Expedition to Tayos Caves: Never Before Seen Photographs Shed Light on Mysterious Underground Network
The Tayos caves of Ecuador are a legendary vast natural underground network of caves spanning many kilometres, very little of which has been officially explored. The Tayos caves (Cueva de los Tayos) reached worldwide attention in 1973 when Erich von Däniken released his bestselling and controversial book The Gold of the Gods , in which he claimed that Argentinian-Hungarian entrepreneur Juan Moricz discovered gold, unusual sculptures, and a library of metal tablets in a series of artificial tunnels within the caves. Tayos was also mentioned as the location of Father Crespi’s collection of mysterious golden artifacts, given to him by the indigenous people of Ecuador. The truth behind the Tayos caves has remained out-of-reach, so last month Ancient Origins carried out an expedition to the caves to see just what lay within this enigmatic subterranean world.
Written references to the Tayos caves go back as far as 1860, but it has been known to the indigenous Shuar people for much longer. The caves sit within Shuar territory and is one of the reasons why it has rarely been explored – the Shuar decide who is allowed access to their sacred land.
In 1976, the largest and most expensive exploration of Tayos cave was launched, led by Stan Hall, and involving over a hundred people, including British and Ecuadorian military personnel, expert cavers, as well as Neil Armstrong. Numerous archaeological items of ancient origin were recovered in the caves, but nothing that matched the description of the treasures of von Däniken’s book. The Shuar people stated they had investigated the wrong cave, and the location of the treasures was secret.
Inside Tayos cave. Some features, such as straight edges and geometric shapes, suggest human intervention ( Wikipedia)
Preparing for the expedition
Organizing an expedition to Tayos was difficult. Very little information is available about the caves, and the Ecuadorian government does not get involved, since the caves lie within Shuar territory. The Shuar people are members of the Jivaroan peoples, who are Amazon tribes living between the upper mountains of the Andes, and the tropical rainforests and savannas of the Amazonian lowlands, in Ecuador extending to Peru. At least 40,000 Shuar people remain in Ecuador.
In planning our trip, we were presented with offers from a small number of tourist offices and ‘experts’ who said they could organize such a trip at a high price. We were disappointed that such organizations represented the Shuar people as ‘savages’ and warned that our lives would be in danger if we went without their guidance. Their advice could not have been further from the truth.
Friday, 18 th September: Ignoring the advice of the above mentioned ‘experts’, a small team of us from Ancient Origins – Ioannis Syrigos, co-founder, and staff members Gary Manners and Christian Aguilar – started on our journey from Cuenca to North West Ecuador, near the city of Macas.
Arriving in Macas, a small town close to the Tayos caves, we contacted government officials to obtain the necessary permits to enter Shuar territory. To our surprise we were told that none was required, apart from a verbal permission from the indigenous owner of the land. This information was in opposition to the information provided by tourist offices.
We were put in touch with an indigenous Shuar woman, who was running a local restaurant in town. She told us that her 7-year-old son, Miguel, would guide us one hour through the forest to one of the Shuar communities, where her father would help us with guidance in the Tayos caves.
Our 7-year-old ‘guide’ Miguel, and Chris Aguilar preparing to leave for the forest
With the help of our young guide, we drove 4km down a path through the forest, before following Miguel on foot through the jungle until we reached the small Shuar community next to the river Pastaza, where he introduced us to his grandfather, who would guide us through the caves.
Our path to the Shuar camp near the Tayos caves
When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed by the indigenous people living in the camp, consisting of about 10 adults and 10 children. Miguel’s grandfather, Luis, the patriarch of the camp, invited us to stay in his little lodge for visitors. He would provide us with all the information and guidance we needed for the next 4 days. We also had the opportunity to interview Luis about the Tayos caves, a video that will be released shortly.
The Shuar camp with kids playing happily and chickens roaming freely