Cueva de los Tayos is located in the high rainforest, 2 km south of the Santiago River, and 800 m west of Coangos River. According to the last GPS measurement in 2008, its altitude is 539 m above sea level. Located at an elevation of about 800 m within thinly-bedded limestone and shale, the principal entrance to Cueva de Los Tayos is within a rainforest at the bottom of a dry valley. The largest of three entrances is a 65-meter-deep shaft leading to 4.6 kilometers of spacious passages and a chamber measuring 90 meters by 240 meters. The cave has a vertical range of 201 meters with its lowest point ending in a sump.
The cave has long been used by the native Shuar Indians who descend into the cave each spring using vine ladders and bamboo torches to collect fledgeling tayos (the nocturnal Steatornis caripensis). Written references to the cave go back as far as 1860 and it is known to have been visited by gold-seekers and military personnel in the 1960s.
Actually, the cave is located inside the Sindical Center Coangos (formed by native people). So, the cave belongs to the independent territory of the Shuar-Arutam.
Today, access to the cave is restricted. It is necessary to obtain permission (access and temporary visit) and pay a tax (in order to improve life-condition of the communities) in Sucúa, Ecuador, at Shuar Center Federation. (FICSH: Federación Interprovincial de Centros Shuar)
The Gold of the Gods
The cave was popularized by Erich von Däniken‘s 1973 book The Gold of the Gods, in which he wrote that János Juan Móricz (1923–1991) had claimed to have explored Cueva de los Tayos in 1969 and discovered mounds of gold, unusual sculptures and a metallic library. These items were said to be located within artificial tunnels that had been created by a lost civilization with help from extraterrestrial beings. Von Däniken had previously claimed in book Chariots of the Gods? that extraterrestrials were involved in ancient civilizations.
1976 BCRA expedition
As a result of the claims published in von Däniken’s book, an investigation of Cueva de los Tayos was organized by Stan Hall of the United Kingdom, in 1976. One of the largest and most expensive cave explorations ever undertaken, the expedition involved over a hundred people, including experts in a variety of fields, British and Ecuadorian military personnel, a film crew, and former astronaut Neil Armstrong.[full citation needed] The team also included eight experienced British cavers who thoroughly explored the cave and conducted an accurate survey to produce a detailed map of it. There was no evidence of Von Däniken’s more exotic claims, although some physical features of the cave did approximate his descriptions and some items of zoological, botanical, and archaeological interest were found. The lead researcher met with Moricz’s indigenous source, who claimed that they had investigated the wrong cave, and that the real cave was secret.
In 1976, a major expedition entered the Cueva de los Tayos in search of artificial tunnels, lost gold, strange sculptures, and a “metallic library,” supposedly left by a lost civilization aided by extraterrestrials. Among the group was the astronaut Neil Armstrong.
For as long as anyone can remember, the indigenous Shuar people of Ecuador have been entering a vast cave system on the jungle-covered eastern foothills of the Andes. They descend, using ladders made of vines, through one of three vertiginous entrances, the largest of which is a 213-foot-deep (65-meter) shaft that leads into a network of tunnels and chambers stretching, as far as we know, for at least 2.85 miles. The largest chamber measures 295 feet by 787 feet.
For the Shuar, these caves have long been a center for spiritual and ceremonial practices, home to powerful spirits as well as tarantulas, scorpions, spiders, and rainbow boas. They are also home to nocturnal oilbirds, known locally as tayos, hence the name of the cave. The tayos are a favored food of the Shuar, another reason why they brave the depths of the cave system.
In their role as guardians of the cave system, the Shuar had been left in relative peace over the last century or two, apart from an occasional gold prospector snooping around in the 1950s and ‘60s. Until, that was, a certain Erich von Däniken decided to get involved.
The Swiss author captured the global imagination in 1968 with the publication of his book Chariots of the Gods?, which was in large part responsible for the current plague of ancient astronaut theories and all that malarkey. Then, three years later, he published The Gold of the Gods, unleashing a little-known theory about the Cueva de los Tayos upon his eager readership.
In The Gold of the Gods, von Däniken recounted the claims of János Juan Móricz, an explorer who claimed to have entered the caves in 1969. Inside the cave, he asserted, he had discovered a treasure trove of gold, strange artifacts and sculptures, and a “metallic library” containing lost information preserved on metal tablets. And the caves themselves were surely artificial, he claimed, created by some advanced intelligence now lost to history.
This was red meat for von Däniken, of course, and tied in very nicely with his spate of lucrative books promoting his theories of lost civilizations, ancient astronauts, and the like (or, as Carl Sagan put it, von Däniken’s theory that “our ancestors were dummies”).
It also inspired the first major scientific expedition to Cueva de los Tayos. The 1976 expedition was led by Stan Hall, a Scottish civil engineer who had read von Däniken’s work. It quickly grew to become one of the largest cave expeditions of its time, with more than 100 people involved. These included British and Ecuadorian government officials, leading scientists and speleologists, British special forces, professional cavers, and none other than astronaut Neil Armstrong, who served as the expedition’s Honorary President.
The expedition was a success, at least in its less fanciful ambitions. The extensive network of caves was mapped far more thoroughly than ever before. Zoological and botanical findings were recorded. And archaeological discoveries were made. But no gold was found, no otherworldly artifacts discovered, and there was no sign of a metallic library. The cave system, too, appeared to be the result of natural forces rather than any kind of advanced engineering.
Interest in the Cueva de los Tayos never again reached the heights of the 1976 expedition, but numerous research expeditions have since taken place. One of the more recent expeditions was that of Josh Gates and his team for the fourth season of the television series Expedition Unknown. Gates entered the cave system with Shuar guides and Eileen Hall, the daughter of the late Stan Hall from the 1976 expedition. And while expeditions such as these have resulted in fascinating zoological and geological discoveries, there’s still no sign of gold, aliens, or a library.