On the hunt with Keith Barron, an Indiana Jones who blends history with geology to dig up treasure in hostile terrain.
Keith Barron is deep inside a Vatican library, hunkered over a 17th century tome bound in Moroccan red leather. “The country is the richest in gold in all the Indies,” reads one passage. “The natives are cannibals and very warlike, and devastated the city of Logroño de los Caballeros, massacring the Spaniards and burning the churches.”
A geologist by training, amateur historian and professional gold hunter, Barron is on a mission. Ecuador’s two “lost cities of gold” exist only in legend and in fragments of old texts like this one, written by a Spanish priest traveling through the region a half century after the settlements were destroyed.
Spain eventually gave them up for lost after dispatching more than 30 failed expeditionary forces to reclaim them. Barron and a team of researchers have spent years sleuthing around the Vatican library, the immense General Archive of the Indies, in Seville, Spain, and in small churches and libraries scattered throughout Latin America.
With the aid of colonial-era chronicles and maps, they’ve narrowed the search to the Cutucú mountains, a lush jungle range 230 miles south of Quito.
Buried under a thick green carpet lie the ruins of Logroño and Sevilla del Oro, two of the Empire’s most prodigious 16th century mining towns where, according to accounts at the time, laborers using primitive tools managed to extract about 4,100 Troy ounces of gold in a single year. (A Troy ounce of the precious metal is worth $1,260 at today’s prices.)