In an earlier post, we discussed the legend of El Dorado and how it is closely tied Lake Guatavita. To recap – the Muisca tribe used to make sacrifices to their god by dumping piles of gold artifacts and gems into the lake. You may have wondered if anyone has ever tried to recover all the treasure from the bottom of the lake. Well, they have and there are certainly some stories to tell!
All noteworthy attempts to recover treasure from the lake began with trying to drain it. The first occurrence was in the 16th century by conquistadores Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada. They had only limited resources, but went about their treasure hunting with gusto establishing a non-stop bucket chain of laborers. Despite their efforts, they only managed to lower the lake by three meters. Still, they managed to retrieve some gold (approximately $100,000). However, this was a small amount compared to what was believed to still lie at the bottom.
Thirty-five years later, a much larger attempt was made to retrieve the treasures from Lake Guatavita by an entrepreneur named Antonio de Sepúlveda. Foregoing the buckets of his predecessors, Sepúlveda cleaved into the rim to drain it. At first, this worked very well – draining the lake by as much as 20 meters. Unfortunately, the draining construction collapsed and killed many of Sepúlveda’s workers. He also did not fare as well at recovering gold artifacts – finding only about four times more than the previous expedition.
The last expedition was perhaps the most disastrous by far. It occurred in 1898 and was executed by a group of London contractors called “The Company for the Exploitation of the Lagoon of Guatavita.” They dug a tunnel that opened up in the center of the lake which drained it all the way down to a mere four feet. However, this did not make the lake easier to search – quite the opposite in fact. What was left of the lake was so much mud and slime, it was practically impossible to traverse. Worse yet, the sun soon baked the mud like cement, sealing the treasure off. Finding a mere £500 worth of gold, the company later went bankrupt.
Perhaps if man could have waited long enough for the invention of scuba gear, the priceless gold artifacts of Lake Guatavita may have all been recovered.