Sunday, July 20, 2008


El Dorado - Brief History

A Brief History of El Dorado

excerpt from the Iquitos' Diary of explorer, Leonard Clark

August 15, 1946

"El Dorado (Land of the Golden Man) is a fabulous country of immeasurable treasure…" Thus wrote home the Imperial Spaniards of Castile and Leon. This El Dorado was richer "in tears from the sun," than all the other kingdoms of the New World. Now "tears from the sun," the Conquisadores knew, was gold, the yellowish malleable metal used as building material in the cyclopean Incan Temples of the Sun God. In Cuzco, in the Sun Temple, was the Sun God in solid gold, the rays consisting of 1,000 priceless gems; the scintillation, according to the Spaniards, was almost insupportable.

In the Temple of the Moon, the Moon Goddess was of pure silver, and at her feet were ringed the gold-covered mummies of the Inca Queens of past dynasties. In the Rainbow Temple of the god Cuycha, a seven-hued arc of gold was picked out in colors of jewels. In the Temple of Venus were twelve huge silver and gold jars filled with holy grain offerings carved from gold and jewels. Even the plumbing of all these temples and palaces was of solid silver.

Inca Gold Jewlery

Further, in this Incan capital of Cuzco, "Hub of the Universe," whose inner and outer defensive walls were also faced with sheets of pure gold - the fascinated Spaniards saw with their own eyes in Coricancha (Holy City of Gold) the emperor Inca had an entire forest-garden of trees and flowers fashioned in pure gold and silver. The great blossoms were of clustered pearls, emeralds and other gems.

This city was watered by the river Huatenay, while all about stretched the Intipampa (Field of the Sun). The sacred Coricancha, both forests and fields, were peopled with life-sized golden mannequins of Quechuas, Arymayas and Incas at work on pottery and the various other cultural tasks of the Empire's teeming millions of people. The hoes, spades and other tools were of gold. Huacas, sacred statues, besides being of gold and gems, were also of an amalgam of gold and mercury; bronze; and copper.

In the metal trees were golden birds - macaws and parrots, umbrella-birds and cock-o'-the-rocks - roosting, birds of every hue with ruby eyes. There was an entire herd of llamas - pure gold, with turquoise eyes; reptiles, bugs and animals of jade and gold - pairs of each kind known to exist in the land. And not only these, but massive idol-gods of the Sun and Moon, nine former Inca Emperors, museums, monasteries, shrines and entire public buildings and walkways were of gold and silver, or covered solidly with sheets of it.

And yet, all this, the Indians wonderingly said, was as nothing compared to the source of all of this gold and treasure - El Dorado! Even under too eager torture by the greedy Spaniards, the Indians (those grave and taciturn elders who knew the secret source) told no more.

The gold of Peru was hidden. A massive chain which extended around the great plaza of Cuzco disappeared, though five thousand strong Indians must have carried it. Ten thousand llama loads of gold were gathered throughout the four subkingdoms into a treasure train which reached a point only a day's journey from the capital and then was driven off the Imperial highway by the enraged Indians. To this day it has never been found. The bullion weighed one million pounds avoirdupois, its worth today (1946) on the Tangier world market estimated at one billion dollars.

But for all that, it was as nothing, for it has been recorded in Viceregal, Crown, and Church archives that twenty billion dollars in gold and silver alone was sacked in the New World and melted down to plate and ingots to be taken in galleons to Spain. Bobadilla's gem-incrusted golden table, lost in eighty feet of water off the coral reefs of Haiti, was valued by the Crown at millions of dollars.

In spite of such treasures, it was something else that obsessed the Spaniards - Find El Dorado! - that was the spirit of the time. Astrologers and geographers advised that the gold must lie in the Western Hemisphere, most likely in the Amazon or Orinoco jungles. For two centuries El Dorado called soldiers-of-fortune out of every port of a gold-hungry Europe.

Sir Walter Raleigh, dreaming of golden "Manoa", sailed in 1595 from London and voyaged across the Sea of Darkness to the Orinoco River, but was driven out with great losses by "ye wilde men" who shot at his armored knights with poisoned blowgun darts.

Others sailed bravely into the Golden West, putting in motion a chain of explorations that has never been equaled. El Dorado! From the Meta River on the north to the Caqueta on the south; from the Andes Cordilleras on the west to the Rio Negro and the Orinoco on the east they searched, and few of them ever straggled back to their galleons.

Von Huten combed the wilderness between the Guaviare River, a tributary of the Orinoco, and the Uaupes of the upper Rio Negro. And before him, Ordaz, emissary of Cortes (based in Mexico), in 1531 explored the Orinoco as far as Astures, the region of the cataracts; went up the Meta to be driven out by savages. Orellana in 1544 floated down the Napo and the Amazon (where he was attacked by "Amazons" - women warriors), thereby being first to cross the southern continent.

What a race of men they were!

Quesada hunted south and west, his men dying like flies of fevers in the Gran Chaco and falling in bloody battles with the wild Indians, finally struggling with a few survivors up to Peru - land of the Inca being looted and destroyed piecemeal by Pizarro and his captains. Coronado was fired by Cortes' "magnificent" rape of sacred Tollan and the Mexican Anahuac Empire of the Aztecs, and the looting of the Sun and Moon Temples in the old Toltec holy city of Teotihuacan; also by the bloody wars and looting of Montejo, Grijalva and Cordova in Yucatan and the other Mayan kingdoms of Central America.

Thus Coronado headed north after El Dorado (or Golden Quivira) - greater, richer, than all these other fabulous prizes, and its seven cities of Cibola. He reached the Arkansas River and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, finding only seven Indian pueblos in New Mexico.

Cabeza de Vaca, lone survivor of his own command, was first to cross North America from the Gulf of Mexico to that of Lower California - but no golden walls of El Dorado ever glittered on the desert's horizon, only Apaches who sometimes fed him out of pity, and other fierce tribes from whom he hid, abandoning his clanking armor, but trudge on foot he did, on and on, but still no golden towers.

And so, no one of these mighty Conquistadores, fired and driven by dreams of might and glory and untold wealth, though they ripped the gold, the silver, the emeralds, diamonds, pearls and jade from the necks of these semi-civilized people, plundered their temples, pyramids, palaces and gold - none ever found El Dorado.

El Dorado, with all its heartbreak, blood and treasure, was the greatest dream ever dreamed by man for - unlike Africa today - it brought about the colonization of the Western Hemisphere centuries before it might otherwise have come. And it still lives as a dream, because no man in this 20th century ever looks for it. But was El Dorado altogether a dream? Perhaps, somewhere, its cities and its gold still lie unknown, undiscovered.

The Indians had said it belonged to the Golden Man; now this could be no other than Atahualpa himself, not any cacique (chief) of Columbia as some scholars believe, for the Son of the Sun was the incarnation of the Sun itself! I believe that the riddle of El Dorado, the greatest mystery of the ages, still lies unsolved, and that the Chibcha tribe's Guatavita Lake legend has no bearing on it.

The vast jungle deserts of the southern continent, traversed in only a few places by even those fierce-eyed men in steel corselets, are mainly marked today TIERRA INCOGNITA - UNEXPLORED.

…There, I too, must and will search."

Leonard Clark, August 15, 1946, Iquitos, Peru



Incan Mummy - Peru


Video VIDEO: Unusual Mummy Found in Peru


PHOTOS: Rare Mummy Found With Strange Artifacts, Tattoo

PHOTOS: Rare Mummy Found With Strange Artifacts, Tattoo
1 of 7 Next >>
July 17, 2008—Seen with metal plates on his eyes—signs of status—this male mummy found in the ancient Peruvian town of Rontoy was unwrapped in June 2008. He had been disemboweled and placed in layers of cotton and woven textiles to aid his preservation. (Read full story.)

The metal and red paint on the thirtysomething's face indicate elite status, and the presence of elites in Rontoy suggests the mysterious Chancay held a tighter grip over the Huaura River valley region than previously believed, experts said.

The Chancay rose to power around A.D. 1000 and were conquered by the Inca in 1476, though the Chancay elites likely continued to rule as Inca deputies.
—Photograph by Kit Nelson/Tulane University


Interview: "Inca Mummy Man" Johan Reinhard

June 21, 2005

In 1995 on the 20,500-foot (6,248-meter) frozen summit of Mount Ampato in Peru, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Johan Reinhard made the discovery of a lifetime: a nearly perfectly preserved, frozen Inca mummy.

Viewed by millions and heralded by Time magazine as one of the most important scientific discoveries of the year, the find launched Reinhard on a quest to preserve many sacred Inca sites in the Andes of South America.

Now after decades of research and exploration at altitudes where most living things simply can't survive, Reinhard gives his account of this and other discoveries in a personal memoir, The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes, published by National Geographic Books. National Geographic News recently spoke with Reinhard about his past finds and latest projects.

What is the focus of the book? What did you want readers to know?

The focus of my work and of this book has obviously been the discoveries of the mummies. Of course these are extremely important and arguably the most valuable [of my discoveries]. But I wanted to make it clear that the discoveries were part of a much larger context.

They were part of rituals made on mountaintops, which themselves were part of a much broader look at Andean beliefs. If you understand the way the Inca viewed the landscape, then you're well on your way to understanding Andean culture and many of the major sites of Andean archaeology.

Why are we so captivated by mummies?

What's captivating is that they're human. You can have their artifacts and things like that. But nothing is as tangible as the human being itself. It's like an eye into the past that would otherwise be totally impossible to access, especially in the case of the Inca mummies.

But you have to keep in mind it's still rare to find a naturally preserved, frozen mummy. Even at [high] altitude, there are periods when they could unfreeze and [be] destroyed by lightning strikes and natural causes. Also, compared to the Egyptian mummies, we can get much more information, [like about] diet and illnesses, from the Inca mummies, since their internal organs are preserved.

Why did the Inca make these mountaintop sacrifices?

The key thing is that they did not do them very often. [The Inca] did them in extreme cases. The sacrifices were children, because they were considered to be the most pure. … [They] weren't being sacrificed to feed the gods. They were being sacrificed to enter into the realm of the gods. It was considered a great honor.

These children didn't die in the sense that we think: They went to live in a paradise with the gods. And for [the children], they could still be in contact with the community through shamans. It was a transition into a better life, one that these children were greatly honored [to have].

What has been your most memorable discovery?

Because of [its] surprising nature … it has to be the discovery of the Ice Maiden [learn more]. But the discovery of the three mummies on Llullaillaco, Argentina, at 22,000 feet [6,700 meters]—the world's highest archaeological site—was the highlight of my life, or certainly my work in the Andes. These mummies were far better preserved, particularly two of them, than the Ice Maiden.

But there are two aspects to my work in the Andes: One includes the discoveries of the mummies and artifacts, which are important, and the other includes more theoretical discoveries. There were many questions that needed answering, such as why the Incas were building sites at these altitudes and locations. And what was their significance?

I was trying to come up with a better understanding of why the Inca were doing what they were doing at great altitudes.

Have there been any new developments in your work?

The most recent is the DNA and isotope analysis [of the mummies] to find out how the [individuals'] diets changed. Although it's been slow going, we've been able to tell whether the children on Llullaillaco were related or not, as well as the diet of these mummies.

Once you've got the DNA and the DNA's published and available to other scholars, then there's no end to the kind of work that can be done. For example, we're starting to get a worldwide database of DNA of people living today [along with] the DNA of the other [Inca] mummies and skeletons that have been found. So eventually you'll be able to locate the closest living relatives as this database increases.

Although it's not feasible now, we eventually hope to analyze [Inca mummy] blood so we can get a better understanding of things like infectious diseases, as well as other genetic conditions. Unfortunately, we [currently] have to take out too much blood for these types of studies.

Are there challenges unique to high-altitude archaeology?

What first comes to mind are the physical difficulties of working at high altitude. But perhaps even more difficult are the psychological aspects of just putting up with the conditions. … The truth is, once you're acclimatized and physically fit, you can deal with the conditions. But it's always hard psychologically over time, particularly if you're not finding anything. …

There are [also] challenges with conservation and taking care of the objects you find. So if you're dealing with mummies, you're dealing with a very long-term issue. It's like caring for a baby. You have an obligation to take care of it.

Do museums display your discoveries?

There are three museums that display what's been found from our expeditions that I've been director or co-director on. There's a really nice museum in Salta [Argentina] with the finds from Llullaillaco and a new one in Arequipa, Peru. There's also a museum that has all of our finds from Lake Titicaca. I feel very proud of them.

Some people complain that your excavations disturb ancient Inca sites. How do you respond to such criticism?

My response is that you don't save a culture by having its sacred sites looted, ruined, and lost forever. That's disrespectful. What the critics don't realize is that there is a 100 percent [certainty] these sites will be looted. Looting, of course, is not just in the mountains. There are thousands of [Inca] tombs [elsewhere] that have been looted.

Also, the critics don't seem to know the actual situations on the ground. They don't realize there are local people involved or that the countries are in favor of it. In the case of the Llullaillaco mummies, for example, the [2004 International Quechua] Congress of Argentina passed a resolution in favor of our work. In other words, it's usually the critics who don't understand the process, whether it's the people or nations who are involved on the expeditions or the aftermath. The finds are always made available to the public, and they've helped these communities either directly or indirectly.

I should also mention that if I ever had a country or community involved [that] considered a site sacred and did not want it disturbed, then under no circumstances would I be interested in disturbing the sites. So I have no regrets about my involvement. In fact, I'm quite proud of my involvement with rescuing cultural patrimony.

What's next for you?

There are still some sites on mountains that I'd like to excavate, because I'm concerned that they're going to be looted.

But in truth there are other parts of the world that I want to explore … things that I kind of left hanging after I found the Ice Maiden in 1995. There are important mountains in Tibetan Buddhism in the Himalayas. There is also some work in Mexico with some sacred mountains, including diving in some high-altitude lakes. There are parts of the world that I like to visit that I haven't been to, particularly New Guinea, Southeast Asia, and East Africa. I [also] want to finish [work in the Alps] and work on the Ice Maiden.

I'd like to do a few more popular books, as well, on the Andes and the Himalayas. I've spent years in the Himalayas [doing research] on culture change that I've never really written [about]. So there is an awful lot of work just playing catch-up with where I've been in the past.



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