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Riches & History Pulled from the Depths of South America’s Lakes

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El Dorado. A mythical golden city, hidden in the jungles of Latin America.

Well, partially mythical. Like any good story, there is a bit of truth behind the fable. When the Spanish came to the New World, they encountered native tribes and cultures with a wealth of gems and precious metals. The gold the foreigners so coveted was primarily used by the locals for worship and sacred offerings to their gods.

And so originated the story of El Dorado. Historians today believe El Dorado sprang from a ritual in what is now Colombia in which the leader of the Muisca culture doused himself in gold dust and orchestrated a religious offering at Lake Guatavita. Precious jewels and golden ornaments were tossed into the river, supposedly to appease an underwater god. The Muisca culture was conquered by neighboring tribes and the ritual ceased. But the search for uncountable riches hidden deep in the jungle or at the bottom of a lake persisted.

Another indigenous lake lore takes us to Peru and Bolivia and down into the waters of Lake Titicaca. The lake, shared between to two Andean countries, is the legendary birthplace of the Inca culture. According to one version of Andean mythology, the very first Sapa Inca (the ruler of the empire) emerged from the lake, brought up by the sun god Inti himself.

This week archeologists found more than just myths at the bottom of Lake Titicaca. A team of Belgian and Bolivian underwater archeologists discovered 2,000 artifacts at the bottom of the world’s highest navigable lake. The find included bones, ceramics, carved stone, and items made from silver and gold.

The lead archaeologist, Christophe Delaere, told reporters that he believes the pieces were probably ritual offerings. And though the discovery is certainly no El Dorado, the team did bring up over 30 gold items.

The artifacts date back to Inca and pre-Inca times. The team believes the oldest pieces are from the Tiwanaku culture. The Tiwanaku once covered parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, thriving in harsh conditions thanks to a cropping irrigation system. The society mysteriously collapsed sometime in the 11th or 12 century. By the time the Incas settled in the area, all that was left of the Tiwanaku was ruins.

This discovery is the latest in a string of archeological unearthing in South America. Perhaps that city of gold is still out there. Who knows that we’ll find next.

Thanks to Boris G for the title image of this blog.

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