoned. Further attempts to drain the lake continued right into the twentieth century, and many historically valuable artifacts were found, but
never the great quantities of treasure promised by the legends. There can be little doubt that, despite the
countless and varied attempts hunting through the jungle, the Conquistadors never uncovered all the secrets of the Amazon. Biology, botany and anthropology show us that there is still plenty of potential for new
discoveries. Did the Spanish adventurers really find the lake of El Dorado? Almost certainly Lake Guatavita is that fabled lagoon. But nobody has found yet Manoa, and if the El Dorado myth has been proven
real, there is good reason to suspect the Manoan legend will be too.
learn more about the ancient world. The Egyptians were known to have knowledge and records dating back centuries, and as Solon tried to impress his hosts with tales of Greece’s achievements, the wise old
Egyptian priests put him in his place. They revealed a story about a continent and a people completely unknown to him.
Around 10,000 BC, a powerful race lived on an island in the west, beyond the ‘Pillars of Hercules’, now believed to be the land masses along the coasts of the Straits of Gibraltar. The island was the kingdom of
Poseidon, the Sea God. It had a huge central mountain with a temple dedicated to the deity, and lush outlying districts, there was an elaborate system of canals to irrigate its successful farms, and a bustling central city.
The island was rich in vegetables, and was home to different types of exotic animals. The Atlantans were originally a powerful but fair race. They were an advanced people with a prosperous trading industry, a strong
and noble army and a highly educated, cultured society. Their influence reached far and wide, and they controlled large areas of Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean. Although the island left its inhabitants
wanting for nothing, their taste for power and empire led to them over-extending themselves. An attempt to conquer Athens failed, and the Atlantans retreated home to face a cataclysmic disaster. Legend says that
the great god Zeus saw the corruption that had seized the island’s people, and sent down upon them an immense barrage of earthquakes, fire and water. Atlantis disappeared under the waves.
Whilst Plato’s story was well known, the renewed modern interest in Atlantis began in 1882 with the publication of Atlantis: The Antediluvian World by a former US congressman, Ignatius Donnelly. Donnelly’s
book was a mixture of conjecture, misinterpreted fact and actual history. But there were some interesting ideas; he noted similarities in the science and culture of native races which apparently could never have met.
Likewise, the great ancient flood, which is said to have destroyed Atlantis, is logged in ancient writings and traditions of peoples around the world. Exactly who the Atlantans were is unknown. Some say they were aliens, some believe they were descendants of the Lemurians (see p. 81), and some say they eventually traveled westward and became Native American tribes. Similarly, the actual placing of Atlantis is a subject open to argument. Many experts suggest the island was actually in the Mediterranean, and a constant stream of archaeological investigations in the area has tried to prove this. There are theories that Sardinia in the
Mediterranean, and the island of Thera in the Aegean Sea, could be Atlantis. Both had highly-evolved civilizations: the Nuraghi people on Sardinia and the Minoan culture on Thera. Both also suffered terrible natural disasters. But neither of these islands are westwards of the Straits of Gibraltar, so to accept them is to doubt Plato’s geography Also, the advanced races on these islands disappeared about 900 years before Plato – he stated that Atlantis became extinct 9,000 years before him.
Other experts say Atlantis was in the middle of the Atlantic, and all that is left of the island are its mountains, the peaks of which show through above the waves. These are now believed by many to be the Azore islands. There is also evidence to suggest a huge comet or asteroid crashed into the southwest Atlantic Ocean many thousands of years ago and two 23,000-feet-deep holes have been identified on the seabed close to Puerto Rico. Experts believe the falling rock that caused them would have created massive natural movements, enough to destroy any mid-Atlantic islands.