Lost Inca Gold: Ransom, Riches and Riddles

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"I could not remove it alone, nor could thousands of men."

Inca gold

A gold cup like this may lie among thousands of priceless items thought to make up the mythical lost Inca gold. This fabled treasure, part of an exorbitant ransom for the imprisoned Inca leader Atahualpa, was supposedly hidden in the 16th century when the Inca learned Atahualpa had already been put to death by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

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 be a fabulous Inca hoard hidden from Spanish conquistadors.

Pizarro released Atahualpa in return for a roomful of gold, but the Spaniard later reneged and had the Inca king killed before the last and largest part of the ransom was delivered. Instead, the story goes, the gold was buried in a secret cave. And there the legend has remained, daring others to prove it.

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. When he finally returned to Britain, Spruce reported that he'd uncovered Valverde's guide and a related map, made by a man named Atanasio Guzman.

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, writing: "There are thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft, the most beautiful goldsmith works. . ." He detailed life-size human figurines, birds and other animals, flowers, and cornstalks and "the most incredible jewelry" and "golden vases full of emeralds." But, Blake claimed, "I could not remove it alone, nor could thousands of men."

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