One of the entrances to the Tayos Caves.

Expedition to Tayos Caves: Never Before Seen Photographs Shed Light on Mysterious Underground Network

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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

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.

Day 1

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

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

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

The Shuar camp with kids playing happily and chickens roaming freely


lizleafloor's picture

What an amazing experience! And how great the generous Shuar community turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. 

Inside Tayos cave at the back left of the cave, a grouping of geometric designs consisting of a cross and downward slash on the vertical line are noticeable.

This is an unassuming but consistent pattern observed in comparable art rock panels throughout the globe.

Petroglyphs, being unpainted can be at first difficult to recognise. Geometric patterns may be incorrectly interpreted as just part of the rock’s appearance and dismissed as a human recording. (I have observed petroglyphs composed of a single line that at first appeared to be part of the natural rock until in-depth review revealed the line’s human origin).  

Although not as visually stunning as petroglyphs displaying human, animal or supposedly shamanistic visions, this type of geometric ancient record keeping is scientifically important. It’s possible purpose can be discussed in another reply.

One method to validate a petroglyph’s human connection requires an observer to notice similarities found in previous historical rock art panels displaying resemblances of style/design. Upon a closer inspection with a magnifying glass (or compound microscope – better) to see any pecking marks or stone abrasions along the design pattern that would have been made during the design’s formation will help solve the puzzle.

If the rock art panel looks like others you have seen in the past, or pecking marks are noticeable, this is probably a human creation from the past.

No doubt the Tayos caves of Ecuador contain many more mysteries of ancient human occupation. Only further explorations into these caves will reveal its secrets.

Additional notes: From the image inside the cave with the geometric patterns, off to the upper right corner, appears to be additional petroglyph images – parallel curved lines, downward chevron just above the gray horizontal line on the rock and possible other formations on this panel. It’s hard to verify from the low resolution image.

From personal experience creating award winning documentaries about Human experiences, I know how challenging an expedition like this one can be. Best of success on your next exploration.

Without scientific data, conclusions remain conjecture.

A truly historic journey, it should have been given more attention because of the facinating history behind it all. It is a shame that you were unable to stay longer and delve further in to the cave systems. I would like to know if you are planning to go back and explore the caves again with your guides. The trust you have built up with the local Shuar community will help and over time they may open up to you further and show you places were others have not seen. I do have a serious question though; if you find any artifacts, whether of gold or proof of (alien) higher technology, what are you going to do if the Shuar people say no to announcing any discovery?

Tsurugi's picture

Sounds like it was a lot of fun. I'd love to go on one of these expeditions.

Waiting to see the follow up expedition!

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