Unsolved Mysteries of The Inca Treasure
Steeped in death, conquest, desire, and mystery, the legend of the lost Inca gold is guarded by remote, mist-veiled mountains in central Ecuador. Somewhere deep inside the unforgiving Llanganates mountain range between the Andes and the Amazon is said to exist a fabulous Inca hoard hidden from Spanish conquistadors.
The legend begins in the 16th century, when the great Inca Empire in western South America was giving way to European invaders. Atahualpa was an Inca king who, after warring with his half-brother, Huáscar, for control of the empire, was captured at his palace in Cajamarca in modern-day Peru by Spanish commander Francisco Pizarro.
Pizarro agreed to release Atahualpa in return for a roomful of gold, but the Spaniard later reneged on the deal. He had the Inca king put to death before the last and largest part of the ransom had been delivered. Instead, the story goes, the gold was buried in a secret mountain cave. And there the legend has remained, daring others to prove it.
The shadowy guide of those who have tried is Valverde, a Spaniard who some 50 years after Atahualpa's death is said to have become rich after being led to the gold by his Indian bride's family. When he died, he left written directions to its location, the so-called Derrotero de Valverde.
The gold trail went cold until the 1850s, when English botanist Richard Spruce traveled to Ecuador in search of the cinchona tree, the seeds of which were used to produce the antimalarial drug quinine. Spruce, when he finally returned to Britain, reported that he had uncovered Valverde's guide and a related map, made by a man named Atanasio Guzman.
The Treasure of the Llanganatis refers to a huge sum of worked gold and other treasures supposedly hidden deep within the Llanganatis mountain range of Ecuador by the Inca general Rumiñahui.
In 1532 Francisco Pizarro founded the town of San Miguel de Piura and began the conquest of the Inca Empire. Later in the same year, he captured the Inca king Atahualpa at Cajamarca. Atahualpa, seeing that the Spaniards cherished gold above all, promised to fill a room with gold in exchange for his freedom. Pizarro agreed to do this, although he likely had no intention to ever let Atahualpa leave. Before the room could be filled with gold, Pizarro's distrust of Atahualpa, and his influence over the many remaining Inca warriors, caused him to have the Inca garroted on July 26, 1533.
The legend holds that the Inca general Rumiñahui was on his way to Cajamarca with an enormous amount of worked gold for the ransom when he learned that Atahualpa had been murdered. The amount of gold varies with different versions of the legend, but all agree that on the news of Atahualpa's death, he returned to Quito and hauled the treasure up into the Llanganatis mountains. There he hid it, either in a cave, or by throwing it into a lake. Rumiñahui continued fighting against the Spanish, and though he was eventually captured and tortured, he never revealed the location of the treasure.
'Golden Vases Full of Emeralds'
Treasure seeker Barth Blake followed up Spruce's discovery in 1886. If his writings are to be believed, Blake was the last person to find the gold. In one letter he wrote: "There are thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft, the most beautiful goldsmith works you are not able to imagine." He detailed life-size human figurines, birds and other animals, flowers, and cornstalks, as well as "the most incredible jewelry" and "golden vases full of emeralds." But, Blake claimed, "I could not remove it alone, nor could thousands of men."
Taking only what he could carry, Blake left and never returned. Sources suggest that en route to New York, where he planned to raise funds for an expedition to recover his prize, he disappeared overboard. Some say he was pushed deliberately. Many who have since attempted to retrace his steps into the treacherous Llanganates have also paid with their lives.
Mark Honigsbaum, however, did survive to tell the tale, which he did in his book Valverde's Gold (2004). The author teamed up with two adventurers who each claimed to have independently discovered an Inca gold mining site such as Valverde described: "There is a lake, made by hand, into which the ancients threw the gold they had prepared for the ransom of the Inca [Atahualpa] when they heard of his death."
"The legend essentially is that the Inca took the gold out of the Llanganates and then returned it to where they had taken it from," Honigsbaum said. But he never found the site, which seemingly had been lost as a result of the earthquakes that regularly rock the densely forested mountains.
"We're dealing with the frontier land between fact and fiction," Honigsbaum admitted. "We know Atahualpa's gold existed because it's recorded in the Spanish chronicle, and it's recorded that a large convoy of gold was on its way from Ecuador. After that, the best and most persistent stories revolve around the Llanganates."
"My own feeling, though, is that this gold was probably taken out centuries ago," he said. "If not, and it's still there, I think it's lost forever, because those mountains are so vast and inaccessible that you're looking for a needle in a haystack."
Guide to Lost Inca Sites?
Archaeologist Johan Reinhard, an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, has an explanation for why numerous expeditions in search of the gold mine and artificial lake mentioned by Valverde have failed.
"Most have followed Guzman's map that does indeed lead to some mines located on the northern end of the Llanganate range, but not to the area as can be ascertained from Valverde's description," Reinhard explained.
It's an open question whether Valverde ever existed, Reinhard added, but he says his directions do make sense against modern maps of the region.
While Reinhard doesn't believe Atahualpa's gold will ever be found, he says there's still a good chance of discovering Inca sites such as those referred to in the Derrotero. "Thus," he said, "a serious archaeological expedition would likely add significantly to our knowledge of the Inca presence in the region."
Treasure hunters and their dangerous gold fever probably aren't invited.
The province of Quito has a "river of emeralds" from quarries on whose banks the Incas acquired some of their gems but, generally speaking, the mines from which the ancient Peruvians wrested their most beautiful precious stones are unknown today The Incas had a source of emeralds in the Province of Esmeraldas north of Quito and many of today's emeralds are said to have come from this area.. Fabulous Inca treasures in the form of golden plates, cups, bowls and idols, chalices inlaid with precious emeralds, slabs of pure gold and leather casks filled with jewels lie cached in a gorge nearly a half-mile deep on the southern side of El Sangay, an active volcano on the outskirts of Quito at an altitude of 6,000 feet. The fabulous Inca hoard was then covered over with tons of volcanic rock and ashes, protected by their powerful and sacred "fire god" to be uncovered when the Spaniards were driven off their lands. The Inca ruler of the area of present-day Quito, hearing of the Spaniards stripping the treasures from the sacred temples, had all the treasures brought quickly to the shores of Lake Yaquarcocha.
According to a number of Indians who broke under torture at the hands of the Conquistadors, enough gold and silver to fill a building 60 feet by 65 feet by 12 feet high was flung into the middle of this lake. None of this treasure has ever been recovered. The citizens of Ecuador as well as the European residents of the official classes in Quito (around 1936) firmly believed that the great treasures belonging to the Inca Emperor Huayca Copac was sunk in a lake on the slopes of Pichincha, a great volcano which looms high over Quito.. Three days travel east of Oyacachi are ancient Indian burial mounds or tolas, and nearby a river that is rich in gold. Six hours of laborious panning here produced 2 ounces of gold to an adventurous prospector in 1964. The location is east of Quito to Cayambe, then farther east to the site. One of the lost emerald mines of the Incas was discovered then lost by Stewart Connelly several years ago. He mysteriously disappeared in 1924 taking the secret of the lost emerald mine with him.
The supposed location is approximately 290 miles from Quito in the jungles of the Amazon and near what is now the Colombian-Ecuador border.Ancient Inca burial sites containing gold artifacts and pottery can be found in abundance in the area of the ancient village of Coaque on the north side of the Coaque River. In 1930 reports filtered out that an old Inca treasure cache had been tracked down to the Indian village of Nisac, near Alausi, on the slopes of the Andes Cordillera. The cache was supposedly the hiding place of the treasure of the last Inca Atahualpa. The cable added that a tribe of 700 Indians guarded this cache and that in 1929 the treasure hunters had found an Inca idol and skeletons. The expedition set out from the town of Rio Bamba.
There were no further reports. On the outskirts of the little mountain village of Pillaro about 50 miles from Quito via Ambato lies a great plain reaching as far as the eye can see to the foothills of the rain-swept Llanganatis Mountains in the far distance. This vast area has been for thousands of years the burial ground of both Inca and pre-lnca civilizations and contains untold thousands of graves only a fraction of which have been opened. Deep in the Llanganati Mountains in central Ecuador lies a fabulous hoard of Inca treasure hidden by the Indians to keep it from the plundering Spaniards. The huge cache is believed secreted somewhere in the immediate vicinity of Cerro Hermosa. Somewhere on the wooded slopes of a volcanic crater close by an old Inca road in the Andes is a huge pre-Inca hoard of gold and silver images and ceremonial objects. The location of this ancient cache was known to a certain Juan Valverde a Spaniard who had married an Inca Indian's daughter from whom he had learned the secret. For many years Valverde disappeared for rather lengthy periods and after each return displayed ever-increasing signs of wealth. Juan Valverde eventually returned to Spain where he died during the 16th century. As a legacy to the King of Spain, he left a "derrotero", or treasure map showing the route to this great treasure but neither the two agents whom the king sent nor anyone since has ever been able to find the hoard
When the work was complete it was obvious that the ship with its great cargo of looted gold and silver, was extremely overloaded and could never make the long voyage. So, to ensure a safe return to England, he ordered that the heavier cargo of the Golden Hinde be removed to lighten the load. In almost a festive atmosphere, the crew threw 45 tons of silver overboard in the shallow water near the shore of the island. The buccaneer Davis came to the island at a later date to put on a fresh supply of water, and his crew fished up 1500 pieces-of-eight using tallowed leads. Several years ago, in the 1930s, a man dredged up 18 tons of the silver which Drake had thrown overboard. The balance, 30 tons, remains on the bottom in 45 feet of water. A fabulous treasure is hidden on the island of La Plata off Ecuador's coast. It is connected with Alexander Selkirk, the freebooter who inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. Treasure consisting of gold, silver, diamonds and pearls, looted from a Spanish galleon and valued at several million dollars, was stacked in a cliff-cave near a creek and then covered over by large stones to conceal the entrance by the pirate Thomas Stradling around 1710. The location is on the Island de la Plata off the coasts of Peru and a little below Ecuador. The Capitana was a registry ship that was carrying the 1654 accumulation of South American treasure northward.
She had taken on barrels and cases of registry gold and silver at Concepcion, Valparaiso, Arica, Callao and Guayaquil, and was on the last leg of her voyage to deliver this immense treasure to Panama when her hull was ripped open on the sharp edges of the Chanduy Reef, off Punta Santa Elena. The huge ship sank within minutes with nearly everyone aboard killed. The vessel carried an authenticated cargo of gold and silver worth between $3,000,000 and $5,000,000 and lies near the base of the reef.. The frigate Santa Leocadia sailed from Paita, Peru for Panama on November 7, 1800 carrying 2,100,000 pesos in registry gold and silver securely packed in chests. On November 16, she smashed onto a shoal 100 yards from the beach at Punta Santa Elena and slowly broke to pieces from the waves. Early-day salvagers recovered ninety percent of the treasure aboard and several cannon, but left behind six bronze cannon and more than 200,000 pesos in gold and silver - worth at least $250,000 today - under the south face of a reef 100 yards off the beach at Punta Santa Elena in 15 feet of water. An unidentified Spanish treasure galleon sank in 1648 miles off Santa Elena with a huge store of gold and silver bullion worth $13,000,000. On December 16, 1680, the Spanish galleon Santa Cruz sank off the rocks known as Los Ahorcados, Punta Santa Elena carrying $13,000,000 in treasure including silver plate and $30,000,000 in pieces-of-eight.. The San Jose sank in 1763 two miles offshore from the western point of Punta Santa Elena with $1,800,000 in gold and silver..
To aid King Charles I of England in his struggle with Parliament during the time of the Cromwell Wars and perhaps thereby stop the growth of the Commonwealth and the spread of Protestantism over Europe, the Spanish government ordered the Viceroy of Peru to collect some $13,000,000 in gold and silver and send it to Charles. This treasure was loaded aboard a great galleon and sent on its way in 1648. But the ship sailed no farther than Punta Santa Elena, a short distance from the Guayaquil harbor, where it struck the dangerous Los Ahorcados reefs and promptly sank carrying its great cargo of gold and silver to the bottom. In the 1700's an attempt was made to recover the millions but after a few thousand dollars had been taken up, the native divers refused to go on with the work because of the large number of sharks. No recent attempts have been made to salvage this vast underwater treasure.Gold and silver coins from offshore wrecks are washed ashore on the beaches near Santa Elena after severe storms. An early chronicler describing the riches of the Incas said that there was a wonderful royal flower garden on an island near Puna to which the Incas retired when they wished to be near the sea. Its bushes, trees, plants and flowers were all made of pure gold and silver "of a magnificence never before conceived." After the fall of the Inca Empire this treasure storehouse suddenly disappeared. Similar gardens existed in other royal palaces but the Spaniard were privileged to see only this one.. $30,000,000 in treasure went down with a Spanish galleon in a storm in Manta Bay.
The Spanish archives in Lima made this mention, "About three leagues from Solong are two rocks called Los Ahorcados appearing high and black beside these, north-northeast from Punta Santa Elena is a high rock of which to windward runs shoals for 1/2 mile underwater. It is about eight leagues from Punta Santa Elena and at this place and this rock this ship was lost. This rock is about two leagues from the mainland.. In 1684, an unidentified Spanish galleon sank off Punta Santa Elena carrying to the bottom $500,000 in treasure.The San Juan de Salvamento sank in 1655 about 1/2 mile off Sean Island in Mandregan Bay carrying $1,000,000 in gold and silver bullion. In 1932, in certain Inca tombs on the Alamos Ranche of Lorenzo Tous, about 140 gold nuggets as large as lemons were found, as well as a hoard of gold armour and jewels. Raw gold in unbelievable deposits lie in the many rivers that flow into the Amazon in the deep rain forest east of the Andes Mountains. The land is carefully guarded by the unpredictable and savage Auca Indians who kill intruders that enter their domain. The flakes and nuggets are said to line the river banks in enormous quantities.
Valverde's Derrotero and Guzmans map are the keys to unlocking the location of Atahualpa Gold.
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