Could a lost city of gold actually exist? 27Jan10

I think so… in part, here’s why… see below… (hopefully some interesting background info on the film that airs tonight: 27th Jan, 10pm EST on the Discovery Channel)

The Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1532, lead by Francisco Pizarro – 182 men, mainly independent freeloaders and mercenaries, motivated by the greed for gold and carrying out their invasion in the name of God and the Crown. They set about ripping out the golden heart of the Inca monuments described in part by Ciezo de Leon:
“In of the one of the houses, which was the richest, there was the figure of the sun, very large and made of gold, very expensively worked and enriched with many precious stones. They also had a garden, the clods of which were made of pieces of fine gold, and it was artificially sown with golden maize, the stalks as well as the leaves and cobs, being of that metal…”

The Spanish famously kidnapped the Inca Atahualpa and ransomed him, unsurprisingly for gold – the Inca bought gold from across the empire, including Prince Choqe Auki. En route, he heard that Pizarro hadn’t kept to his end of the bargain and had strangled Atahualpa. Legend has it, he hotfooted it through Calca, Lores, Choque, and Kancho Lago with 200,000 llamas with gold and Inca treasures. The Spanish went after him but never found him, nor his gold. Whether this is true or based on legend, we don’t know; but it is just part of the origin of the mystery of a lost city of gold. What we do know is that the Spanish stole so much gold that it altered the whole European economic system.

A Peruvian economist Virgilio Rool tallied up the value of the gold and silver they stole (what the Inca called the ‘Sweat of the Sun’ and ‘The tears of the moon’), estimated the destruction and damage they inflicted, and reckoned it to be around $600billion. He lodged a demand for compensation with the Spanish government who instead replied with an offering to upkeep the Spanish churches – a deliberately tactless move I imagine, as in the eyes of some locals and others, the churches are seen as monuments to the genocide the Spanish carried out in the name of God. Whilst this figure of $600billion may seem high at first, it cannot of course come close to compensating for the cultural and moral damage inflicted upon the Andean people and the effect that this has even today. Whilst it’s true the Conquistadors did not intend to kill so many people (two thirds were unintentionally killed by smallpox brought in by the Spanish that the Andean people had no immunity to), and I’m not one to be an apologist for the Inca (who were not the most savoury crowd in history), what occurred was simply genocide motivated by the greed of gold. Sadly it seems we have not learned these lessons of history as the idea of raping a country of its wealth, often killing its inhabitants for the benefits of others, continues.

Gold was not in short supply and even to this day, the Andes and the Amazon are mined for gold. During our expedition up in the high Andes, we saw countless streams of white quartz, one of the key indicators of gold. Since the initial invasion, The Spanish, British and others have mounted expeditions in search of into the unmapped regions of South America usually motivated by one of a number of factors: 1) searching for routes to the south seas; 2) Hope of finding hidden kingdoms of fabulous wealth (El Dorado, Patiti, City of Z (the latter made famous by British Explorer Percy Fawcett of which a film is scheduled for release this year starring Brad Pitt); 3) Hope of discovering mineral deposits or fertile land for settlement. For centuries explorers have believed there could be a lost city of the Inca, El Dorado, Patiti, City of Z or whatever else you may call it, but is it is nothing more than a metaphor for hidden wealth rather than a real place?

There are still large chunks of the Amazon and high Andes that remain unmapped and largely unexplored by the outside world, so is it not possible that within these unchartered areas, there could still be something waiting to be found? Machu Pichu is still the most famous lost city to be found recently, and that was only discovered (or revealed to the outside world, as presumably the locals always new it was there) in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. The amusing, and oft-neglected part of this tale, is that he only spent a few hours at the site when he discovered it, took some pictures, made a rough sketch map, jotted down a few laconic lines in his journal, only afforded the site 7lines in his expedition report (whilst writing 2 pages on some old bones he found in a glacier) and took a year to return to it. Bingham was actually looking for Hatun Villacamba, the lost city of the Inca and he was initially convinced Machu Pichu wasn’t it. But Machu Pichu is not alone and the great Inca sites of Gran Pajaten and Espiritu Pampa (Vilacamba – rediscovered in 1964) should be considered among the pantheon of important archaeological discoveries in the 20th Century. But history continues to be revealing itself.

In the last few months, explorers using satellite technology have detected giant mounds over 155 miles, that seem to point to a sophisticated pre-Columbian culture near Brazil’s border with Bolivia (read more). These rediscoveries at the very least should stimulate the possibility that more sites, and possibly cities remain hidden.

19 Responses to “Could a lost city of gold actually exist?”

  1. Donna Says:

    Hey! I’m a bit behind but its great to see you back w/an adventureous show!!! I’ve enjoyed this immensely. Looking forward to next weeks episode.

  2. Daniel Says:

    I enjoy your new show. It’s very entertaining. Any plans to further explore Peru?

  3. Reena Says:

    Hi Olly,

    Another great show.
    Thank you very much for the comment about having coffee when you are in NYC next time it was very sweet of you to say.
    I am so happy the Shaman accepted the llama this time, I was a bit scared.
    Do you think that others will travel further in the mountains to
    look for the lost city after your team found more ruins?
    How badly did you want to continue on to look for more
    It seems as if the adventure is more important to you
    than the financial part but when you do discover something
    worth a lot of money I hope you can keep some of the
    money to donate of course.

    Wishing you health, happiness, love & wealth.

  4. Eve Says:

    Hi Olly
    I used to live in Cusco, now I live in Houston….I remember that in my house in Peru we have some Inca stones, very well preserved, almost all my relatives have some as well, some houses have been made using Inca stones. People forget the importance of these rests of History… very sad.

    Hope my paisanos in Cusco treated you well.

  5. Anthony Says:

    Hey, great show!
    I was just wondering if you went any further (after the editing) on the Inca road you found at the end of the show? Was there any more said about the road?


  6. Lucy Says:

    Hi Olly,
    I was so happy that you did a show in Peru. I absolutely loved my time there. Too bad I couldn’t recommend my guide who was absolutely brilliant and became a good friend. I’m even glad that you went to Sacsayhuaman, a.k.a Sexy Woman. ;) They claim it was built with architecture in mind to withstand earthquakes.

    I was wondering, while in Machu Picchu did you feel any healing powers? People have claimed that they could feel something magical–that they could feel things reverberating within them, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t feel anything. It has something to do with the city being built upon copious amounts of quartz, but nada on this end.

    As for a lost city of gold: anythings possible, right? The only thing is, I think with the rumors, I’m sure that not only has the government, but also individual opportunist would’ve actively looked for it. Maybe if one day it’s found, the next thing on the list would be the fountain of youth. =)

    If you’re meeting fans in cities for coffee, let me know the next time you’re in either L.A. or Seattle. Seattle=capital of coffee. Also, I’m with Free, if you take her as an assistant, can I go as her assistant? ;)

    Enjoyed your shows!

  7. admin Says:

    Many thanks for taking the time to watch the film and for your thoughts on the lost city… annoyingly it’s still lost, but hopefully we’ll get the chance to explore the rest of that road before long… here’s a few answers… olx

    Daniel: Plans to return to Peru? Not immediately but I hope to be be able to get back to investigate the road of stone a little bit more and have a few new leads to other possible locations…

    Reena: others to continue where we left off: it’s possible, but it would a huge amount of logistical support and planning to be able get to that point and then continue on. But I hope I’ll have the chance before others… plus I know where to go! Yep, you’re right, the journey is the destination for me and I hope that comes across in the films.

    Anthony: sadly we didn’t go on any further but one day we will!

    Lucy: Machu Pichu healing powers: Sorry Lucy, but sadly I didn’t feel any healing powers. Wish I did as I, and the rest of the crew were in much need of some healing whilst there.

  8. Sherri Says:

    Hi Olly,
    Thanks for teaming up with Discovery…great network! I am truely excited over Solving History. Man has been searching for the unproven “treasures” for years. Each team of scientists/explorers come up with new theories or beliefs yet believers don’t need science at all. It is truely amazing that modern man can not figure out what man has already done many, many years ago. Perhaps some things are not for us to find but to just believe. Anyways, I love the hunt of the unknown and I am amazed at what once was! The computer graphs of what the cities looked like back then are incredible….it’s hard to imagine with what ruins are left…Thanks. I am happy you are the host of Solving History, as well as all the work you put into these adventures.I enjoy seeing people in other countries and cultures and the compassion you give them. You have brought the knowledge of the world to me that I would have never known or seen. Thanks for the respect and strength you give. It is a wonderful passion to share. Safe hunting/exploring…the energy is still here. Sherri

  9. EVE Says:

    Thanks for the answer Olly. You really took your time to answer everybody but the Peruvian.
    I still hope you had a great time in my hometown CUSCO.

  10. Tan Says:

    Hi, Olly
    Love the show! I hope someday I would be able to see Peru, it looked icredible beautiful & peaceful there. I hope you would have a chance to be able to go back with another expedition to see where that stone pave road would lead. I guess this time you probably will have to bring some of the oxygen bottle with you to cure your altitude sickness. For a second I thought you were taking hallucinated durg “cause you were ranting :-] I can’t wait to see the next show and see what you will find this time. Take care and stay safe, Tan.

  11. admin Says:

    Oops, sorry Eve! how rude… completely unintentional. I have mixed emotions about Cuzco to be honest – on one side i love some of the history, on the other it’s also the site of genocide and the rape and destruction of the Inca by the Conquisadors. The people of Cuzco are incredible friendly and generous but on the otherside I saw some of the indigenous people struggling to make ends meet, trying to sell their wares to tourists – which cut me up rather badly, because after all, this was once their town and now they’re the outsiders. It’s never black and white, but I would encourage everyone to go there and make their own mind up – it is a stunning city, wonderful people and a great gateway to root one’s exploration of the Inca, the indigenous people and the insanely beautiful surrounding mountains…

  12. Lissa Says:

    Hi Olly,
    You’re definitely keeping your word of replying within a week. Hope it’s not too late to post and you’ll continue to answer more questions about the 3rd episode.
    I enjoyed watching the “Lost City of Gold: El Dorado”. Curious, if you went back down on foot? Considering that the group ran low on provisions, did you all have enough till you returned to the staging area? If ever Paititi is found (hopefully by you when you return), who are the rightful owners of the treasures – finders keepers or the Peruvian government and its people? What does a shaman do with a dried llama fetus? And, how many episodes are there in the first series?

    I was reading about Machu Picchu online, and was surprised to find out that the myths of “Paititi” and “El Dorado” are often mixed-up. I thought El Dorado is the Lost City of Gold. However, according to,
    “Paititi refers to a lost city in Peru, while the El Dorado is not an Inca myth, but rather a Spanish rumour that has spread among conquistadores about a “Land of Gold” somewhere in the uplands of today’s Colombia and Venezuela… The two legends are distinct have no direct link to each other… The “El Dorado” and the “Lost City” legends are profoundly different both in contents and in sources… ”
    Please correct me if I’m wrong, on the show you referred to the “fabled Inca lost city of gold” as either El Dorado or Paititi, right?

    Anyway, so glad to see the comeback of your trusty umbrella! It’s part of your signature look while trekking, shouldn’t go without it :-)

    Lastly, if you’re taking suggestions for future shows, perhaps you’ll also consider the tomb of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. I haven’t been to mainland China, but know that part of the attractions in Xian are the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses. However, the Emperor’s tomb that houses precious treasures is yet to be excavated, right? Unsure if everything there is to know about the tomb has been revealed. If not yet, then in my humble opinion, I think that it’ll be an interesting topic for your show.
    Keep safe,

  13. Glenda Says:

    Hi olly what was the shaman purpairing on the blanket?

  14. Ellen Says:

    Hi, Olly:

    I just want to let you know that I love your new show and continue to keep up with your amazing adventures. You’re a true “Man of Mystery!” For now, I don’t have anything brilliant, clever or intuitive to add to everyone ele’s comments, but I’ll keep you posted!

    I’m sure you don’t remember me. A year or so ago, I sent you my “rave” reviews about you (and your “Mek” trek). I noticed that you no longer post that piece of contact info. on your site, so…maybe you do remember me – hahahaa! I’d been so concerned about being in touch too often and giving you feeback overload. It’s too bad I wasn’t aware of a Blog opp at that time. I would have been in good company, since so many of your fans are fanatical about writing! : )

    Take care, and all the best,

  15. Ellen Says:

    Hi, Olly:

    I just want to let you know that I love your new show and continue to keep up with your amazing adventures. You’re a true “Man of Mystery!” For now, I don’t have anything brilliant, clever or intuitive to add to everyone ele’s comments, but I’ll keep you posted!

    I’m sure you don’t remember me. A year or so ago, I sent you my “rave” reviews about you (and your “Mek” trek). I noticed that you no longer post that piece of contact info. on your site, so…maybe you do remember me – hahahaa! I’d been so concerned about being in touch too often and giving you feeback overload. It’s too bad I wasn’t aware of a Blog opp at that time. I would have been in good company, since so many of your fans are fanatical about writing! : )

    Take care, and all the best,

  16. Jules Says:

    Olly, If the Lost City of Gold were so easy to find, don’t you think that someone before you would have found it sooner….the fact that you were afforded the opportunity to look for El Dorado, is a once in a lifetime opportuntiy that none of us will ever have the chance to do. Next time…why don’t you just try to enjoy the moment!

  17. admin Says:

    Lissa: who owns the treasure? Not sure, but I would hope that it was the Peruvian people and if I was involved I would do whatever I could to ensure this was the case. It is there cultural heritage and it belongs to them.

    Lissa: another expedition on foot? Tricky to know. I’d need to look at the logistics although the best way would be to get helicoptered in to a point and move from there – although that comes with problems of weight, flying conditions etc.

    Lissa and Glenda: the lama foetus and the blanket? The shaman wrapped it up and buried it (sometimes they burn it) with other things as an offering to Mother Earth.

    Lissa: other episodes? There are 7 in the series… although… you never know what might happen…!

    Lissa: El Dorado vs Paititi: It’s a tricky one. I’ve done a lot of research on this subject and will post it separately….

    Lissa: Emperor Qin’s tomb… it would be fantastic to investigate. If the terracotta soldiers are just guarding it, then what’s inside!? Legend has it its filled with rivers running in mercury to protect it. Real Indian Jones stuff! Although hopefully less Nazis. The Chinese policy is that they have limited resources and need to spend them currently on dealing with sites which are threathened. This one is buried and has been for years, so have said they’ll come to it when they’re ready!

    Ellen: thanks for writing. Yup sadly have to take my personal email off the site as I was getting overloaded and not being able to reply to everyone. This way, I will always try and hopefully by answering the questions publically, others may be interested or not ask the same question ;-) hope alls well

    Jules: enjoying it! I guess you’re joking, well I hope you are ;-) Of course, very tricky to find it… but today we have new technologies, greater communications with remote areas, greater deforestation… lots of things helping modern day hunters… but no one said it would be easy! One day soon I imagine, some more great ruins will be found… and for the record I was loving every moment!

  18. Lissa Says:

    Thank you very much, Olly, for answering my questions and for posting your informative research on the Lost Cities of Gold.

  19. Michael Says:


    I really enjoyed watching your search for Paititi, it was very educational and informative, as well as adventurous. I was wondering how one can get involved in an expedition like that? That has always been an avid dream of mine (especially since I’ll finally be finishing up my degrees soon), but never quite sure how to go about getting joined up with one. Could you possibly send me some advice and information either on here or by e-mail? I would greatly appreciate it! Again, keep up the awesome work you’re doing, it’s very inspiring.

    Michael C.

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