History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e17 Episode Script

The Search for El Dorado

Tonight, a famed ancient city
overflowing with gold.
The legend
of El Dorado takes hold
amongst the Spanish,
and people start
looking for it everywhere.
For centuries,
explorers seeking it
find only disappointment
or death.
It’s less a quest for gold
and more a fight for survival.
Now we reveal the top theories
surrounding this legendary
lost city.
Pictures from space
show what appears
to be rivers of gold
weaving through the area.
There could
be a lost golden city
right there
under the rainforest canopy.
There’s not just one
golden city.
There’s multiple golden cities.
Does El Dorado exist?
And if so, where could it be?
March, 1537.
For nearly 20 years, the Spanish
have been on a mission
to conquer South America
with their infamous
army of conquistadors.
As part of that mission,
Chief Magistrate
Gonzalo Jimenez De Quesada
leads an expedition to find
an overland route from
present-day Colombia to Peru.
De Quesada and his men have
been tasked with finding a way
around or over
or through the Andes mountains,
a long mountain range
that has proven
to be an obstacle
to the Spanish conquistadors.
It’s a brutal trek.
There’s bad weather,
it’s cold, there’s disease.
The men are really ready
to give up.
But then De Quesada
hears a rumor
that causes him to completely
change his mission.
The rumor,
a city filled with gold.
This is absolute music
to De Quesada’s ears,
for Spanish conquistadors,
nothing is more important
than gold.
For decades,
the Spanish have been exploring
Central and South America
and conquering its peoples.
Along the way,
they’ve sent back ships
filled with tons of gold
and stories
of unbelievable wealth
to be found in the Americas.
Stories of what is waiting
to still be found,
unlimited resources,
unlimited land,
unlimited food and wealth
were believed to be possible.
The problem is,
by the time De Quesada
gets to South America,
most of the easy to find
stores of gold have
already been plundered.
Now he’s desperate to know,
"Where is this
so-called golden village?"
As De Quesada’s troops
press further south,
they encounter
the indigenous Muisca people.
The Muisca
are as advanced as Aztec,
Inca, or even the Maya,
but they aren’t as warlike
or even really as organized.
They’re more like
a loose confederation of tribes,
but they’re known
as skilled metal workers,
and their metal of choice
is gold.
Gold has no monetary value
for them.
They use it because it’s soft
and easy to work with.
But it also has a spiritual
significance for them
because the Muisca’s god,
Chiminigagua, is a sun god
and gold shines like the sun.
This suggested to Quesada
that there was more
where it came from,
and he was gonna go find it.
De Quesada’s men
quickly overpower the Muisca
and interrogate them
about where to find gold.
The Muisca people describe
a ritual to De Quesada
in which a new leader
is coronated,
and the ritual entails
this new leader.
He will be called the Zipa.
He is covered
in a sticky substance
that then is covered
with gold dust.
Then they take him out
to the middle of a sacred lake
on a raft, and they put
gold statues, figurines
and jewels on the raft.
And there are thousands
of Muisca people
standing on the banks,
watching all of this.
At which point,
the chieftain immerses himself
in the lake, cleansing himself
of the gold dust,
and the attendants
throw trinkets and gold objects
into the middle of the lake.
Thousands of people
are along the banks,
also throwing gold themselves.
And when that man emerges,
he’s the new chief,
the Zipa of the community,
and he is known, importantly,
as El Dorado, The Golden Man.
Although it’s just the story
of a man, De Quesada
considers this to be
something much bigger.
He thinks of this man
as a golden king
who must live
in a golden kingdom,
and therefore all he has to do
is find it.
Inspired by the story
of the Muisca,
De Quesada believes
he’ll find the golden city
on the shores of a nearby lake.
The Spanish press on,
and soon De Quesada comes
upon a body of water
called Lake Guatavita.
Lake Guatavita is located about
35 miles northeast of Bogota.
It’s a really beautiful, almost
supernatural or eerie place.
The lake is
almost perfectly round.
It’s surrounded by trees,
it reflects the sky,
it reflects
the environment around it.
There’s no obvious city
on its shores,
but De Quesada still thinks
this is the place.
He thinks this city
must have either been abandoned
or perhaps it lies underwater.
The Spanish
think that all they need to do
is get to the bottom
of the lake and they can recover
all these golden jewels
that have been thrown in.
De Quesada is here
in the mid-1500s, so
the technology to get underwater
simply isn’t available.
To get to the treasure,
they assume
they’re gonna have to drain
the entire lake.
It’s an insane amount
of manual labor.
But they have
a captive workforce.
Two conquistadors,
Lazaro Fonte and De Quesada’s
own brother,
Hernan Perez de Quesada,
come up with a plan.
They are going to empty out
this entire lake by hand.
They essentially form
this huge bucket chain.
Using the brute force of these
captured indigenous people,
they’d spend months
taking the water
out of Lake Guatavita,
one bucket at a time.
Progress is painfully slow.
After three months, they haven’t
come close to their goal.
They manage to drop
the water level about ten feet,
and they do find
some pieces of gold
in the mud that they manage
to expose.
It’s not nothing,
but it’s certainly
no lavish city of gold.
Their bounty ends up
being worth about $100,000
in today’s money,
certainly not a fortune.
Without the technology
to explore any further,
hundreds of years pass
with no new discoveries.
Then, in the late 1800s,
a British entrepreneur
is inspired to investigate.
In 1898, Hartley Knowles hears
about De Quesada’s efforts.
He has started
the company for the exploration
of the lagoon at Guatavita,
and he now is taking
his turn at getting
to that gold.
What’s different now is that
it’s the turn of the century,
and Britain is
an industrial powerhouse,
so he has much better equipment
at his disposal.
They bring in
a massive steam pump
and earth-moving equipment
to dig a huge tunnel
under the middle of Guatavita,
and start to drain it.
After six years,
the lake is finally emptied.
But what remains
is another problem.
Hartley Knowles manages to get
to the bottom of the lake.
The problem is, when
he gets to the bottom of it,
there’s silt and mud
and hard pan,
and as it’s baked in the sun,
it becomes like cement.
And so they have
to abandon the project.
After spending
all that time and money,
Knowles and his company
only end up finding
about 30 to 40 golden artifacts
in the mud.
They’re auctioned off
at Sotheby’s in London in 1909,
and they’re sold for a whopping
total of 500 British pounds.
the company goes bankrupt.
By 1965, Lake Guatavita
has been almost ruined,
and the Colombian government has
decided that it’s had enough.
The government bans
any further exploration
of Lake Guatavita,
officially ending the quest
for El Dorado here.
But Lake Guatavita
was not the only candidate
for the location of El Dorado,
not by a long shot.
When Spanish conquistador
Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada
spreads a rumor of a lost city
of gold in 1537,
others quickly expand
the search far and wide.
The legend of El Dorado
starts to take hold
amongst the Spanish,
and so they look everywhere,
all over South America.
Many of these soldiers
have come looking for gold,
and they haven’t seen
much of it yet.
Among the inspired conquistadors
is Gonzalo Pizarro.
He’s the half-brother
of Francisco Pizarro,
the man who conquered
the Inca Empire,
and brought boatloads of gold
back to Spain.
Because of the strength
of his last name,
Pizarro has been made
the vice governor in Quito,
which is modern-day Ecuador.
But he has bigger ambitions
than just being
the local vice governor.
In 1541, four years
after De Quesada’s expedition,
Pizarro sets out on his own
quest to find El Dorado.
Pizarro enlists the help
of his childhood friend
and cousin,
Francisco de Orellana.
Pizarro speaks to a different
indigenous group in Ecuador,
and he’s told that the gold
that De Quesada seeks
is actually much further south
than where he’s looking.
It’s some 600 miles south,
and it’s not even
in the Andes mountain region.
Avoiding the mountains
sounds like a really good idea
to Pizarro,
but he doesn’t realize
this new destination
is just as treacherous.
According to his sources,
El Dorado sits on the shores
of a river
deep in the Amazon rainforest.
In February, 1541,
the two men leave Quito
with 340 Spaniards and some
4,000 indigenous people.
They head due east
across the Andes,
then down into the lowlands,
then toward the far southeast
of Ecuador, where
the Amazon rainforest begins.
They end up being
some of the first Europeans
to explore the Amazon jungle,
but they are not
remotely ready for it.
It’s hot, it’s humid,
and the growth is so dense
that they have
to use their swords
to hack their way through it.
They have natives with them
that they’ve brought,
but the natives are
from the mountain region,
so they are also unprepared
for this sort of climate.
And as time goes on
and they struggle more and more,
they begin to be hungry.
People begin to get sick,
some of them begin to die.
But Pizarro remains undeterred.
It’s almost like
the harder the trek becomes,
the more convinced
Pizarro is that El Dorado
is just around the corner.
He becomes consumed
with finding this city.
Nothing else seems to matter.
He drives these suffering men
further southeast,
looking for this river that’ll
ultimately lead him to gold.
Every time the Spanish encounter
any indigenous in the jungle,
Pizarro questions them
where this city of gold is,
and they always tell him,
"Keep going,
you’ll encounter it eventually."
After eleven months,
the crew has traveled
nearly 200 miles
with nothing to show for it.
By the time Pizarro’s company
gets to the banks
of the Coca River,
most of his men
are either dead,
dying or very sick.
They’ve lost 3,000 natives
and 140 conquistadors.
They’ve run out of food, eating
their horses to stay alive.
It’s less a quest for gold
and more a fight for survival.
The expedition is
on the verge of mutiny,
and so they make
a plan to build a boat
to travel down the river.
On December 26th, 1541, Pizarro
tells his partner, Orellana,
to take 50 men in the boat
down the river
to find food and bring it back
to the rest of the team.
The current of the river
is strong,
so Orellana
makes very good time.
Unfortunately, it’s 14 days
before they find any food,
and because of the current,
they realize
there’s no way to turn around
and go back,
so they decide
to just keep going forward.
Orellana has all the men
sign a document
saying that they understand
what they’re doing,
but they had no other choice.
Orellana knows this may end up
being useful later
because they may be
considered traitors
and sentenced to be executed.
After one month,
Pizarro realizes
his old friend
is not coming back.
Pizarro thinks maybe they were
attacked by a hostile tribe.
But he also starts to wonder
if maybe his cousin
had betrayed him.
He thinks, "If I had found
El Dorado, would I come back?"
Gonzalo Pizarro takes
the remnant men who were
stranded on the side
of the river and arrives back
in Quito literally shoeless
and in rags,
and he vows that
if he ever sees Orellana again,
he’s going to kill him.
Meanwhile, Orellana
continues his journey.
The swift current has carried
Orellana’s team even farther,
and they still haven’t seen
any trace of a city of gold.
Eventually, they meet up with
the much larger Amazon River.
He figures this is
the sacred body of water
that will eventually lead
to El Dorado.
At first,
it seems he might be right.
As they get further
into the Amazon basin,
they start to see
these great settlements,
thriving cities with people
all adorned in gold.
These locals feed the Spanish,
and even teach them
some of their language.
As the Spanish keep going,
they hear stories of even
bigger, more opulent cities
deeper in the jungle.
But the farther they travel,
the less friendly
those encounters get.
They start running
into native groups
that are defensive
and then native groups
that are attacking them
and keeping them
from being able
to land anywhere on shore.
One of these attacks
actually leads
to the naming
of the Amazon River.
It doesn’t have a name
until June 24th, 1542,
when Orellana and his men
are attacked by a local tribe
where the women fight
right alongside the men.
He refers to these women
as Amazonas,
based on the mythical
Greek women warriors
described by Herodotus.
Orellana starts calling the area
The River of the Amazons,
and the name sticks.
Finally, after eight months
and over 3,000 miles,
Orellana and his crew
reach the Atlantic Ocean.
Even though he doesn’t
know it yet, Orellana has just
successfully traveled
the entire length of the world’s
longest river, and he’s
the first European to do so.
But, unfortunately, he does it
without reaching El Dorado.
Word of Orellana’s voyage
reaches Quito
and eventually Spain.
Pizarro hears the news,
and he accuses his cousin
of treason,
hoping to get him hanged.
But, in the end,
because of the document
that the entire crew signed
and that detailed log
that they kept, Orellana is
found not guilty
and he returns safely to Spain,
where he’s welcomed
by King Charles I
as sort of a celebrity.
Once Orellana is back in Spain,
he has pretty much one goal,
and that is to get back
to South America.
He is convinced
that he came so close
to finding the real El Dorado,
he basically makes the pitch
to everyone that he can do this,
that he will find the city
of gold, that if he gets
the supplies and the funding
and the crew that he needs,
he will be able to go straight
to El Dorado itself.
His pitch works.
In May of 1545,
Francisco de Orellana
heads back into the Amazon.
It’s his second expedition
to find El Dorado,
but this time, he knows
exactly where he needs to go
and he’s completely confident
that he’s gonna get there.
Spanish explorer
Francisco de Orellana’s
first attempt to find
El Dorado has failed.
But, in 1545,
he’s ready to try again.
His previous expedition
operated under the assumption
that El Dorado is
in the far western region
of the Amazon rainforest,
in what’s now Ecuador.
After a disastrous attempt,
they couldn’t find it there.
But as Orellana traveled east
along the Amazon River
in what’s now Brazil,
he saw larger cities
with indigenous there
adorned in gold.
And it’s in that area
in which he believes
he will find El Dorado.
Last time, after attacks
by native peoples,
Orellana wasn’t really
able to get very far from shore
and really explore these cities
or what lies beyond.
So that’s what he’s going to do
this time.
On May 11th, 1545
Orellana departs from Spain.
The disaster
of his previous expedition
is fresh in his mind,
so he is attempting to be
more than prepared
this time around.
He brings four ships,
more than 300 men and supplies
to build an additional two ships
when they get to the mouth
of the Amazon to help them
navigate up the river.
He has everything he needs.
He knows the way.
This time, he can’t fail.
They sail first
to the Spanish-controlled
Canary Islands, where they spend
the first couple of months
loading supplies,
getting the ships ready
for the open seas,
and recruiting more men.
The next planned stop
is the Cape Verde Islands,
off the west coast of Africa,
which the Spanish also control.
It’s here where
Orellana’s expedition
starts to really unravel.
There’s an epidemic
that kills 98 of his men
and then another
60 of them desert.
He’s downed so many sailors
that he decides
to abandon one
of his ships entirely
and cross the Atlantic with
just the remaining three ships.
The Atlantic crossing is
a disaster from the outset.
One of his ships
is blown off course
and he never sees it again.
This costs Orellana
an additional 77 men,
more supplies
and all of the material
that they were gonna use
to build those additional
two ships to navigate
up the Amazon.
In spite of that,
on December 20th, 1545,
Orellana arrives
on the east coast of Brazil.
When he arrives,
he has only two ships
and fewer than 100 men.
This is not a promising start
to what he knows
is going to be
a difficult expedition.
Thankfully, there’s a lot
of food where they land,
and the natives are friendly.
So Orellana’s men
suggest that they just
make camp and regroup
for a little while.
But Orellana is so eager to find
El Dorado that he says,
"No. On we go."
Orellana may have
been here before,
but this time he gets lost.
The mouth of the Amazon is
a wild tangle of tributaries.
The group travels
over 300 miles,
trying to find the entrance
of the Amazon River.
The journey
is over before it’s begun.
They never even got
anywhere near El Dorado.
In fact, they never even got
into the main
Amazon River itself.
And if El Dorado is hiding deep
in Brazil, they’ll never know.
In the end, less than 40
of the original 300 men survive
by making it back to the island
of Margarita,
just west of Trinidad.
After the collapse
of Orellana’s expedition,
he’s basically branded a liar.
People begin to suspect
that he made the whole thing up
or maybe that he
was just covering up
for having abandoned Pizarro
or that he just wanted
to secure funding
for his next expedition.
But the rumors of El Dorado
sitting somewhere along
the Amazon persist,
and over the next hundred years,
a handful of other expeditions
to Brazil are launched,
all of which turn up nothing.
the search for El Dorado
in the Amazon appears
to die out.
Then, in December, 2020,
astronauts on board
the International Space Station
spot something peculiar
near Bolivia.
Pictures from space
show what appears to be
rivers of gold
weaving through the area.
They turn out to be
illegal gold mining operations
and they are huge,
which is obvious,
if you can see them from space.
This evidence
reignites a modern-day hunt
for El Dorado, this time
in a whole new area.
In 2022,
a team of researchers led
by Heiko Prumers
from the German
Archaeological Institute
head to the Bolivian rainforest
to do 3D scanning
of the landscape from the air.
And what
these researchers discover
is absolutely amazing.
It appears to be
an ancient civilization
that’s been lost for centuries.
There are pyramids,
60 feet high,
rectangular structures,
paths and roads.
It’s like a city
hidden inside the rainforest.
The team estimates
this settlement was abandoned
nearly 500 years ago,
around the same time
the conquistadors arrived.
Prumers estimates
that it might have taken
researchers centuries to find
these cities in the jungle,
but the LIDAR technology
allowed them
to find it in a matter of days.
So the media seizes
on this story.
I mean, who doesn’t love
a treasure hunt?
And the myth of El Dorado
has been going on
for hundreds of years,
and now we have these images
that suggest there could be
a lost golden city
right there under
the rainforest canopy.
Further aerial investigations
have turned up geoglyphs
and massive roads
the size of highways.
All of this leads us
to believe that Orellana
was telling the truth
about the cities that he saw.
Unfortunately, a full
expedition proves too difficult.
The Amazon basin itself
is enormous.
It’s more than 2.7 million
square miles,
and about two million
of those square miles
have never really been
explored or studied.
It’s an area the size of India.
There’s a lot
we still don’t know
about the interior
of the Amazon.
It’s just so overgrown
and impenetrable.
The access is difficult.
The terrain is difficult.
The weather conditions
are difficult.
There’s no way
to get in equipment.
For now, aerial studies
are our best bet
for finding any answers.
So it seems
that Orellana wasn’t lying,
that he was telling the truth,
at least about the cities.
We can’t be totally sure
about the gold.
The lure of El Dorado,
the lost city of gold,
has captured the imagination
of generations
of treasure-seekers.
But perhaps none are
more renowned or more determined
than a world famous
British explorer
who takes on the search
in the late 1500s.
In 1585,
England and Spain are engaged
in a long running conflict.
So you’ve probably heard
of the Spanish Armada.
That’s just a part
of a 19-year long war
called the Anglo-Spanish War.
While that war was fought
officially between
these two countries,
there was also
a very large amount
of guerrilla warfare.
The English were
sponsoring piracy,
what they called privateers,
sending ships out
to basically attack
the Spanish ships
that were attempting
the conquest of the New World.
One of the top
English privateers
is Sir Walter Raleigh,
who’s already famous
as an explorer and a statesman.
And he’s a favorite
of Queen Elizabeth I.
While he’s off
raiding Spanish ships,
he hears a lot
about what they’ve been up to
in South America.
Including their search
for El Dorado.
At some point in the 1590s,
Raleigh hears the story
of Juan Martinez,
a conquistador who had explored
the Orinoco river area
20 years earlier in the 1570s.
According to Martinez,
when his expedition fails,
he’s blindfolded by the natives
and taken to a city of gold.
Raleigh speaks to other Spanish
conquistadors, and they tell him
that the golden city he’s
looking for is called Manoa.
And they tell him
that it is the imperial city
of this region, which
at the time is called Guyana.
It’s located near
a lake called Parime.
It’s supposedly
a saltwater lake that’s massive.
It’s 600 miles across.
Raleigh is told that the natives
get all their gold
from the lake itself,
that it flows down the river
and tumbles into the lake,
where they can find it.
In April, 1595,
Raleigh arrives in South America
with four ships and 100 men.
So after landing
near present-day Guyana,
Raleigh and his men
take five small boats
up the Orinoco River.
It’s a long and arduous process
because they’re going
against the current,
and his men are not used
to all this heat and humidity.
After a month, they’ve gone
a little over 200 miles,
and they’re exhausted.
So they decide
to pull off the river,
take a break, and recover.
When they come ashore,
Raleigh and his compatriots
make contact with a native tribe
who’s friendly to them
and who’s also adorned in gold.
At this point,
there are literally
just nuggets of gold lying
on the banks of the river.
Raleigh ends up befriending
the chief of this tribe.
His name is Topiawari,
and he tells Raleigh
of a giant lake
full of gold just nearby,
and Raleigh, of course,
assumes this must be Parime.
This is the lake
he’s looking for.
Raleigh spends
the next three months
desperately searching
for El Dorado.
All of his men are exhausted.
They’re in no condition
to keep going,
so he decides
that he’s going to turn back,
and when everyone is refreshed
again, they will start over,
and they’ll come back
and find it.
When he arrives back in England
at the end of August, 1595,
Raleigh expects
a hero’s welcome.
He’s certain he’ll be
celebrated and will have
no issues raising funds
for a new expedition,
but that’s not what happens,
because he doesn’t bring back
any gold, there’s no
return on investments,
and so nobody wants
to fund another expedition.
Raleigh waits another 22 years.
Queen Elizabeth I
dies on March, 24th, 1603,
and she was his main patron.
So after her death,
Raleigh decides to support
a rival for the Crown instead
of the rightful heir, James I.
But James becomes King,
and Raleigh is
immediately imprisoned
in the Tower of London,
where he remains until 1616.
Even languishing in prison,
Raleigh never gives up
on his dream
of finding El Dorado.
And in 1617,
he’s pardoned by King James
and finally given permission
for a second expedition
to South America
under one condition.
The King knows how much
Raleigh hates the Spanish,
but there’s finally peace
between the two countries.
So he makes Raleigh promise
that he’s not gonna do
anything to disrupt
this delicate truce
that the countries have.
Reluctantly, Raleigh agrees.
Raleigh departs
England for a second attempt
in 1617.
This time,
he brings along his son Wat.
When they reach the mouth
of the Orinoco River this time,
Raleigh, who’s now an old man,
sends his son Wat
to lead a search party,
while he stays
back on board the ship.
Within days, his men did exactly
what they were told not to do.
They went into Spanish territory
and started a fight.
Wat Raleigh is shot through
the neck with a musket and dies.
When the rest of the party
returns to the ship,
the second in command
commits suicide.
Raleigh is distraught.
Their mission is over.
He’s lost his son.
He’s disobeyed the King,
and he has no gold
to show for it.
He decides to turn around
and head back home,
knowing full well the fate
that he’s about to face.
Upon his return to England,
Sir Walter Raleigh is beheaded
by order of King James I,
accused of deliberately
inciting war
between England and Spain.
It’s another tragic end
in the search for El Dorado.
It seems to be a curse
for anybody trying to find it.
And there’s
a further ironic twist.
Centuries later, in 1871,
a gold mine is opened
in El Callao, Venezuela,
very close to the location
where Raleigh stopped
with his men and met the natives
adorned with gold.
It turns into one
of the richest mines
in the world at the time,
exporting more
than a million ounces of gold
in a 20 year period.
The mine is still active today.
There is potentially $2 trillion
worth of materials
in the ground right beneath
where Raleigh and his company
had stopped.
He just missed it.
Conquistador Gonzalo De Quesada
spreads the story
of El Dorado in 1537,
but his is not
the first Spanish take
on this legendary city.
In fact, ten years earlier,
a group of Spanish explorers
have an incredible experience
of their own.
It’s a story so unbelievable,
it becomes famous
throughout Spain.
In 1527, conquistador
Panfilo de Narvaez
departs for the New World
with 600 men.
His mission,
to explore and colonize
what is now the Gulf Coast
of America.
Narvaez visits and maps
what are now Hispaniola,
Cuba and Florida,
but like many expeditions
at the time,
it had its struggles.
Narvaez himself dies
within the first year,
and ships and supplies
are lost to hurricanes.
By 1532, only four
of the original 600 men remain.
Eventually, they cross
the Gulf of Mexico
and land in what is now Texas,
becoming the first Europeans
to cross the Gulf.
They need to get back
to a Spanish outpost,
the closest being in Mexico,
so they start walking through
today’s American Southwest.
After a few years,
in 1536, they’re able
to get back to Mexico City,
where they tell their tale
of survival, which is
incredible in its own right.
But even more incredible
is something they heard about
along the way,
seven different cities of gold.
And just as the Narvaez
crew comes back
with their stories
of cities of gold,
Quesada is hearing stories
of a golden city in Colombia.
At this point, many
of the Spanish begin to believe
it’s all connected.
There’s not
just one golden city.
There’s a gold-rich civilization
spread through the Americas
with multiple golden cities,
and El Dorado
is just one of them.
In 1539, Mexican Governor
Vasquez de Coronado
decides to investigate.
Coronado sends up Franciscan
Friar Marcos De Niza, and one
of the original survivors
from the first expedition
to bring back evidence
of the seven cities of gold.
When the friar returns
five months later, he shares
stories of a fantastical
pueblo he calls Cibola.
It is just full of wealth,
as though it is made of gold.
The area
that the friar describes
is in present-day New Mexico,
and the region
of the Zuni people.
Coronado mounts
an even larger expedition,
convinced that
the Cibola described
by Marcos de Niza
is in fact El Dorado,
one of the famous golden cities.
On April 22nd, 1540,
Coronado’s team departs
from Culiacan.
Coronado dispatches
400 conquistadors
and 2,000 indigenous peoples.
What they find is
small outposts dwellings
that looked like pueblos.
There are seven cities
in the area,
but they’re all
very similar to the first.
They’re very small,
no evidence of gold.
It seems, in fact, that Coronado
had been duped by the friar.
But Coronado is convinced
the stories of El Dorado
are still true.
The peoples of these pueblos
tell Coronado
that there are cities of gold,
but they’re farther
to the north,
and they should keep marching.
And Coronado and his men,
believing that they haven’t
reached it yet, keep marching
for months and months
and hundreds
and hundreds of miles.
By 1541, they’ve journeyed
as far north as modern Kansas.
They don’t discover El Dorado,
but they are the first Europeans
to see the Colorado River
in the Grand Canyon.
Coronado eventually returns
to Mexico City in 1542.
It was a long,
disastrous journey
that did not result in finding
a fantastic city of gold.
Coronado ends up bankrupt
and dies a few years later,
yet one more life ruined by
the search for unending wealth.
What’s ironic about all of this
is that years later,
those same small pueblos
would turn out to be rich
in ores like silver,
copper, and turquoise.
If the Spanish hadn’t been
so focused on finding
the golden city of El Dorado,
they might have discovered
the riches
that were there all along.
Explorers have
searched for the famed city
of El Dorado for five centuries
across both
north and South America.
No one has found it.
There’s certainly been
no shortage of people looking
for El Dorado, especially
among the Spanish conquistadors.
And some theories suggest
that there might be
a pretty good reason for that,
which is that El Dorado
as a city was simply made up.
Based on the artifacts
that we’ve found,
we know that some
indigenous communities
in Central and South America
used gold for decoration
and religious purposes.
But that’s it.
That’s all we know.
We have no proof
of an actual golden city,
apart from the fact
that the Spanish were
told stories about it
and were obsessed
with finding it.
So one school of thought
is that the natives were telling
the Spanish the truth,
that there was a city of gold,
but what if they lied?
The indigenous people
of the New World aren’t stupid.
They were
understandably confused
by the Spanish desire for gold.
They did not value it
in the same way
that the Spanish did.
They used it for decoration,
for religious purposes,
but not for monetary value.
But they could clearly see
the obsession
that the conquistadors
had with getting more gold.
The Spanish come in
with threats and attacks.
They’ll do anything to get
this gold, even kill for it.
Many South American
historians believe
this inspires
the natives to lie.
When the Spanish
come looking for gold,
the indigenous people
just want to survive.
They want to get the Spanish out
of there as fast as possible.
So they tell them, "Yes, there
is the gold you’re looking for."
"It’s just over those mountains,
just down that river,
just on the other side
of this forest."
And the Spanish
take the bait every time
and move on looking
for that gold.
So one of the best examples
of this is what happens
to Coronado
when he’s marching through
the Southwestern desert
looking for El Dorado.
Every pueblo he stops at
tells him that this city
is a little more north,
until he ends up
all the way up in Kansas.
It’s not just
the natives who benefit.
The Europeans use it
to their own advantage.
They embellish claims
of El Dorado
and its riches
in order to attract crew
and financial backing
for their expeditions.
When Francisco de Orellana
goes back to Spain,
he has no gold to show
for his efforts,
but what he does have
is stories.
And when he tells the King
what he heard
about the golden city
of El Dorado, it works.
He gets his next
expedition funded.
There’s one more convenient use
for the El Dorado lie.
As the colonial conquest
of South America ends,
the Spanish have an issue.
They have hundreds, maybe
thousands of conquistadors
with nothing to do.
There’s no one left to conquer.
There’s no more gold to steal.
They’re sitting around
getting drunk, causing problems.
Until they’re given
a new purpose.
The actual Spanish government
comes up with a plan
to send these idle soldiers off
on hunts to look for El Dorado,
which, by this point,
they assume
will be wild goose chases.
Not only does it
keep them occupied,
but it gets them
out of the cities
and into the jungles for weeks,
months, maybe even years,
with a chance
that they won’t come back.
At this point,
the search for El Dorado
isn’t about finding gold.
It’s actually
about getting rid of problems.
One such documented
expedition takes place in 1560.
That year, the Spanish
send 300 conquistadors
on a search for El Dorado,
led by Pedro de Ursua.
Ursua is asked to bring along
a particularly troublesome group
of soldiers, led
by Lope de Aguirre,
to essentially get
rid of him for a while.
But Aguirre murders Ursua,
and he and his soldiers
go on a marauding expedition,
leaving a trail
of death and destruction.
Most of the 300 die
along the way.
It’s an awful scene,
but it also shows
that the Spanish government,
by 1560,
they no longer even believe
that El Dorado exists
or is worth looking for.
It’s just a convenient way
to get rid of troublemakers.
Ursua says so himself
in his letters.
He was just trying to occupy
Aguirre and these idle veterans,
and he got himself killed
in the process.
But thanks
to the Spanish explorers
and modern-day excavations,
we know that South America
had and still has tons of gold.
It’s just not all piled up
in one city,
like the story said.
And, in that sense,
the legend is real.
It’s not like these stories
are promising gold
where none exists.
It does, and man’s imagination
and greed filled in the rest.
Archaeologists continue
to search
for lost ancient cities
throughout South America,
and have found nearly a dozen
in the past decade alone.
But none matches the allure
of the tantalizing
lost city of gold.
Perhaps one day, El Dorado
will be finally uncovered.
I’m Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History’s Greatest Mysteries."
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