For centuries, the myth of El Dorado has attracted explorers and treasure hunters to the Colombian Andes in search of gold.
The powerful and mysterious El Dorado legend is believed to have been inspired by the ancient practices of the Muisca, a lost tribe who once flourished in the highlands of Colombia. According to legend, it was thought the Muisca carried out a coronation ceremony where the tribe covered a new king’s body in gold dust, crowns, bracelets and jewels. The treasure was then piled onto a raft and rowed to the centre of Lake Guatavita. There, as a final sacrifice to the gods, all of the gold was then thrown into the murky depths of the lake.
But despite numerous attempts to find the discarded gold and jewels, very little evidence of the treasure was ever recovered. As a result, the El Dorado myth remained firmly in the realms of fantasy.
Then in 1969, in a Colombian cave 80 km south of Bogota, a beautiful model of a golden raft was found. Crafted in intricate detail, of solid gold, the raft depicts a Muisca ceremony. One central larger figure, wearing an elaborate headdress, surrounded by minor figures with staffs and masks, stands on what looks to be a raft – leaving historians to believe the Muisca coronation ceremony actually took place.
We decode the origins of the legend of El Dorado by tracing back through historical accounts written by early Spanish explorers who were obsessed with finding huge caches of gold. We learn how successive waves of conquistadors looted, pillaged and tortured the highland people in a ruthless attempt to root out more and more hidden gold. In modern laboratories, a metallurgy expert uses state-of-the-art X-Ray Flourescence tests to compare the composition of the golden raft with other gold artifacts found in and around Lake Guatavita. And a Colombian geologist takes us through modern-day geological surveys to trace the real source of Muisca gold. With the help of a Colombian archeologist we further unlock the secrets of the Musica through examination of their bones and the treasures they took to their graves.
Ultimately we come to understand how the Spanish completely misunderstood the Muisca and their relationship with gold. Thousands of lives were destroyed in the meaningless search for a city of gold. Meanwhile, the key to El Dorado lay in decoding the spiritual meaning of a ten inch Golden Raft.