||This article possibly contains original research. (January 2010)|
|Laguna de Guatavita|
|Surface elevation||c. 3,000 m|
It is a circular lake in the mountains in what appears to be a meteor crater. However, the origins of the crater are unclear.
Myths and Legends
Laguna de Guatavita was reputedly one of the sacred lakes of the Muisca, and a ritual conducted there is widely thought to be the basis for the legend of El Dorado. The legend says the lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa (named "El Dorado" by the Conquistadores) was covered in gold dust, then venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, he dived into the waters, washing off the gold. Afterward, trinkets, jewelry, and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers. A few artifacts of gold and silver found at bottom hold proof to this claim; however, to date, the trips to the bottom of the lake have yielded no more than these (see below).
Another one of the Pre-Columbian myths concerning Lake Guatavita is of a local tribal Cacique (chief) and the serpent god believed to live in the waters. After discovering that one of his wives had been unfaithful to him, the chief ordered her lover's murder and then his wife was forced to eat the dead man's sexual organs. He also paid musicians to compose and sing songs about her infidelity around the town.
His wife then fled from home with her baby daughter, and flung herself and the child into the lake. Upon hearing the news of this, the chief sorrowfully regretted his actions, and begged for help from the local shaman, asking him to find a way of bringing her and the baby back.
The shaman made a sacrifice to the serpent god of the lake and hurled heated stones into the waters, after which he dived in and swam to the deep.
The shaman discovered the chief's wife and daughter living on the bed of the lake with the serpent god. He hurried back to the surface to report this to the chief, who then ordered him to go back to bring his wife and child home.
After many hours, the shaman returned, bringing with him only the corpse of the child. On battling the serpent god for the wife and child of the chief, the serpent god had devoured the child's eyes and the baby had died. The wife meanwhile remained at the bottom of the lake with the serpent god.
Historical attempts to recover the gold
Conquistadores Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada attempted (unsuccessfully) to drain the lake in 1545 using a "bucket chain" of labourers. After 3 months, the water level had been reduced by 3 metres, and only a small amount of gold was recovered, with a value of 3000–4000 pesos (approx. 100,000 USD today; a peso or piece of eight of the 15th century weighs .88oz of 93% pure silver).
A later more industrious attempt was made in 1580, by Bogotá business entrepreneur Antonio de Sepúlveda. A notch was cut deep into the rim of the lake, which managed to reduce the water level by 20 metres, before collapsing and killing many of the labourers. A share of the findings—consisting of various golden ornaments, jewellery and armour—was sent to King Philip the 2nd of Spain. Sepúlveda's discovery came to approximately 12,000 pesos. He died a poor man, and is buried at the church in the small town of Guatavita.
In 1801, Alexander von Humboldt made a visit to Guatavita, and on his return to Paris, calculated from the findings of Sepúlveda's efforts that Guatavita could eventually offer up as much as $300 million worth of gold.
In 1898, 'The Company for the Exploitation of the Lagoon of Guatavita' was formed and taken over by 'Contractors Ltd.' of London, in a deal brokered by British expatriate Mr Hartley Knowles. The lake was successfully drained by means of a tunnel that emerged in the centre of the lake. The water was eventually drained to a depth of about 4 feet of mud and slime.
This made it impossible to explore, and when the mud had dried sitting and being baked by the sun, it had set like concrete. A haul of only £500 was found, and subsequently auctioned at Sothebys of London. Some of these artefacts were eventually donated to the British Museum. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy and ceased activities in 1929.
- British Museum Collection 
- The Legend of 'El Dorado' by Tairona Heritage Trust