The Netflix series Outer Banks is full of teen drama and epic treasure hunts, but during Season 3 of the show, it appears they're going after one of the most infamous treasures of all: El Dorado. The "City of Gold" has been referenced in many pieces of pop culture over the years, such as National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Road to El Dorado, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Lost City of Z, and more.
Is El Dorado, and its treasure, real? Keep reading for everything you need to know about the differences between fiction and reality.
Is El Dorado's treasure real?
There is more than one myth connected to El Dorado, which literally translated simply means "The Golden." The truth of the story refers to "El Hombre Dorado" or "El Rey Dorado," which means "The Golden Man/The Golden King."
According to the BBC, El Dorado was not a place but a person. The legend stems from a rite of passage ceremony from the Indigenous Muisca peoples who live in the Altiplano Cundiboyacense of Colombia. During the ceremony, the tribal chief or "zipa" would cover himself with gold dust and submerge himself in Lake Guatavita while his attendants threw gold and other jewels into the lake.
The basis for this ceremony arrives from writer Juan Rodriguez Freyle's 1636 book, The Conquest and Discovery of the New Kingdom of Granada. Modern research employed by archeologists, especially from the Museo Del Oro and UCL Institute of Archaeology, suggests that within the Muisca society, carved golden objects were used as offerings to the gods to balance the universe.
Unfortunately, El Dorado went from a ritual by South American Indigenous peoples to rumors of a legendary city filled with gold rather quickly. The Spanish launched a conquest of the Muisca peoples in 1536 after hearing rumors of El Dorado sparked by embellishments of accounts of the zipa ceremony, according to John Hemming's 1979 book The Search for El Dorado.
Additionally, per Live Science, a second version of the El Dorado myth sparked in 1541 when conquistador Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, writing from Ecuador, referred to El Dorado as a "great lord or monarch [who] constantly goes about covered with gold."
Regardless of the details, during the mid-1500s, conquistadors invaded various parts of South America in search of what they believed to be a vast treasure, including expeditions by Germans Nikolaus Federmann and Georg von Speyer, Sebastian de Benalcazar, the Quesada brothers, Gonzalo Pizarro, and many, many more.
The alleged location of El Dorado as a city varied. Sir Walter Raleigh, for example, believed El Dorado was located in a mythological lake known as Lake Parime, which at the time, was thought to be in Guyana. Later expeditions believed El Dorado to be in Venezeula, while others considered the Amazon River a significant key to El Dorado.
The myth of El Dorado at one point became seven cities of gold, known as the Seven Cities of Cíbola. According to National Geographic, Franciscan priest Friar Marcos de Niza reported to Spanish officials in Mexico in 1539 that he had personally seen a legendary city in what is now Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. However, conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado debunked the myth in 1540 when he visited "Cíbola" for himself and found no treasures.
What does all of this conflation between mythology and reality mean for Outer Banks? It could mean that the main cast of characters will end up in more trouble than they expect chasing a city of gold that doesn't exist. Fans will have to tune in to find out when Outer Banks Season 3 airs on Feb. 23, 2023.