The open chamber near the first descent in the Tayu Jee branch of the Tayos Caves.

Who Stole the Gold? The Smoke Clears Around the Tayos Caves in Ecuador

The Tayos Caves ( Cuevas de los Tayos in Spanish) in Ecuador are a subterranean complex that forms part of the incredible Napo System of Caves stretching from Venezuela to Chile. The Tayos Caves have long been a site of controversy, and various theorists and enthusiasts have claimed that they contain evidence for extraterrestrials, ancient civilizations, heroic human migrations, and/or lost languages. A careful examination of the evidence hardly supports any of these claims. However, there is a true mystery regarding the Tayos Caves, and that mystery revolves around gold. In truth, the Tayos Caves were a source of pure, prestigious, and lustrous golden ore!

This investigation lays a foundation for addressing the question, “Where is the gold now?” In order to arrive at an answer, investigators have to follow the convoluted trail of a motley band of rivals, a religious, scientific, and military gang of ingenious deceivers, thieves, smooth operators, and their victims, all in hot pursuit of the loot: the world’s most precious metal. They must also grasp the backdrop to the story: the situation of the native peoples in the gold-bearing regions of Ecuador, and the history of gold extraction in that area.

The Tayos Caves: A Geological and Archaeological Treasure House

The Tayos Caves are a series of interconnected, underground chambers found on the eastern foothills of the Andes that stretches into Ecuador’s Amazon region, spanning the provinces of Morona Santiago and Pastaza. The caves have multiple entrances and reach a depth of up to 800 meters (2625 ft). The interior of the caves are filled with fascinating geological formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, open chambers, narrow fissures, and lustrous, smooth rock walls carved by eons of flowing water. They are also a source of gold.

Geological formations within the Tayos Caves at Tayu Jee. Photo credits: the author (2016).

Geological formations within the Tayos Caves at Tayu Jee. Photo credits: the author (2016).

Gold in the Amazonian Foothills

The eastern slope of the Andes mountains in Ecuador that leads down to the Amazon basin is the site of the Zamora Belt, one of South America’s smaller, but still significant, gold deposits. The gold was deposited during the Jurassic Period, and its gold deposit purity is rated as 22(1) contained Au (placer Au) in million ounces. The area is still a valuable source of gold. In September 2018, Canada’s Lundin Gold recently signed a contract with the Ecuadorian government worth 800 million dollars for a new mining project in this region. Historically, gold has been extracted from this area in three ways: river panning, mining, and, unfortunately, archaeological looting.

Gold panning continues today along rivers that flow down from the Andes. Storms high in the Andean sierra fill Amazonian rivers with gold-laden sediments. On the Amazonian side of the cordillera, gold panning occurs along the Pastaza, Napo, Santiago, Amarillo, and Morona Rivers in the southeast, as well as along many of their smaller tributaries.

Historically, the city of Macas, the capital of Morona Santiago Province, was a flourishing center of gold mining in Ecuador. However, violence led to the deterioration and later abandonment of gold extraction in this area. Gold mining then focused on the richer Nambija, Chinapintza, Portovelo, and Guayzimi districts along the Zamora Belt in Zamora Chinchipe Province. The World Gold Council has confirmed the presence of at least 15 gold-bearing veins in southeast Ecuador. Some of the veins are shallow; other deeper veins are over a kilometer (0.62 miles) in length. When gold prices rose in the 1980s, Ecuador was exporting 2.4 tons of gold per year (1987). As noted above, gold mining continues in this region today, as determined by its profitability on the international market. For example, the current expected yield for the Lundin mining project is 4.6 million ounces of gold over a 15 year mine life.

Old woman mining gold in the Amazon river in Ecuador. (Peter van der Sluijs/CC BY SA 3.0)

Old woman mining gold in the Amazon river in Ecuador. Peter van der Sluijs

The fever for artifacts made of gold has troubled Ecuador since the Spanish invasion. The legendary Juan Valverde supposedly bequeathed a derrotero (textual treasure map) to the Spanish king that indicated the location of Incan King Atahualpa’s hidden golden hoard in a bog and tunnel entrance in the Llanganates mountains in Ecuador. As well as golden artifacts, this trove also allegedly included handfuls of emeralds and diamonds. An unattributed text called the “Lost Treasure of Ecuador” links this mythological hoard with “the land of the headhunters, the Jivaro tribe, in the virtually unknown region between the Napo and Pastaza Rivers, [where] much virgin gold and many diamonds can be found.”

Regardless of whether this legendary golden treasure exists or not, the legend is symptomatic of the problem of archaeological looting in Ecuador. Until very recently, many groups and individuals have engaged in the unauthorized extraction of precious artifacts from ancient indigenous tombs and monuments. Ernesto Salazar, anthropology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE), reports that the “Ecuadorian state has maintained an ambiguous position on cultural resources” and that management is erratic. He notes that, “it is very common for private land owners to refrain from reporting an archaeological site for fear that their property will be expropriated, or they fail to report the looting of a site to avoid becoming involved in a lawsuit.” In 2018, the government of Ecuador formally requested that the U.S. government impose import restrictions on valuable goods or objects entering the USA, noting that “Looting [of archaeological sites] takes place in the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago.”

Sign marking the entrance to the Tayu Jee branch of the Tayos Caves. Photo credit: the author (2016)

Sign marking the entrance to the Tayu Jee branch of the Tayos Caves. Photo credit: the author (2016)

Since this activity is clandestine, it is difficult to measure the wealth of the deposits involved. However, the historical record can give us an idea of what is at stake. In 1924, Marshall H. Saville published a study titled “The Gold Treasure of Sigsig” for the Museum of the American Indian. Sigsig is a canton located in Azuay Province, which borders on Morona Santiago. Saville writes that:

“The ancient peoples of Ecuador were among the most proficient workers of gold in South America. From the very beginning of the Spanish conquest up to the present time an incalculable amount of gold treasure has been discovered in the tombs and graves in different parts of the country.”

Saville attributes the gold work to the Cañaris, a technologically advanced nation that predates the Incas. Once the Spanish began looting the gold, indigenous people began to conceal their treasures in caves and other remote places. However, Saville continues, “Through mining operations … enormous quantities of gold, fashioned in a multitude of forms, have been discovered.” To impress us with the incredible value and quantity of objects unearthed, he records that:

“One tomb in Sigsig contained forty-four pounds of gold, another more than two hundred pounds. . .  The forms of the objects include discs, plain or decorated, ear-rings, nose-rings, bracelets, bells, crowns called llautos, thick shields without wooden backs, musical instruments such as pan-pipes and flageolets, circular rings of massive gold sometimes weighing as much as three pounds, and semi-globular vessels and vases of different sizes and in great numbers.”

Gold crown from Sigsig. Photo credit: R. Cronav for the Museum of the American Indian

Gold crown from Sigsig. Photo credit: R. Cronav for the Museum of the American Indian

During the period when Saville is writing, illegal archaeological activity in the region was fierce. Saville repeats a report from researcher Max Uhle, who notes that in 1992, a new discovery was made in Cerro Narrio. As a result:

“Practically the entire population of the immediate neighborhood, augmented by others from towns far away, flocked to the spot … at one time about four hundred people were busily engaged in the despoliation of the cemetery, the hill appearing like an ant-heap.”

It is clear that archaeological looting was common in southeastern Ecuador at this time, due to the fact that valuable, even precious, archaeological objects were relatively abundant.

The Ancestral Peoples of the Southeastern Ecuadorian Cordillera and Amazon

This southeastern region of Ecuador is populated by two important indigenous groups, The Shuar (formerly known as the Jivaro) and the Kichua. The Shuar nation, including the Achuars and the Shiwiars, includes about 120,000 individuals who are all linguistically related. According to preliminary studies by Max Uhle, archaeological evidence suggests that the Shuar are direct descendants of ancestral peoples who arrived in this area at least 3,000 years ago. The Kichua are recent arrivals. As their name suggests, they are the descendants of Incan colonizers who spoke Kichua.

The Shuar occupy around 500 community centers scattered around the province of Morona  Santiago (65%), as well as Zamora Chinchipe, Pastaza, and Napo Provinces (35%). These communities are organized into the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH) and the Interprovincial Federation of the Shuar People of Ecuador (FIPSE), as well as the FINE, OSHE, FENASHP, and CISAE. The Shuar have occupied this territory for centuries; neither the Inca in 1490, nor the Spanish invaders in 1549, were able to dislodge them. However, modern mining and petroleum operations, which have gained “concessions” from the Ecuadorian government, are now encroaching on traditional Shuar lands. The Shuar people are actively protesting these invasions. In regards to this investigation, most of the Tayos Caves fall within the Shuar territory, known as the Territory of the Shuar Arutam People, legally recognized by the Ecuadorian government under a CODEMPE (Development Council of the Peoples and Nationalities of Ecuador) agreement in 2006. This includes 90% of the Cordillera del Cóndor, an area central to this story and the location where this investigation begins.

Going to the Heart of the Tayos Mystery

If we view the Tayos mystery through the lens of this background information, several striking features begin to reveal themselves. But they are only clues. To secure corroborating evidence, I traveled to the Caves of the Tayos in August, 2016 with a tourist club called Viajes Despierta. I decided that I would question the people living at the epicenter of the Tayos Caves mystery, that is, the Shuar people themselves. Most examinations of the Tayos mystery swirl around the famous explorers, Juan Móricz (or János Móricz Opos) and Stanley Hall, and point to the Salesian priest Father Paolo Crespi - more about them later. However, it is obvious that the Shuar have their own authoritative contribution to add, since they have been preserving their ancestral lands for hundreds of years.

Kitchen and mess hall in the Shuar community of Tayu Jee in Pastaza Province, Ecuador. Photo credit: the author (2016).

Kitchen and mess hall in the Shuar community of Tayu Jee in Pastaza Province, Ecuador. Photo credit: the author (2016).

The Shuar community of Tayu Jee is located in Pastaza Province. It is reached from the Puyo-Macas highway after a two-hour tramp through the Amazonian forest down to the Pastaza River. This Shuar community is in charge of an autonomous territory along the river that contains several of the entrances to the Tayos Caves complex. I stayed in this community for two days, and was able to interview Tayu Jee’s community leaders, Don Luis Canillas and his son, Don Antonio Canillas. Together, they both corroborated many of my suspicions, and added another layer of complexity to the puzzle.

Tayu Jee community leaders, Don Luis Canillas (left, bookended by other community members) and Don Antonio Canillas (right). Photo credits: the author (2016).

Tayu Jee  community leaders, Don  Luis Canillas (left, bookended by other community members) and Don Antonio Canillas (right). Photo credits: the author (2016).

As a basis for this investigation, Don Luis confirmed that their Tayu Jee section of the Tayos Caves in Pastaza Province is connected to the Tayos complex in Morona Santiago Province. Facilitating this connectivity is the fact that the Caves descend 800 meters below ground. They affirmed that the explorer Juan Móricz entered both branches of the Caves. Second, they asserted that the Tayos  Caves contained gold in the form of raw ore (but no gems). Third, both Don Luis and Don Antonio clearly and definitely stated that there has never been an ancient library of inscribed metallic plates in the Tayos Caves. There was no ancient civilization there, and the Shuar have no memory of any ancient peoples that inhabited the caves. Fourth, and most astonishing, they vehemently accused Padre Carlo Crespi of the María Auxiliadora congregation in Cuenca, the capital of Azuay Province, of being a thief. Don Luis told me that Padre Crespi knew Móricz. Crespi came and took out the gold ore with a helicopter. The gold was later delivered to the Vatican. For his services, Crespi was appointed Archbishop of Cuenca. However, on further investigation, Don Luis’ understanding on this point turns out to be wrong. A fact check reveals that Crespi never became Archbishop, or even Bishop, of Cuenca. When Crespi died in 1982, Monsignor Vicente Cisneros was Archbishop of Cuenca. However, Crespi did not die without laudatory honors. It was Cisneros who began the beatification process for Crespi. Finally, Don Antonio added that “the metal tablets in Crespi’s “library” were fashioned by locals in Cuenca to earn money and to satisfy Crespi’s greed.” He also said that the tablets served as a story to cover up the gold theft.

As for Juan Móricz, according to Don Luis, Móricz payed $4,000 for a mining concession in the Tayos Caves. He thinks that Móricz found gold ore in the Caves, but “whatever he found, he left there.” To paraphrase, the Shuar have a good opinion of Juan Móricz.

The Lineup of Likely Suspects

What can the reader make of this amazing testimony? Based on evidence that I will present below, I can say that with their on-the-ground perspective, the Shuar have come closer to the truth than other investigators have managed to come. At the same time, the Shuar may be off target in some of their details because of the operative secrecy maintained by those involved in the theft. By reviewing other original documents related to the Tayos Caves, this investigation shines a more illuminating light on this golden affair of theft and deception.

Based on the tantalizing evidence given below, three broadly outlined suspects for the theft rise to the surface of this murky, underground story. The first is obviously Padre Carlo Crespi. As the reader will see, there is evidence corroborating the denunciation made by the Shuar. We will consider his case first. Furthermore, we should note that Crespi was probably not acting as an individual, but in his office as an ordained missionary for the Vatican—the emphasis here being on the word mission. The second are the explorers who actually entered the Tayos Caves. Since they collaborated on exploring the Caves at some period in their careers, we will consider them together. Finally, there is some secondary evidence that points to a third party that assisted in the theft and may have benefited from it. This third participant we can loosely identify as the Ecuadorian government itself acting through its military branch, the Ecuadorian armed forces, as a distribution arm for museums, universities, banks, and/or private collectors.

Part 2 continues to examine the prime suspects.

Who Stole the Gold? Part 2: There is a lot of Smoke, But are There Any Smoking Guns?

This investigation acknowledges that more than one party was in involved in illegal gold extraction, and that gold may have been extracted in more than one form. That said, let’s examine the evidence against each suspect.

Carlo Crespi Croci: Antiquities Merchant

As a point of clarification, readers who are familiar with the Tayos Caves story may object to the accusation that Father Crespi was a thief, since many sources assert that Crespi was “beloved” by the indigenous people he served in Cuenca. However, Crespi attended a mostly Kichua and mestizo population at his mission. Shuar communities living on their ancestral lands are another matter. Distinct indigenous nations cannot be lumped together as a generic group called “Indians.” It is true that the multi-talented Crespi penetrated  Shuar territory in 1927 in order to make a documentary film. This expedition may have served as a reconnaissance trip to assess potential gold sources. However, Crespi never returned to that area, nor did he establish a mission in that area, establishing his mission in urban Cuenca instead. Carlos Zavalla, in his tribute to Crespi, indicates that Crespi wanted to found a mission on the Morona River in 1927, but that the Ecuadorian military would not permit him to do it.

Photograph of Father Crespi with some local children. Crespi Museum in the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana. Credit:

After graduating from Italy’s University of Milan and being ordained in the Salesian order, Crespi arrived in Cuenca in 1927, and that same year that he made a documentary film about the Shuar. Crespi lived in Ecuador for the rest of his life, surviving in the remote Andean city until his death in 1982. Almost immediately upon his arrival, Crespi began amassing archaeological artifacts. He requested these artifacts from indigenous members of his mission, to whom he would pay small amounts of money. It is quite possible that Crespi may have received valuable gold pieces, since he arrived when southeastern Ecuador was a hotbed of archaeological pillaging. In later years, in order to keep up the supply, locals brought him crudely worked, metallic copies of ancient art from a mishmash of cultures that were essentially worthless. When the Central Bank of Ecuador (CBE) came to examine Crespi’s collection, their agents bought any remaining ceramic pieces of value for 13M sucres (USD 433,000) but discarded the metal pieces in Crespi’s collection. Or, according to the definitive, eight-part film series made by the 2010 Ecuadorian expedition ( Cueva de los Tayos) , the CBE paid $10.6M to Padre Felix Roggia, Rector of the Salesian House of Cuenca on July 9, 1980 for part of the collection, excluding all the remaining metal plaques. Alejandro Vintimilla, manager of the CBE, confirms that the bank acquired approximately 5,000 archaeological pieces at that time.

According to earlier investigations made by Ancient Origins , by 1960, Crespi had amassed over 50,000 pieces. Accordingly, he asked the Vatican for permission to create a “museum” as part of the Salesian mission, which was granted. However, Crespi’s museum was not much more than a ramshackle warehouse, devoid of any type of scientific discipline in regard to categorization or display of objects. In addition, due to neglect or for other reasons, the warehouse of artifacts suffered two devastating fires, one in 1962 and the other in 1974. Glen Chapman, a Tayos Caves investigator, attributes these fires to arson.  According to other sources, many artifacts were stolen from the poorly curated storage facility.

In his 1998 compendium, “The Crespi Ancient Artifact Collection of Cuenca, Ecuador,” Chapman has other interesting things to say about Crespi. He relates that Crespi told him that: “[The Indians] just get [artifacts] from the caves and subterranean chambers in the jungle.” According to Chapman, “the articles in the trove have been discovered in sloppy, unsupervised, surreptitious digs by wholly untrained Jivaro Indian diggers.” Even worse, “some of the Indian diggers in Ecuador have cut up and reshaped genuinely ancient and priceless materials in order to get any kind of price at all for it.” However, not all the Shuar (pejoratively referred to here as the ‘Jivaro’) were in agreement on this tomb raiding. Chapman observes  that, “the Indians have killed at least four inquisitive outsiders in the last two years.” He then notes that, “Father Crespi regrets that he missed acquiring most of the treasure unearthed in the jungle, including most of the best articles, because he simply couldn’t match prices with other bidders.”  Most intriguingly for our story, Chapman notes that a member of a Latter Day Saints (LDS) mission, J. Golden Barton, who traveled to Ecuador in the 1970s, “heard rumors that much of the treasure had been shipped to Rome to the Vatican.”  Even more astoundingly, Barton asserts in his presentation at the 2005 AWRF Symposium that “the [Ecuadorian] government had intercepted [the] shipment of artifacts that were on their way to Rome.”

Gold and copper alloy fragment – Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño Museum - Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). Photo credit: the author (2018).

Gold and copper alloy fragment – Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño Museum - Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). Photo credit: the author (2018).

An earlier investigation by Ancient Origins corroborates this rumor. A senior member at a local university in Cuenca confirmed that “missing artifacts had been shipped to the Vatican in Italy.” According to investigator Victor Salazar, when Crespi’s Salesian compatriots were asked about the collection of artifacts after the second fire, they responded by saying, “If you want to see the pieces,  go to the Vatican and inquire about them there, because that is where they all are.” A video investigation entitled The Tayos Caves and the Vatican Conspiracy attributes the following comments to Salesian missionary, Father Raul Cosso: “Father Crespi arrived in Ecuador, taking command of his position, sent by that same Vatican in order to take all the things that he could find in the cave …. He was a man clearly instructed by the Vatican for a specific mission … Now members of the mission say that he sent a lot of things from the cave to the Vatican …. so many that, while he was sending art works to the Vatican, he also began to sell pieces to whomever, including the Ecuadorian state itself.”

It is clear that Father Crespi never entered the Tayos Caves, although several sources suggest that he located one of the entrances while he was filming his documentary in 1927. However, it is clear that Crespi “collected” valuable archaeological artifacts, and that many of these artifacts were looted from regional indigenous tombs and other repositories. At this point in time, it is impossible to determine how many of these artifacts were made of gold and other precious metals: the case against Carlo Crespi is not definitive. However, the intriguing threads offered here, along with the Shuars’ denunciation, make Crespi a likely suspect.

Navigating a crevasse within the Tayu Jee branch of the Tayos Caves. Photo credit: the author (2016).

Navigating a crevasse within the Tayu Jee branch of the Tayos Caves. Photo credit: the author (2016).

Juan Móricz: All Smoke and Mirrors

To evaluate the roles that Stanley Hall and Juan Móricz played in this archaeological mystery, this investigation draws from two important sources. The first is Stanley Hall’s own account of his adventures, Tayos Gold: the Archives of Atlantis . As for Móricz, his sensational book, The American Origin of the European People (1968), focuses more on his wild linguistic theories than on his adventures in the Tayos Caves. Móricz complained vociferously in an Ecuadorian court when Erick von Däniken usurped Móricz’ claims in his Gold of the Gods, but Móricz left no record of his explorations per se. However, Móricz worked with an Argentine confidante named Julio Goyén Aguado, and Goyén’s adventures –and therefore Móricz’--are meticulously recounted in Guillermo Aguirre’s biography, Lyrical and Profound: the Life of Julio Goyén Aguado . The works of Hall and Aguirre have important contributions to make regarding the fate of the Tayos Caves.  As we will see, both Hall and Móricz may be as culpable as Crespi, but their forays into the Caves had very different intentions.

Juan Móricz was a Hungarian-Argentine adventurer who made preposterous claims about the Tayos Caves. For example, in his notarized deposition dated July 21, 1969, Móricz claimed that he had discovered “objects of great cultural and historical value for humanity … especially metallic plates that most likely summarize the history of a vanished civilization of which we have no prior indication.” Móricz completed three important expeditions into the Tayos Caves. According to Aguirre, Móricz made a reconnaissance exploration alone in 1965. After much haggling, Móricz negotiated an expedition funded by the Mormons (LDS) who were looking for the apocryphal gold plates of the Angel Moroni.  Móricz grumbled about inadequate funding and lack of control over the expedition. The Latter Day Saints acceded grudgingly, but James Avril Jesperson, president of the LDS Andean Mission, remarked, “I signed off on the trip to investigate the situation . . .  We were of the opinion that Juan Móricz was trying to deceive us in order to obtain money.” Jesperson would later remark that Móricz’ “story of the golden plates is a hoax.” Later, in 1969, Móricz organized an expedition supported by the Ecuadorian military, which made two forays into the Caves.  Goyén accompanied Móricz on the 1968 and 1969 expeditions.

Tayos Cathedral: Moricz Expedition 1969. (

Tayos Cathedral: Moricz Expedition 1969. (

Stanley Hall was a British explorer who organized the famous British-Ecuadorian expedition of 1975 that included the astronaut Neil Armstrong. Prior to the Hall expedition, Móricz and Hall collaborated on organization, but again, Móricz complained about control and rights to any discoveries, and Móricz ended up not participating in the last great expedition to the Tayos Caves.

So what really interested Juan Móricz in the Tayos Caves? Reading between the lines of the historical records, it becomes clear that Móricz was scouting for mining opportunities. D. Golding reports that fellow Mormons Paul Cheesman and his assistant, Wayne Hamby, “learned that Móricz had formed a mining company to drill into the cave system of gold.” DDLA TV reported that Móricz represented 90 different mining operations in Ecuador. According to Aguirre, Ben Holbrook, an important director in the LDS Church, visited Móricz in 1977 and profited from Móricz’ expertise as a “mining entrepreneur, gaining possession of a gold deposit near those belonging to Móricz.” Even Manual Palacios Villavicencio, author of the self-published Forbidden Amerika ( Amérika Prohibida, 2013 ) and advocate for the idea that the Tayos Caves contained golden plates from ancient civilizations, confirms that Móricz was running a “mining camp.”

But it is Stanley Hall who most clearly confirms the true motivations of Móricz. In Tayos Gold (p. 22), Hall relates the following:

“I was in London in October 1982 when Móricz requested I inform British mining companies about his gold concessions in southeast Ecuador – to him, the true el Dorado! He sent by special courier an ore sample that assayed at 364 gms/tonne, and an estimated valuation of gold reserves in his Nambija hardrock concession of 10 billion U. S. dollars. Ultimately, a consortium was formed comprising Placer Mining Company of Canada, San Francisco Mining Corporation of the U.S.A., and Burnett and Hallamshire of Britain to develop 60,000 hectares of the Nambija hardrock and Yacuambi river [sic] alluvial deposits near Cumbaratza, in Morona-Santiago.”

Ecuador, Nambija - Gold Mine 1990. (Maurizio Costanzo/CC BY 2.0)

Ecuador, Nambija - Gold Mine 1990. (Maurizio Costanzo/ CC BY 2.0 )

Hall continues on page 23:

“In an ensuing legal battle Nambija was appropriated by a consortium consisting of a Canadian-Ecuadorian mining consultancy, the Ecuadorian Institute of Mining and, ultimately, DINE, the commercial division of the Army. The battle for Nambija was to continue for decades, the only beneficiaries being the many artisanal invaders who, with families to feed, preferred the sounds of picks and shovels to arguments. Illegal mining at Nambija has produced hundreds of tonnes of 22-carat gold . . .

In January 1983, from a hail of rocks thrown at ‘intruders’ – that is, geologists from Móricz’s hydra-headed consortium – 56  random samples assayed an average of 31.4 gms/tonne.”

Hall delivers the smoking gun by including in his account (p. 21) a telegram sent to him by Móricz in 1962, three years before his first foray into the Tayos Caves. The main body of the telegram states:



TELEX cable dated November 4, 1962 sent to Stanley Hall by Juan Móricz. Photo credit: Stanley Hall.

TELEX cable dated November 4, 1962 sent to Stanley Hall by Juan Móricz. Photo credit: Stanley Hall.

Clearly, Juan Móricz is prospecting for gold. Clearly, he is conducting mining operations in the transprovincial vicinity of the Tayos Caves complex. But does he actually extract gold or other precious materials from the Tayos Caves? The Shuar do not think so, and they direct their wrath at Father Crespi. But what do others have to say about gold prospector Juan Móricz? In contrast to the Shuar, they leave some tantalizing clues.

Goyén relates, via Aguirre (p. 90), that during the 1968 period, Móricz suggested that the two explorer companions returned to Quito in order to prepare “an official claim for the objects in the  caves, and that they procure a helicopter, invite the president along with a military escort (because the president has his own helicopter),  and then return to the cave and unveil its content.”

Nivello, Hall, Moricz, Pena & Punin 1975. (

Nivello, Hall, Moricz, Pena & Punin 1975. (

Again following Aguirre, during the 1969 military expedition, Móricz and Goyén find human figurines made of solid gold. Goyén makes an off-the-cuff estimation that each figurine weighs between 100 and 400 kilograms (220.46-440.92 lbs). As for the gold veins,  they find the gold in sheets stacked on top of each other as if they were books . Each sheet measures 30 by 40 cm (11.81-15.75 inches) wide and 0.2 mm deep. Goyén estimates that there are 3,000 of such veins. There are, in addition, other isolated veins, perhaps in the hundreds or even thousands. According to Argentine Coronel Carlos María Zavallas, Móricz and Goyén decide to send a few of these gold sheets to Buenos Aires.

Aguirre also confirms that once Goyén returned to Buenos Aires after the expedition, Móricz sent Goyén a letter forewarning him that he was also sending a canister that contained: “salvage material, sand, gold, silver, platinum, iron . . . and within the same material . . . he would find a significant quantity of diamonds . . . a nice piece of gneis, a really pure diamond in which one can find many diamonds of very good quality, and . . . within a flask, 30 diamonds that I took from the sand.”  By the way, Aguirre adds later, Juan Móricz designated Julio Goyén as his rightful heir, including in the inheritance his partial titles to the gold deposits of the Cumbaratza Mining Company and the Mining Company of the South.

But Móricz was also keeping his eye out for gold in other forms. Aguirre relates that early on when Móricz arrived in Ecuador, he was digging on the property of a widow in Quinara for the lost treasure of Atahualpa , and that he had received a letter from the Pope’s Secretary (or Camarlengo) to intervene with the widow and gain permission to dig there.

Atahualpa, Fourteenth Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings. (Public Domain)

As well as the human figurines mentioned above, Goyén also recounts other discoveries that he and Móricz made during the 1968 expedition:

“there’s a spot that one could call the Sanctum Sanctorum . . . We found a type of semi translucent sarcophagus. The casket, probably made of quartz, contained the body of an individual. There were also four other bodies—skeletons, really . . . All the bodies considerably shorter than a contemporary adult . . . the first body appeared to be completely dressed in gold . . . Beyond them, there were hundreds of statues and sculptures made of stone and gold, representing all types of creatures from the five continents.”

Julio Goyén ends by claiming that, “We didn’t take anything,” . . . although clearly, according to this investigation ,  a few things were taken out of the caves and sent on to Buenos Aires. This investigation on Juan Móricz concludes by noting the following. According to the DDLA TV investigation in June, 2013, Móricz “was accustomed to travel around with a little bag of emeralds, and the least of these was worth at least $50K. He maintained strongboxes in various global banks.” In other words, Juan Móricz was a very wealthy man. He obviously was successful in his gold mining adventures, and he also encountered gold in its archaeological as well as its geological form.

A corridor in the Tayos Caves

Who Stole the Gold? Part 3: Blow Smoke and Look the Other Way…

This is the thrilling conclusion to the investigation on the true mystery regarding the Tayos Caves – what has happened to the pure, prestigious, and lustrous golden ore?

Stanley Hall: Have Gun Will Travel

Based on the telegram in part two of this investigation, we know that British explorer Stanley Hall was as interested in mining for gold as Móricz. Móricz and Hall were organizing an expedition to the Tayos Caves together, but after squabbling about who would be in command and who would have exclusive rights to any discoveries, Móricz withdrew from the business partnership, and Hall became the head of the largest expedition to enter the Tayos Caves , the famous joint British-Ecuadorian expedition of 1976.  The expedition included more than 120 people and penetrated more than 16 km (9.94 miles) into the Caves. According to Hall himself (p. 42), sixty-five British soldiers and scientists arrived in Quito on July 1, 1976 and joined up “with an equally large group of national and international scientists and Ecuadorian military personnel . . . amid a public outcry over the secrecy surrounding the operation.” According to D. Golding, Hall thought a joint operation would allow the explorers to “apply for a different permit while still maintaining the title deed to any discovered artifacts.” We should ask what the presence of armed soldiers on an archaeological/mining expedition suggests about the true nature of this operation. We should also note that the expedition was supported by one “Puma” helicopter, one “Alouette” helicopter, and one military “Arava” airplane.

Left to right, contemporary versions of the Puma, Alouette, and Arava aircraft. Photo credits:,, and

What did Stanley Hall’s expedition find in the Tayos Caves? According to Ancient alienpedia, “the expedition found  no treasure and no trace of anything that looked like the artifacts in Father Crespi’s collection.” However, they “did find a tomb chamber with items dating to 1500 BCE.” More credibly, Guillermo Aguirre reports that the 1976 expedition encountered several anthropomorphic ceramic figures in the Caves’ interior, which were “brought to Quito by the delegation from the Archeological Research Center of the Catholic University of Ecuador,”  under the direction of Father Josefino Pedro Porras Garcés. In a video interview made by the Spanish investigator, Jaime Eduardo Rodríguez Tanguay, Hall holds up a photograph of a necklace and identifies it as one of the pieces taken from the Tayos Caves under the direction of Father Porras. (See photo below.) Hall also confirms that the expedition found a skeleton dating to 1500 BC. Hall also adds that PUCE Professor Patricio Moncayo  Echeverría has additional photos of artifacts taken from the Tayos Caves.

Necklace of unknown material taken from the Tayos Caves now in the PUCE collection, according to Stanley Hall. Photo credit: Jaime Eduardo Rodríguez Tanguay (2011).

Necklace of unknown material taken from the Tayos Caves now in the PUCE collection, according to Stanley Hall. Photo credit: Jaime Eduardo Rodríguez Tanguay (2011).

There is one more piece of evidence indicating that Stanley Hall found and retained something very valuable from the Tayos Caves. Numerous investigators have reported that the Stanley Hall expedition left the area with several sealed wooden crates. Zavalla’s biography of Crespi indicates that between seven and eleven boxes with either “artifacts from the cave” or with “unknown contents even until today” were originally packed, and that four final boxes were taken away. Zavalla cites an article called “Middle of the World,” written by Pablo Villarrubia Mauso, that details the following: “Finally, the expedition took from the Ecuadorian jungle four sealed, wooden boxes that they did not permit the Shuar Indians to open, who then felt deceived and cheated.” The Villarrubia article continues, “It seems that the boxes contained archeological remains consisting of figurines and small plates of great value to the Indians.” The video, The Tayos Cave and the Vatican Conspiracy corroborates this story, indicating that Gerardo Peña Matheus, Móricz long-time lawyer, stated in 2015 that, “The 1976 expedition took out 4 sealed wooden boxes out of the caves: the Shuar protested and were shot at by Ecuadorian and British soldiers.” According to Rosario de Aurora, interviewed in the same Tayos Cave video, the expedition “carried off four enormous wooden boxes packed with all manner of objects, which the Shuar tried to repossess from the Ecuadorian and English soldiers, and that tangle ended literally with the soldiers firing shots at the indigenous people.”

Guillermo Aguirre remains mum on the final deposition of any artifacts from the 1976 expedition to the Tayos Caves. However, he relates the following interesting commentary (bolding is mine):

“The entrance to the Cave by which the British expedition in 1976 would enter was sealed by the Ecuadorian government, despite the fact that they say that it has been broken into [. . . ] Julio [Goyén] thought there was no way for one to reach the inner chambers, and much less to take out any object whatsoever. The guardians—whoever they are or whether they even exist—have known how to preserve their secrets . . .  And, on the other hand, there’s no way to buy off the Shuar. The despoiling of any material goods and their ancestral mandate to preserve what was given to them in custody, would impede any attempt to carry such a thing out.”

On the basis of this statement, as well as our prior review of the Shuars’ autonomous rights to their territory, we are on firm ground to classify any removal whatsoever of objects from the Tayos Caves as looting .  It is true that in 1968 Juan Móricz sought and obtained a permit in the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana (Cultural Center of Ecuador), signed by one Fernando Tinajero, to carry out “archeological investigations” in Ecuador. However, the Shuar were never consulted regarding this permit. Hence the guns.

Photo credit: (2012-2013)

Photo credit: (2012-2013)

As a final note, in the interview recorded by Rodríguez, Hall denies that the 1976 expedition took away four boxes, reasoning that, since he was surrounded and escorted by armed members of the Ecuadorian special forces, that would have been impossible. However, if the Ecuadorian military were in on the looting, such reasoning fails to hold up. And that brings us to the final suspect: shadowy accessories to the crime that we can loosely identify as the Ecuadorian armed forces or government, perhaps acting on behalf of other interested private parties. 

 “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends”

The Ecuadorian as well as the Argentine and British militaries were clearly involved in logistics and support operations for both the Juan Móricz (1969) and Stanley Hall (1976) expeditions, including the use of helicopters. There is no proof that Crespi had military contacts, although Ancient Origins reports a rumor that some of the Crespi collection may have been sold to military personnel. Nor is there any evidence that military personnel were recipients of any archeological objects or mining products removed from the caves. However, it is very clear that the Ecuadorian military had direct knowledge of what was going on during these operations, and they would be a good source for further inquiries.

This investigation can establish that the the Ecuadorian military maintained reconnaissance operations in the region surrounding the Tayos Caves. Guillermo Aguirre reports that Coronel Victor Proaño from the military base in Macas, capital of Morona Santiago, found an entrance to the Caves. After that, military personnel from that base carried out “subsequent expeditions of their own personal initiative.” Sources, such as Skeptoid, that trace the mythological components of the Tayos mystery to rumors spread by Pedro Jaramillo should note that Jaramillo served in the military in this region, eventually rising to the rank of captain.

After Móricz’ deal with the Mormons fell through, he solicited military support to complete his third expedition. In a letter sent to Coronel Carlos Zavalla from the Continental Hotel in Guayaquil, dated May 26, 1968, Móricz states he had contacted the Major General of the Armed Forces of Ecuador, and that they “express great interest in organizing an expedition to the Caves,” which was subsequently undertaken. According to Aguirre, the 1969 Móricz expedition included members of the Ecuadorian Department of Defense and Communications, including Capt. Carlos Guerrero Guerrón, and Second Lt. Ortiz. Móricz also maintained contact with the head of the military zone in Cuenca, General Antonio Moral, who commanded the expedition troops involved in jungle operations. General Carlos María Zavalla, a retired Argentine officer and member of Argentina’s intelligence services, was also informed about the expedition. A Corporal Guevarra is also mentioned. The 1976 Hall expedition included General Bolívar López Herrmann, Major Francisco Sampedro V. of the Office of History and Geography of the Department of Defense, several military reporters, and Lt. Ortiz. Again, nothing more specific can be said here in regards to their operations.

Ecuadorian Special Forces at the Cave Site. (

Ecuadorian Special Forces at the Cave Site. (

In regard to the fact that the Shuar attribute the helicopters to neither Hall nor Móricz but to Crespi, this investigation suggests that the Shuar may have confused the protagonists of this story, and that further details should be requested from them regarding their account of the Tayos robberies.

The Fog of Time

Gold is the hidden subtext of the Tayos mystery, but what about to the more fabulous elements of this story? Many investigators, such as Manuel Palacios Villavicencio, are still perpetuating the rumors about golden tablets with ancient inscriptions, underground giants who lived in subterranean chambers, and especially lost civilizations with roots in the Americas, and they are using Móricz’ linguistic claims to defend their opinions. This investigation, therefore, will briefly analyze Móricz’ claims that the Tayos Caves were linked to evidence proving that the ancestors of the Magyar people were indigenous Americans.

In his book, The American Origin of the European People , Móricz states, “in Ecuador – as elsewhere in the Americas – the Cayapos, JIbaro-Shuar, Tshachis [sic], Saragurus, Salasakas, and others speak a version of the old Magyar tongue, that place-name and dialects of Ecuador, although many have been eroded by acculturalization, or eliminated by force, are numerous.” In addition to the Magyars, or Hungarians, Móricz also claimed that the Sumerians are descendants of ancient Americans, equating the name “Sumer” with “Zumer, Shumir, Sumir, and Zhumir,” place names he claims are from the Azuay, Cañar, and Loja Provinces of Ecuador.

There are numerous problems with this type of linguistic analysis. First, place name comparison is an extremely weak form of evidence to prove linguistic affinity. Second, Móricz is comparing ancient Magyar with contemporary indigenous language, thus denying that indigenous languages have evolved over time. Third, Móricz ignores the grammatical structure of languages in his claims, and fails to compare commonly used words, which are the ones that are most likely to show relationship.

Móricz is also coy about his assertions. As Guillermo Aguirre relates, Móricz passed through the Tsáchila territory around 1965, accompanied by Corporal Juan Pérez. He supposedly “exchanged a mutually understandable greeting in Magyar” with the Tsáchilas—but this greeting is never recorded.

Indigenous languages of Ecuador’s Orient (Amazon region). Photo credit: Santiago Ortega Haboud (2008)

Indigenous languages of Ecuador’s Orient (Amazon region). Photo credit: Santiago Ortega Haboud (2008)

Móricz claims are sketchy, at best. Magyar is an agglutinative language mostly using affixes. It has noun declension, with up to 35 case endings, depending on the noun. Its neutral word order is SVO (subject-verb-object). In comparison, for example, Shuar has no noun declension, and its preferred word order is SOV (subject-object-verb). Shuar uses suffixes to express person, number, and tense. Magyar is classified as a Finno-Ugric language, and Shuar is in the Chicham language family.  Here is a comparison of number words between Magyar and other language that Móricz claimed are related to it:


























dish, ash





Words for numbers are some of the common words most likely to show linguistic affinity; think of the word for “one” in various Romance languages. Clearly these languages are not only not related to Magyar, they are not related to each other! To this counter-evidence, we can add the fact that DNA testing shows no relationship whatsoever between the Magyars and the Shuar or Tsáchilas.

There is the possibility that Móricz, overtaken by a spirit of enthusiasm and nationalism, actually believed his claims. Therefore, it is worthwhile to analyze the origins of Móricz’ claims. Julio Goyén noted that Móricz was influenced by several Hungarian scholars, including Ferenc Csérep, author of The Ancestral Patrimony of the Magyars is Amerika ( A Magyarság öshazája Amerika ). However, Csérep’s theory was so discredited by fellow Hungarian scholars that he was expelled from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Another influence, according to Aguirre via Goyén, was Florencio de Basaldúa y Elordigoytiá, an Argentine-Basque engineer and historian. Basaldúa believed that the “red race” are the descendants of the sunken continent of Lemuria, as documented in his work, Statement on the Red Race in Universal History , and Prehistory and History of the Indigenous Civilization of Amerika and of its Destruction by the Barbarians of the East .  To corroborate these beliefs, Móricz nitpicked evidence from the colonial literature of the Americas. For example, in his The America Origin , Móricz refers to a vowel shift (“o” to “u”) identified by Juan de Velasco, author of Modern History of the Kingdom of Quito and Chronicle of the Province of the Society of Jesus in that Kingdom ( Historia Moderna del Reyno de Quito y Crónica de la Provincia de la Compañía de Jesús del mismo Reyno ). He also refers to Origin of the Indians of the New World and West Indies( Origen de los indios de el Nuevo Mundo e Indias Occidentales ), a work by Gregorio García published in 1607, noting that García says that the “ Scythians” populated the West Indies—a long stretch for explaining Magyar (Skythian?) connections to indigenous Ecuadorians! A more careful reading of Garcia’s work shows that García also claimed that the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Chinese, and 12 Hebrew tribes, among others, populated the Americas!

Conclusion: Blow Smoke and Look the Other Way

So what do we make of the strange stories revolving around the Tayos Caves: the fabled library of metal tablets, the convoluted linguistic puzzle, and the ancient underground civilization? This investigation concludes that they were nothing more than an elaborate and impromptu  smokescreen to justify the archaeological looting and illegal mining activities whose real purpose was the acquisition of gold. These strange tales served two important purposes: 1) to distract attention from the real intentions of Crespi, Hall, and Móricz; and 2) to attract necessary funds and logistical support to undertake difficult expeditions in remote, undeveloped territory. Hall’s and Móricz’ stories inflamed the curiosity and pride of Ecuadorians; extravagant claims justified extreme measures.

As for Crespi, he was clearly dealing in commerce of antiquities. He may well have acquired gold artifacts at some point in his collection efforts. And as for the Shuar, they have both a legal and customary right to any gold in any form, and for any other resources and/or artifacts, taken from the Tayos Caves, and they are rightfully outraged about the injustice of any robberies committed.

View of the Pastaza River from a hill at Tayu Jee. Photo credit: the author (2016)

View of the Pastaza River from a hill at Tayu Jee. Photo credit: the author (2016)

Top Image: A corridor in the Tayos Caves. Source: MezzoforteF/ CC BY SA 3.0

By Heidi Schultz


Views: 294

Replies to This Discussion

I think the conclusion to this post is about right, the Shuars Indians have had their possessions stolen with all these funny tales as a device to do just that steal their gold and do whatever else they wanted to do. Now they all wanted a piece of the pie, and I am sure the government took a lot of it.

And each of the mentioned characters took their share, as well...

FASCINATING!!!! Thank you Carmen!


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