Christopher Columbus returned to Spain following his famous 1492 voyage with stories of a land of limitless wealth. According to Columbus, he 'd seen gold-filled streams and natives adorned in elaborate jewelry. This was only the beginning, as locals had told Columbus of great kingdoms to the west. Kingdoms full of gold and willing subjects.

From 1492 to 1519, the lure of these kingdoms sent Spaniards to the Americas. Columbus himself made four voyages to the New World. He found no kingdoms, however, and instead died in obscurity and poverty. Others who journeyed to the Americas in the early 16th century met this same fate. It was beginning to look like the tales of wealthy kingdoms were bunk.


Hernan Cortes

Things changed in 1519. Sailing from a Spanish outpost on Cuba, a few hundred Spaniards under the command of Hernan Cortes 'a bureaucrat of ignoble birth 'landed on the coast of Mexico. There locals informed the new arrivals of a great kingdom in the interior. Operating on this information, the Spaniards marched to the site of modern-day Mexico City where they found Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. With a population dwarfing any city in Europe, Tenochtitlan was what the Spanish had dreamt of since Columbus had first returned from the Americas. In the city, huge temples blocked the sky, aqueducts poured fresh water down innumerable fountains, elaborate murals covered buildings, and imposing statues stood guard on every corner. And there was gold. Lots of gold.


Tenochtitlan around 1500

After a two-year struggle in which disease and warfare decimated the Aztecs, Cortes conquered Tenochtitlan and took possession of the city 's vast stores of gold. The victory also brought fame and prominent titles in the Spanish government. Cortes rose from obscurity to become one of the wealthiest, most-powerful people in the world. Seeing this astonishing assent up the social ladder, thousands of would-be conquistadors set out across the Americas in search of their own wealthy Indian kingdoms. If Tenochtitlan was real, then there must be dozens, hundreds of similar cities waiting to be conquered.


Incan city

Over the next fifty years, with the notable exception of Francisco Pizarro 's conquest of the Incas of Peru, those searching for a wealthy kingdom failed. Some conquistadors, however, returned from their expeditions believing that they were on the verge of finding an Indian kingdom, but had fallen just short.

These failed conquistadors even had names for their 'just over the next hill ' kingdoms. Names like Quivira, El Dorado, Appalachia. Tales of 'lost cities ' would lure conquistadors into the unknown throughout the 16th century, but by 1600, most had begun to disregard the kingdoms as nothing more than rumors or myth.

Likewise, historians have scoffed at the idea of lost cities and Indian kingdoms. To scholars, they were products of failed conquistadors believing in the unbelievable. Indians made up tales of gold just over the next hill to expedite the Spanish departure from their villages. Spaniards believed the stories because they wanted to. A wealthy city just over the next hill meant that they were on the verge of changing their life for the better. There were no lost cities, just overactive imaginations.

Recent archeological discoveries and historical interpretations, however, may force a rewrite of the history books, as it seems that some of the old conquistadors ' tales may have a basis in reality. Here 's a list of the lost cities of the Americas that we may have found or may now have an explanation for.

10. Ciudad Blanca

When the Spanish arrived in what would eventually be known as the Mosquitia Forest of Honduras, they found a jungle filled with snakes, mosquitoes, heat, and hostile Indians. They also, however, heard tales of a mythical city known as Ciudad Blanca. According to local Indians, deep in the Honduran jungle resided a city surrounded by white walls covered in depictions of monkeys. Monkey statues also dotted the city, protecting its extensive trove of gold artifacts.

Rumors about Ciudad Blanca emerged from the Honduran countryside during the Spanish colonial period. Hernan Cortes, in fact, heard that a kingdom in Mosquitia dwarfed that of the Aztecs. The Spanish, however, were unable to find any lost cities. Those who ventured into the Mosquitia emerged on death 's door or not at all.

Beginning in the twentieth century, the American scientific community began to sponsor expeditions into Honduras to find Ciudad Blanca. Theodore Morde, who would later become famous for attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler, led the most successful of these.


Mayan City in Honduras

In 1940, Morde along with two companions spent months in the Honduran jungle before emerging with exciting news: the expedition had been successful. They 'd found Ciudad Blanca and it was everything it had been rumored to be. Gold was everywhere. United States entry into World War 2, however, prevented an immediate follow up expedition. Morde died before disclosing the location of Ciudad Blanca.

What historians used to believe:

In 2008, author Christopher Stewart followed Morde to Honduras where he used the explorer 's notes to search for Ciudad Blanca. Chris Begley, an archeologist who had uncovered dozens of pre-Columbian sites in Central America, joined Stewart. While on their trek, the two men discovered a sizable city that, while impressive, was not the metropolis described by Morde or the Indians in the 1500s.

In Stewart 's 2012 book Jungleland, Begley concluded that Ciudad Blanca was nothing more than a legend. There are ancient cities hidden in the Mosquitia Forest, but none dedicated to a monkey god, none filled with gold, and none the rumored size of Ciudad Blanca. The Spaniards had heard Indian tales of their afterlife and believed that they were talking about a physical, not spiritual, place. As for Morde 's discover, Begley argued that the explorer found Indian ruins, but lacking archeological experience, believed them to be more important than they were in reality. Morde may also have exaggerated what he found to look more impressive to America 's historical community.

What some historians now believe:

It 's starting to look like Stewart should have held off publishing his book a little longer. In 2012, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo announced that Ciudad Blanca had been found. Prior to Lobo 's announcement, the University of Honduras in cooperation with U.C., Berkley had begun to sweep the Honduran countryside with an airplane equipped with a LiDAR, a laser-device capable of penetrating the dense vegetation of the Honduran jungle to map what 's beneath. During its mapping, the LiDAR found dozens of cities, including a huge cluster of man-made structures that dwarf any known Mosquitia ruins.


Lidar image with man made structures

Archeologists are currently trekking into the Honduran jungle to determine if the ruins are the legendary Ciudad Blanca. Apparently, actor Ewan McGregor and a documentary crew have joined them. Will these ruins prove to be Ciudad Blanca? Skeptical archeologists argue that even if the ruins turn out to be larger and more impressive than any found in earlier expeditions to Honduras, it still doesn 't mean that they 're Ciudad Blanca. Other archeologists argue, 'hey, shut the hell up. We just found a lost civilization. '

9. Amazonia

In 1541, Gonzalo Pizarro 'brother of the conqueror of the Incas, Francisco Pizarro 'crossed the Andes Mountains and descended the Amazon River following rumors of a kingdom full of spices and treasure. Upon reaching the Amazon River Basin, Pizarro 's men ran out of food and many died in the inhospitable jungle climate. So Pizarro ordered his army to build a boat and sent officer Francisco Orellana and fifty men to sail down the Amazon in search of food.


Spanish building a boat to float the Amazon

When Orellana and his men came upon food in an Indian village, they were unable to return to Pizarro owing to strong river currents. Believing South America to be much smaller than it was in reality, Orellana decided to sail on to the Atlantic Ocean, where he could flag down a Spanish ship, return to Peru, and send help to Pizarro over the Andes.

Orellana and his men spent the following eight months navigating the Amazon. During this time, they floated past cities that were over two miles long with massive roads leading to even bigger cities in the interior. Multi-storied stone homes peaked out over gigantic walls. Unable to investigate the metropolises up close because Indians fired arrows at them any time they approached the shore, the men had to imagine what mysteries these cities contained. In one of the few instances where the men dared to land, large Indian women attacked them. Barely escaping the encounter, Orellana began calling the populous kingdom the Amazon, after the mythical Greek warrior women.


Sixteenth century Spanish map. Note the kingdom in the center of the Amazon

The disheveled Spaniards eventually made their way back to Spain and told of the wealth they 'd seen in the Amazon. Subsequent expeditions were unable to return to the kingdom of the warrior women and much of the jungle remained untouched by Europeans for the next 400 years.

What historians used to believe:

Until recently, historians thought that Orellana was lying about his time in the Amazon. They argued that Orellana told of finding a great Indian kingdom because he wanted to temper accusations that he had abandoned Gonzalo Pizarro, who had to make his way out of the Amazon without Orellana 's assistance. The failed conquistador may have also hoped that the Crown would authorize another expedition, one into the Amazon interior with Orellana as its commander. To make his story more exciting, Orellana added mythical details such as his encounter with Amazon women.

Historians also used modern Amazon population figures to discredit Orellana. In the 20th century, few people lived in the Amazon. Those who did lived subsistence lifestyles in scattered villages. To historians, there was no way that an inhospitable jungle could support a large civilization.

What some historians now believe:

In the past twenty years, archeologists have begun to believe Orellana 's report. While researching in the Amazon, archeologists began to notice that fruit trees grew in organized patterns. Investigating these 'orchards, ' they noticed that the soil consisted of a precise mix of pottery and charcoal, indicating that human hands had created it. This manufactured soil 'which archaeologists refer to as 'terra preta covers an area of the Amazon larger than the size of France and is much more fertile than normal Amazon dirt.


Terra Preta and normal soil

Archeologists and historians now believe that the Amazon had a population of over 5 million people living off foodstuffs grown on manufactured terra preta. Orellana and his men were the only Europeans to see this civilization before disease wiped out 90 percent of its population. By the time archeologists arrived 400-years later, the remaining Indians had long ago left their large, hard to maintain cities.


Reconstructed Amazon city

What happened to the stone buildings Orellana claimed to have seen? Wouldn 't they have survived to modern times? Unable to investigate Indian buildings at close range, the conquistador mistook adobe for stone. When the Indians abandoned their cities following the onset of disease, the adobe buildings collapsed under the pressure of encroaching roots and vines. Vegetation covered roads and plazas until nothing remained but jungle. Over hundreds of years, even the descendants of the Amazon Indians forgot about their ancestors ' advanced civilization.

8. El Dorado

In 1537, as the Incan Empire crumbled in Peru, Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Quesada was in the process of subduing the Muisca People in what is today Colombia. Although the Muisca 's didn 't have the monumental architecture of the Incas or Aztecs, they had gold. But they claimed that neighboring Indians had even more. A chief named El Dorado, or the Golden One, ruled these people. El Dorado earned his name because he daily covered himself in gold dust, floated on a lake, and threw gold treasures into its depth as an offering to the gods. The Muiscas indicated that El Dorado 's lake was Lake Guatavita to the northwest.


El Dorado being covered in gold

The Spanish attempted to obtain the gold sitting at the bottom of Lake Guatavita in 1545 and 1580. During the first attempt, Quesada used enslaved Muisca Indians to form a long line with buckets to drain the lake. In spite of the seemingly foolishness of this plan, Quesada was able to drain the lake three meters before rains refilled it. The Indians ' efforts weren 't completely wasted, as workers discovered a number of gold Indian artifacts while the lake was at a lower level.


Indian artifact recovered from the lake

In 1580, Spaniard Antonio de Sep lveda revived the effort to drain Lake Guatavita when he ordered workers to cut a V-shape into the edge of the crater lake. Unfortunately for Sep lveda and those living below the lake, water flowing out of the lake destroyed his workers ' scaffolding, killing the men, as well as villagers in a settlement below the lake. Sep lveda abandoned the project shortly thereafter.


Lake Guatavita with v-shaped notch carved into it

Even before attempting to drain Lake Guatavita, the Spanish realized that Muisca people were not the source of their gold. They obtained it through trade with a richer tribe. So the Spanish started to think that even if there were gold in Lake Guatavita, it wouldn 't be the lake of the real El Dorado. The Muisca were imitating a ritual performed by the ruler of a larger, wealthier, and more distant city. El Dorado stopped being a person and became a city. So the Spanish, as well as an English expedition under Sir Walter Raleigh, began searching across northern South America for the true source of the Muisca 's gold. None found it.

What historians used to believe:

Historians used to believe that the Muisca people exaggerated or invented the story of El Dorado. Gold is Muisca symbolism for the sun and therefore El Dorado may be a mythical Muisca sun god. Again, the Spanish interpreted allegory as reality.

What some historians now believe:

Some historians argue that the Incas are the origin of the El Dorado story. In 2001, historians recovered a letter from a Spanish friar who had journeyed along an Incan path into the Amazon jungle near the Peruvian-Colombian border. The friar described entering a kingdom of pale-skinned Indians who had contact with the Incas and may have been an offshoot of the Incas.

Following the friar 's description, from 2001 to 2012, amateur archeologists have attempted to see how far the Incan empire extended into the Amazon. In 2004, they discovered a large petroglyph mural in eastern Peru that some believe to have Incan origins. Stone walls and roads extend deep into the Amazon, as well. Although mainstream archeologists are hesitant to believe that the Incas could have built city close enough to Colombia to influence the Muisca El Dorado legend, they may have to change their tune if Incan ruins are discovered in the Amazon.


Supposed Incan petroglyphs in the Amazon

7. The Lost City of Z

Following the conquest of the Incas, rumors of an Indian kingdom on the edge of the Andes and the Amazon jungle sent hundreds of explorers into South America 's interior. Orellana went directly east into the heart of the Amazon and found Amazonia. Quesada went northeast, conquered the Muisca Indians, and found what he believed to be El Dorado. There were no major expeditions southeast from Peru into what is today the Bolivia-Brazil border. As such, any Indian kingdom in the area remained unfound until the 1700s when the Portuguese in Brazil approached the region from the east.

In 1753, Portuguese explorer Jo o da Silva Guimar es traveled to what is today the Bolivia-Brazil border and discovered what he claimed to be a large, abandoned stone city. In elaborate detail, Guimar es described walking through archways into empty plazas. He strolled through homes and building that he described as saloons. Unlike other accounts of lost kingdoms, Guimar es doesn 't dwell on the city 's wealth. He mentions finding a silver nail and a gold coin, but nothing that would make someone rich for life. Perhaps because of this, no one searched for the city for over 150 years and the account of Guimar es 's journey sat on a shelf in a Brazilian library gathering dust.


Percy Fawcett and the map of his jungle

The person, then, to bring attention to the possibility of an Indian kingdom on the Bolivia-Brazil border was Englishman Percy Fawcett in the 20th century. Having read Guimar es account, Fawcett came to believe that this stone city could explain the origins of all civilization in the Americas. A place where all great Indian kingdoms derived their culture.

Fawcett devoted his life to finding the city, which he called the Lost City of Z, and made seven expeditions into the Amazon from 1906 to 1925. He journeyed alone on many of these trips, other times he traveled with his son. Each expedition ended in disappointment. Locals told Fawcett of rumored kingdoms where Indians used to live in large cities, but the explorer discovered nothing beyond a few relics. He came out of the jungle disappointed after each of these expeditions, but 'like the conquistadors that had come before him 'he always thought that he had been one step away from finding his prize. In 1925, Fawcett 's obsession led him to enter the jungle for an eighth and final time. After leaving an Indian village, Fawcett made his way north and was never seen again.


Fawcett’s final journey

What historians used to believe:

Most historians don 't know what they 're talking about when it comes to the Lost City of Z, as they lack a geographical understanding of the Amazon. They confuse the Lost City of Z with El Dorado, even though that city has its origins in Columbia, a thousand miles to the north of Fawcett 's last expedition. Historians also confuse the lost city with Orellana 's Amazon kingdom, although Fawcett was hundreds of miles away from the Amazon River during his expeditions.


Landscape near the Bolivia-Brazil border

The few archeologists who grasp that Fawcett was exploring the area near today 's Brazil-Bolivia border argue that the stone city seen by Guimar es was an illusion created by the region 's landscape. From a distance, naturally created rock pillars look manmade. This confused Guimar es, whose writings then fooled Fawcett. Obsessed with finding the stone city, Fawcett then took any information that seemingly confirmed his belief in a stone city and disregarded information that disproved his theories.

What some historians now believe:

Google Earth says that Fawcett was on to something. Beginning in 1999, people began to discover geometric shapes in the countryside near the Bolivia-Brazil border using satellite imagery. After archeologists investigated, they found the region covered in hundreds of geometric earthworks, as well as miles of roads and canals. Moats surrounded plateaus that used to have thousands of wood homes and temples. These cities supported populations of upwards of 60,000 people.


Earthworks near Bolivia-Brazil border

Most archeologists now believe that a complex civilization lived in this area. Like the Indians seen by Orellana, the Indians who lived on the Brazil-Bolivia border mastered their environment. Instead of terra preta soil, they used irrigation to create marshes where they could grow food in abundance. Like other Indian cultures, disease devastated their civilization, leaving only canals and mounds as evidence of their existence.

There 's still no explanation for Guimar es account of a stone city, however.

6. Appalachia

In 1528, a Spanish army under Panfilo de Narvaez landed in Florida in search of an Indian kingdom. There, local Indians reported that a kingdom named Appalachia existed to the north. Following these directions, Narvaez and his men traveled to what is today southern Georgia, where they found a densely populated Indian city dotted with large earth mounds. The Indians boasted complex pottery and detailed art. The Spanish even heard rumors that larger, more impressive cities resided further in the interior. Running low on supplies, the men of the Narvaez expedition couldn 't investigate these claims, so they returned to Mexico.


Mound culture.

In 1539, an expedition under Hernando De Soto followed Narvaez 's trail to what is today the U.S. Southeast and found dozens of populous mound cities full of riches. A queen ruled one confederation and greeted the conquistadors with a cache of pearls. De Soto had a single minded interest in gold, however, one commodity the mound people lacked, so the Spanish departed the mound people 's territory yet again.


A large mound city.

A third expedition to Appalachia under Juan Pardo set out in 1566. Like with Narvaez and De Soto, the mound cities impressed Pardo. Unlike the previous explorers, Pardo stayed among the mound people, establishing six forts. The main settlement resided at the base of a large mound in a sizable city. When an Indian uprising in 1568 destroyed Pardo 's forts, the Spanish abandoned their exploration of Appalachia.

From 1568 to the English arrival in Virginia in 1607, no more expeditions ventured into the Southeast 's interior. When the English moved inland in the late 1600s, they rarely commented on the mounds. Many of those who did believed them to be natural formations, unable to comprehend that Indians could construct such large monuments.

What historians used to believe:

Historians knew that Appalachia existed, but they felt that Narvaez, De Soto, and Pardo had exaggerated the mound cities ' population size and cultural complexity. These historians argued that the mound cities encountered by the Spaniards in the Southeast were a less organized, less populous branch of a civilization known as the Mississippi Culture. The Mississippi Culture had reached its height in the 1300s, and based on the number of mound sites, was centered in Illinois, not near Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas, which are home to few mounds.

What some historians now believe:

Historians think that there used to be more mounds and more Indians when the conquistadors marched through the Southeast. Like with the Amazon Indians, disease explains the population decrease in the Southeast. Disease, however, can 't destroy mounds. Where did they go?

English and American settlers destroyed them. Following English colonization of the New World, settlers poured into the American Southeast and cultivated land for cash crops. When it proved difficult to plant on the steep inclines of Indian mounds, farmers ploughed them over. Those looking for dirt harvested it from mounds. People felt that their financial well-being was more important than a mound of dirt.


Settlers taking dirt from an Indian mound.

A 2007 archeological investigation illustrates the degree of mound destruction in the Southeast. During the dig, archeologists uncovered what they believed to be the location of Juan Pardo 's settlement, which he had described as being at the base of a large mound. With no mounds nearby, archeologists were confused until they realized that a nearby two-foot plateau had once been the base of a mound. Farmers had ploughed it over years before. Many historians believe that hundreds of mounds met a similar fate.


All that’s left of what used to be a large Indian mound.

5. Cibola

The Narvaez expedition led to a search for another lost city. After leaving Appalachia, the men of the Narvaez expedition went west trying to return to Mexico. They passed through Texas, where all but four men succumbed to disease and Indian attack. An African slave named Esteban was among these survivors and he became proficient in a variety of Indian languages. Local Indians who had never seen someone of his skin color worshipped the man as a god. When Esteban and the three other survivors passed though today 's West Texas, local Indians told them that a kingdom existed to the north where people wore cotton clothing, had shiny metal, and lived in multi-story homes. The survivors designated the kingdom Cibola.


Map depicting the Seven Cities of Cibola

When the survivors returned to Mexico City, they relayed the story of Cibola. Esteban was returned to slavery. Spanish Friar Marcos de Niza, excited by the tales of Cibola, bought Esteban and traveled in the direction of New Mexico. After ordering Esteban ahead with some Indian guides, the guides returned with some shocking news: Esteban had discovered Cibola and it was everything that had been promised. Buildings were made of gold and the Cibola had a population greater than that of Tenochtitlan. Armed with this news, Niza went ahead and viewed Cibola from a distant mountain. Seeing the kingdom glittering in the sunlight, Niza returned to Central Mexico with news that he 'd found Cibola.

Would-be conquistador Francisco Coronado assembled a 2,000-man army and marched on Cibola, finding only adobe villages where Niza had promised gold cities. These Pueblo Indians lived in multi-story buildings, wore cotton clothing, carried copper plates and jewelry, walked on wide roads, had miles of complex irrigation canals, and their largest cities boasted populations over 10,000 people, but they had no gold. Because of this, Coronado cursed Niva and left Pueblo Territory.


Pueblo village

What historians used to believe:

Historians suppose that a mirage fooled Friar Niza into thinking he 'd found Cibola. The distant Pueblo villages shined liked gold because their adobe construct contained mica, which shimmered at sunset. Niza made a mistake.

What some historians now believe:

Historians have begun to question whether Niza actually saw the cities he described as Cibola. Instead, they argue that Niza turned around when he 'd heard that Indians had killed Esteban, fearing that the same fate would befall him. To deter accusations of cowardice, the friar repeated the account of Cibola told to him by Esteban 's guides as if he 'd personally witnessed it.

One historian has posited that Esteban made up the story of golden cities to escape slavery. He told his Indian guides to tell Niza that he 'd died, but he 'd found Cibola before he did. Esteban then headed east towards Texas, knowing that the Spanish would be too preoccupied finding Cibola to look for him. There 's no way to prove this theory, but it makes a great story. And if true, it explains the origins of Cibola.

4. Quivira

After leaving Pueblo country in what is today 's New Mexico in 1540, Francisco Coronado set out east across the North American Plains. An Indian who had been a prisoners of the Pueblos, whom the Spanish called the Turk because of his Middle Eastern appearance, had told the Spanish of a great city on the plains where golden cups hung from trees. The Turk called the city Quivira.


The Turk leading the Spanish across the plains

After marching hundreds of miles while seeing nothing but grass and buffalo, the Spanish came upon a large cluster of settlements surrounded by vast fields of crops. Hundreds of wooden homes made up Quivira, which had a far bigger population than anything the Spaniards had seen since leaving New Mexico. It, however, contained no gold. Upset that they 'd been lied to, Coronado had the Turk killed. The Spanish then departed North America convinced that the continent contained no Indian kingdoms.



What historians used to believe:

All historians recognized that Quivira was real, and they have agreed that the Turk made up the stories of Quivira 's gold. He was a slave of the Pueblos and was just hoping that the Spanish would return him to somewhere near his home, where he 'd be able to escape.

Because Coronado 's description of Quivira is detailed, historians even agreed that it was a settlement of Wichita Indians, a semi-nomadic Indian tribe. Historians, however, have disagreed on Quivira 's location and population size. Few think it 's possible that the Wichitas could have built such a large city on the plains, as the region couldn 't sustain such a population.

What some historians now believe:

Having discovered armor and other Spanish metal items across the North American Plains, archeologists have been able to trace Coronado 's trail to Kansas. There they 've unearthed a cluster of Wichita Indian villages that altogether would have had a population of over 10,000 persons. Again, this wouldn 't be a large kingdom by any means, but it would be the biggest population on the American Plains until the late 1800s.

3. Saguenay

The Spanish weren 't the only ones to search the Americas for Indian kingdoms. In 1535, the French sent out an expedition under Jacques Cartier to explore the St. Lawrence River in modern-day Canada. Cartier 's primary goal was to find a sea route to the Orient. After descending the St. Lawrence to today 's Quebec, Cartier and his 110 men made camp to wait out the winter, as ice had formed around their ships. During the winter, Iroqouis Indians came to trade with the French, and their chief Donnacona told Cartier about a kingdom to the north, a place rich in furs where light-skinned, blond men worked plentiful gold and silver mines.


Cartier meeting Donnacona

With limited supplies and his men ill equipped for an overland journey, Cartier returned to France in 1536. He brought Donnacona with him in order that the chief could relate the tale of Saguenay. The King of France, excited at the prospect of finding his own Aztec or Incan kingdom, ordered a return voyage to Canada. This time Cartier was to bring five ships and hundreds of men, enough to establish a colony and conquer Saguenay in the name of France.

Tumult in Europe prevented this Cartier from returning to Canada until 1541. When the French arrived near modern-day Quebec, they constructed fifty homes, built palisades, and planted crops. Cartier then set out in search of Saguenay in September. The Canadian winter cut the expedition short, however, so Cartier returned to the French colony, where he found his settlers dying of scurvy. Local Indian had also turned hostile, killing 35 Frenchmen. After suffering through a particularly harsh Canadian winter, Cartier and his fellow French decided to suspend the search for Saguenay and returned to France.


Champlain’s settlement near modern-day Quebec. Saguenay to the north.

The French did not return to Canada until 1603. By that time, rumors of Saguenay had faded. Local Indians were dying of European diseases in droves. The French had also found another source of wealth: furs. Saguenay was forgotten.

What historians used to believe:

Historians have few explanations for Saguenay. It could be an Indian myth, concocted to convince the French to return to Iroquois territory to trade. Conversely, the Iroquois may have told of a kingdom to the North in order to hasten French departure from their hunting grounds.

Saguenay may also have been an allegory or a misinterpretation. The kingdom may have been the Iroquois version of heaven, a place of great wealth, devoid of want. The French may have also misunderstood Donnacona. Instead of a different civilization, the chief may have been talking about his hometown. This Iroquois capital would have a higher population than other areas, and it 'd be wealthy in the things of value to the Iroquois: furs and food.

What some historians now believe:

Although these explanations are logical, a more controversial theory postulates that Saguenay was a Viking settlement. In 1000 B.C.E., Vikings under Leif Erickson launched from a Norse settlement on Greenland and made landfall on Newfoundland off the Canadian coast. There they built longhouses and remained for an indeterminate amount of time. At some point, the Vikings abandoned the settlement on Newfoundland.

The Saguenay as a Viking settlement explanation makes sense in many ways. Archeologists have unearthed the remains of the Viking longhouses and have found Viking artifacts throughout northeastern North America. This evidence, as well as Norse histories, shows that Vikings had contact with local Indians, be it through trade or war. Although Vikings were gone from Newfoundland by the time of Cartier 's arrival, Donnacona may have been passing down an oral history from his ancestors about the men with white skin who had metal weapons.

There 's one big problem with this theory: Newfoundland is directly east of where Cartier met Donnacona, not north. The Iroquois would have been directing the French back the way they came.


Excavation on Bafflin Island.

In 1999, an archeologist on Bafflin Island in Canada found woven cloth identical to that found in Viking settlements on Greenland. This has led archeologist Patricia Sutherland to begin excavating on Bafflin, located almost directly north of Cartier 's settlement. The investigation, which continues today, has found corpses of Old World rats, European-style drills, whalebone shovels like those used in Norse Greenland, traces of metal, and Viking-style homes. Although some experts await more evidence before declaring Bafflin a Norse settlement, it is looking more and more like the Vikings had a presence on the island. Donnacona may have been speaking of Bafflin when he spoke to Cartier.


Bafflin Island. Almost directly north of Quebec.

2. The Last City of the Incas

As Francisco Pizarro was completing his conquest of the Incan Empire, a few Incan nobles and their followers managed to escape subjugation in 1539. Bringing as much gold and silver as they could carry, the Incas escaped high into the Andes Mountains where they built the city of Vilcabamba in the style of Cuzco. They made waterfalls to bring in fresh water and terraced nearby mountains to grow crops. The last of the Incas also constructed a massive defensive wall in order to defend against the Spanish should they attack. The wall was unneeded for over thirty years, however, as the Spanish were unable to find Vilcabamba. In the meantime, this last Incan city thrived.


Indian wall in Peru

In 1572, however, the Spanish discovered Vilcabamba and the wall did little to stop them from destroying the city and finally subjugating the last of the Incas. The conquerors took everything of value and burned what remained. Records indicating the location of the surviving stone ruins were lost.

What historians used to believe:

In 1911, Hiram Bingham, an explorer working for National Geographic Magazine, began searching the Andes for what remained of Vilcabamba. During his expedition, he came upon a large undisturbed city, which he called Machu Picchu. Bingham argued that Machu Picchu was Vilcabamba, as it showed signs that Incan royalty had resided there. It also fit the few descriptions of Vilcabamba.


Machu Picchu

Except for one thing: Machu Picchu was still in good condition. Over 300 years since the Spanish had supposedly destroyed Vilcabamba, Machu Picchu showed little sign of damage. Therefore, historians and archeologists refuted Bingham 's hypothesis on Machu Picchu 's origins. Instead, most Incan experts believe that Machu Picchu was a royal estate that had been abandoned around the time of the Spanish conquest.

What some historians now believe:

If Machu Picchu isn 't Vilcabamba, where is it? Recent findings point to two locations. In the same year that Bingham discovered Machu Picchu, he found another Incan city in the Andes, which he called Esp ritu Pampa. Bingham dismissed Esp ritu Pampa as an insignificant find. He found Spanish tiles among the city 's ruins, leading him to believe that the city had European, not Incan origins.


Ruins of Espiritu Pampa

In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers made discoveries that forced a reevaluation of Esp ritu Pampa as Vilcabamba. Letters uncovered in a museum in Spain documenting the 1572 conquest of Vilcabamba place the lost city 's location near Vilcabamba. Historians also found evidence of early Incan adoption of Spanish tile for their homes, meaning that the tile found in Esp ritu Pampa could have been Indian made. Finally, follow up expeditions to Esp ritu Pampa discovered a large defensive wall, as well as evidence that the site had been burned hundreds of years earlier.

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Man made waterfall at Espiritu Pampa

Although Esp ritu Pampa remains the prime candidate for Vilcabamba, archeological excavations in 2001 and 2002 indicate that another Andean site, Cerro Victoria, could be the lost city. It holds a large royal tomb, has a large wall, and it contains architecture similar to that of late Incan sites. Future discoveries may place Cerro Victoria as the site of Vilcabamba.

1. The City of the Caesars

In 1520, as Ferdinand Magellan was circumventing the globe for the first time in history, he stopped at the southern tip of South America to gather food and information from locals. There his men came upon a large man whom they described as a giant with enormous hands and feet. The Spanish kidnapped the giant, brought him aboard their ship, and grilled him about what lay in the interior. Using hand signals, the man told the Spaniards about his fertile homeland in the interior, where more large people lived. The region henceforth became known as Patagonia. 'Pata ' meaning foot and 'gon ' thought to have been a derivation of giant. So Patagonia became the land of the bigfoot.

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Land of the Bigfoot

Subsequent expeditions not only confirmed that the people of Patagonia where much larger than Europeans, but they added details of a wealthy kingdom in the Patagonian interior. One such story came from Sebastian Cabot, son of John Cabot, the first European to see North America. From 1526-1530, the younger Cabot explored South America 's east coast as well as the interior of today 's Argentina.


In 1528, one of Cabot 's men, Francisco Cesar, took an expedition from the site of present day Buenos Aires, headed west, and came upon mountains where he found an Indian city rich in emeralds and silver. Cesar appropriately called the city 'The City of Caesars. ' After leaving the City of Caesars, Cesar claimed to have traveled as far west as Peru before returning to South America 's east coast. From there he sailed back to Spain. Because Cesar did not keep accurate maps of his journey, people in Spain believed that Incas had built the City of Caesars.

Stories of wealthy cities and giants continued to filter out of the Southern Cone for the remainder of the sixteenth century. Famous English explorer Francis Drake skirted the southern tip of the continent and came away convinced that the area contained big people and wealth. When many ships wrecked in the turbulent environment of the southern tip, the legend of the City of Caesars grew. Rescued shipwreck survivors told tales of wealthy cities and soon some began to say that shipwrecked survivors had actually founded the City of the Caesars. Stories of a floating city that could appear and disappear at will also came out of Patagonia.

The tale of the City of Caesars endured into the seventeenth century. In 1650, two Spanish deserters who had fled their posts into the Andes returned to civilization with a fantastic story. They had found a city of white men, descendants of early Spanish settlers. Silver-roofed palaces filled this city.

Explorers set out in search of the lost kingdom, but almost all returned with nothing to show for their troubles. One traveler in the eighteenth century, however, claimed that he had found a city of stone, two miles from one end to the other. Silver and jewels adorned every home. Peppers and radishes grew everywhere. There does not seem to have been a follow up expedition to confirm the man 's claims and after that, rumors about the City of Caesars died out.

What historians used to believe:

Historians have written almost nothing about the exploration and colonization of the Southern Cone of South America. For example, the last time anyone wrote about Sebastian Cabot was in the 1800s. It 's not that the sources aren 't there. They are and they 're readily available online. It just seems that no one 's gotten around to studying them.

The few historians that have written about this area of history argued the same things that were said about the lost kingdoms above. Myth, exaggeration, and lies were responsible for the City of Caesars and Patagonian giant legends.

These historians based their arguments on a number of things. Because Patagonia is distant from other highly organized Indian civilizations, there could be no Indian kingdoms in the region. Francisco Cesar conjured up the city to make himself look good to the Crown. If there is any truth to Cesar 's story, he was describing a Cordoba, a silver rich area of Argentina with no complex Indian societies. The giants of Patagonia were not, in fact, giants, but people of slightly larger height than Europeans. The two deserters made up their discovery of the large city to avoid prison.

What some historians now believe:

Who knows? The City of Caesars and the Patagonian giants could be a myths. The above explanations make sense and are in all likelihood correct. As we 've seen in previous entries, however, myths usually have some connection to reality. So the City of Ceasars could be a forgotten Spanish fort, a shipwreck survivors ' settlement, or even, somehow, a distant Incan outpost. Because historians have not studied South American history in depth, we don 't know for sure.

Unfortunately, this failure leaves the door open for ridiculous theorists to explain the City of Caesars. One group, for example, claims that the city was a Templar Knights outpost. It was not a Knights of the Templar fort. Nor is it a disappearing city or a floating city, a la Bioshock Infinite. And anyone who believes that it was a city full of giants or bigfoots can '.

You know what? Since we don 't know, let 's call the City of Caesars a bigfoot city. As always on this website, whenever we don 't know an answer, we blame yetis. So, for those who don 't know, sasquatches built the City of Caesars.


Brad Folsom

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