Gold Legends and Fables: El Dorado and the Sweat of the Sun

Posted on March 31, 2016 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

 Gold Legends and Fables: El Dorado and the Sweat of the Sun

Chavìn Gold Crown, Formative Epoch, 1200 B.C.E to 300 B.C.E Larco Museum Collection, Lima.
If you tuned into our post on goldsmith fables in Buddhism, then you’re already aware of gold’s far-reaching power to inspire myth and fables in a variety of cultures and places. For ancient peoples in South America, a part of the world rich in gold, the case was no different.
Like ancient Egyptians, many ancient cultures in present-day South America associated gold with the sun. The Incas, for example, described gold as “the sweat of the sun,” the sun being the most revered deity in their culture.

The northern highlands of present-day Peru, an area rich in gold deposits, was home to the Oracle at Chavìn de Huantar. Circa 500 BCE, the Chavìn cult, which maintained extended influence over other civilization along the coast, were responsible for creating a variety of gold items laden with religious significance. Craftsmen often alloyed gold with silver or copper to made metal pieces in a variety of shades. From breastplates to headdresses, ritual gold pieces bared Chavìn iconography.

Along the Peruvian north coast, the Moche, Sicàn (Lambayeque), and Chimú cultures employed gold during life and the afterlife. Nose, ear, and lip ornaments served as status symbols for the elite and often accompanied these individuals to the next life. Meanwhile, maize beer was often consumed from large golden kero vessels to commemorate special occasions like weddings, political alliances, and religious sacrifices.

It is in this area that the story of “El Dorado” was conceived. According to legend, the chief of the Andean Muisca Nation made offerings of gold by a mountain lake while he was covered in gold dust. The story inspired Spanish Conquistadors of the 1530s to pursue El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Alas, the city remained a thing of legend.

Indeed, the wealth of gold on the South American continent was often cause for tragedy when European explorers became involved. The Incan nation possessed one to the most impressive accumulations of gold. It was home to The Temple of the Sun in Cuzco whose garden featured life-size golden statues of humans, plants, and animals. Also, like other South American cultures, the Incans showed status through gold jewelry, like earplugs.

Ultimately, much of the Incans' gold was lost. When the Spanish captured the Incan king, the king offered the Europeans enough gold to fill the cell where he was imprisoned—and twice as much silver. Per this arrangement, the Incans melted down a huge quantity of their gold for their king's release, but the king was executed before the final sum of gold was handed over.

According to legend, the remaining portion of gold was hidden in a secret mountain-top, inspiring a chain of European explorers to go searching for it. In 1886, Barth Blake ventured to the region and claimed to have found “golden vases full of emeralds.” If we are to believe Blake, there was so much gold that several men would not be able to carry it all. Blake apparently attempted to bring back what he could pack and planned to return with more resources. But the second trip never happened. En route to New York, Blake disappeared overseas. Some say he was deliberately pushed while others maintain that more invisible forces were at work—forces that would not allow the gold to leave its native land.

 Gold Legends and Fables: El Dorado and the Sweat of the Sun

A hollow gold Inca figurine from Peru. Originally wrapped in cloth, this may have been used as an offering was probably used as an offering.

Photos: "Chavinmuseolarco" by Pattych - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons, American Museum of Natural History

Posted in gold, gold fables, gold legends, gold myths, incan gold



Leave a Reply

Comments will be approved before showing up.