It wasn't a city at all: researcher explains what the legendary golden Eldorado was like
The legendary Eldorado, whose treasures lured European conquerors of South America for centuries, most likely never existed as a golden city. In fact, the name Eldorado was used to describe a ritual involving a man covered in gold dust.
This is according to a study published in the scientific journal Latin American Antiquity. Finding a golden city in the Andes has been attempted by many explorers and gold hunters, but they have all failed as a result.
Archaeologist and curator of the world-famous Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold) Juan Pablo Quintero-Guzman explained that the myth of Eldorado originated with the 17th-century Spanish chronicler Juan Rodríguez Fraile. He described a coronation ceremony held by the Muisca people at Lake Guatavita, which is located in present-day Colombia.
In this ceremony, the heir to the chiefdom had to spend six years fasting in a cave before being showered with gold powder and brought to the middle of the lake on a raft laden with gold.
"The Gold Indian made his offering by throwing all the gold he had into the lake," Fraile wrote.
The archaeologist explains that it was from this ceremony that the famous name Eldorado was derived, which led to hoaxes and further searches for the nonexistent golden city.
Quintero-Guzman says that the first person to use the name Eldorado, sparking a gold rush, was Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcazar, who thus designated the area around Lake Guatavita.
In this case, the version with a ritual, unlike the story of the city of gold, has real evidence.
Thus, in 1912, British engineer Gartley Knowles lifted numerous gold objects and other jewelry from the bottom of the lake. In 1969, a golden model of a raft was also found in a cave near the lake. It is still considered to be the most important proof of the existence of an ancient ritual.
As writes IFLScience, Quintero-Guzman and his colleagues also explored the area around Lake Guatavita for artifacts indicating that large-scale ceremonial events were regularly held there. However, they were only able to find 157 ceramic fragments.
"The fact that these vessels appear to have contained the ancient alcoholic beverage chicha indicates that they were indeed used during ceremonial events, but their few numbers indicate that the ritual activities were not extensive," Quintero-Guzman noted in the study.
He suggests that the ritual was probably not repeated for centuries, but was only performed a certain amount of time or even once. Perhaps such a lavish ritual was used in times of instability and was intended to show how strong the power of the chief was or to gain the favor of the gods, but was later rejected.
"When the Spanish arrived, they encountered groups who had heard of the ceremony performed by their ancestors, and this is what they described to the conquistadors," the scholar concluded.
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