Many of you will remember that Ancient Origins, the clickbait fringe history website, developed a fascination with Ecuador after the site’s leadership decamped to the country’s expatriate community. Earlier this year, the site’s owners “investigated” the supposed golden treasures of Father Crespi with giant hunters Jim Vieira and Hugh Newman, and they refused to believe their own eyes that the accumulated treasures were nothing more than scrap metal badly forged into fake Old World artifacts. They are also pretty certain that the laser-carved caves at Tayos, Ecuador filled with a golden library are real, even though everyone involved in investigating the hoax conceded as much at one time or another. These, of course, were the “mysteries” at the heart of Erich von Däniken’s Gold of the Gods. This has only encouraged the Ancient Origins team to look for new ways to make their adopted home magical by accepting the Cuenca giant hoax and trying to prove Erich von Däniken’s Gold of the Gods correct, despite even von Däniken himself having admitted off and on in the 1970s that its stories of Ecuadorian mysteries were not true.
Ancient Origins owner Ioannis Syrigos (a.k.a. John Black), along with Ancient Origins writer Alicia McDermott and two Ancient Origins “premium” members, went on an expedition into the rain forest, which McDermott described at great length. The purpose of this expedition was to search out new entrances to the imaginary Tayos caves and their magical library, following the old fringe claim that Ecuador and South America are peppered with an underground tunnel network carved by a lost civilization in ancient times.
This claim, for those of you who are interested, originates with Helena Blavatsky, who wrote in Isis Unveiled: “As well as the hierophants of the old world, which in the days of Atlantis was almost connected with the new one by land, the magicians of the now submerged country had a net-work of subterranean passages running in all directions.” She described tunnels running under the Inca empire, which in those days included Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Peru, and she described these tunnels as holding the fabulous golden treasures of the Inca. It was this claim that sparked the modern myth of a global network of treasure-laden tunnels, particularly the one at Tayos that Erich von Däniken falsely claimed to have entered and which Neil Armstrong failed to find.
The Ancient Origins team had completely clichéd standard jungle trek incidents, which are frankly too familiar and uninteresting to summarize. They discovered what looks for all the world like geological formations, but which McDermott identifies as “rock structures.” Indeed, we have seen similar claims made for geological formations in Ecuador. Ancient astronaut theorist Bruce Fenton claimed in 2012 that apparently naturally eroded rocks were the remains of a “Lost City of the Giants.” Oddly, while he made this claim on the Science Channel’s Unexplained Files in 2014, the Science Channel didn’t seem to care enough about “proof” of the giants’ city to go looking for it in their episode specifically looking for lost cities of the giants.
Despite implying that the Ancient Origins team had also found the ruins of an ancient city in Ecuador, McDermott insisted that they had no time or interest in exploring the “ruins” in any depth. Indeed, even though McDermott says she has a degree in anthropology, it did not occur to her or her team to bring even basic tools for documenting what they had found. Instead, they merely took some pictures and continued on, content to use their brief encounter with the “ruins” as a hook for a clickbait article.
The photographs provided of the “rock structure” show what look like an outcropping of rock heavily eroded and separating. The fact that one rock can be seen in the process of cleaving but not yet broken strongly suggests that this is a natural formation. McDermott concedes that despite their attempts to walk around the stones and look at them really hard, they “still found no entrance or concrete evidence that the large stones had been placed intentionally.” She places the word “wall” in quotation marks several times, suggesting that she realizes (but won’t say) that it’s likely natural.
Similarly, there is no indication in the article that the Ancient Origins team reported their “discovery” to the proper authorities in Ecuador, as you would think that responsible investigators might do.
That’s probably because they have a financial incentive to maintain the illusion that there are endless mysteries in Ecuador—and not just in terms of advertising. According to a testimonial from one of the “premium” members who went on the expedition, Syrigos and McDermott provide an “affordable” mystery tourism experience, implying that Ancient Origins is running an ancient mysteries tourism operation in Ecuador for paying customers.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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