The 21st Century Goldrush for Oil Dorado

Part 2: The search for the elusive Golden City in Brazil and Venezuela

Ahead of the February 14-17 Guyana Energy Conference and Expo, this four-part series follows the original search for Guyana gold five centuries ago that preceded the 21st Century oil rush that’s fuelling the Cooperative Republic’s fortunes into a golden future!

IN 1740, Don Manuel Centurion, Governor of Santo Tomé de Guayana de Angostura del Orinoco in Venezuela, hearing a report from an Indian about Lake Parima, embarked on a journey up the  Caura River  and the  Paragua River, causing the deaths of several hundred persons.

His survey of the local geography, however, provided the basis for other expeditions starting in 1775. From 1775 to 1780, Nicholas Rodriguez and Antonio Santos, two entrepreneurs employed by the Spanish Governors, set out on foot and Santos, proceeding by the Caroní River, the  Paragua River and the  Pacaraima Mountains, reached the  Uraricoera River  and  Rio Branco , but found nothing.

Between 1799 and 1804, Alexander von Humboldt conducted an extensive and scientific survey of the Guyana river basins and lakes, concluding that a seasonally-flooded confluence of rivers may be what inspired the notion of a mythical Lake Parime – and of the supposed golden city on the shore, but nothing was found.

Further exploration by Charles Waterton (1812) and Robert Schomburgk (1840) confirmed Humboldt’s findings. But there were other earlier accounts worth noting.

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I of England died, bringing to an end the era of Elizabethan adventurism. In 1695, ‘bandeirantes’ in the south struck gold along a tributary of the São Francisco River in the highlands of State of Minas Gerais, Brazil and the prospect of real gold overshadowed the illusory promise of “gold men” and “lost cities” in the vast interior of the north.

A gold mine at El Callao (Venezuela), started in 1871 a few miles at south of Orinoco River, was for a time one of the richest in the world and the goldfields, as a whole, saw over a million ounces exported between 1860 and 1883.

The immigrants who emigrated to the gold mines of Venezuela were mostly from the British Isles and the British West Indies.

The Orinoco Mining Arc (OMA), officially created on February 24, 2016 as the Arco Mining Orinoco National Strategic Development Zone, is an area rich in mineral resources that Venezuela has been operating since 2017 — which occupies mostly the north of the Bolivar state and to a lesser extent the northeast of the Amazonas state and part of the Delta Amacuro state – and it had 7,000 tons of reserves of gold, copper, diamond, coltan, iron, bauxite and other minerals.

A photograph taken from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021 showed golden areas near the Amazon River that were determined to be extensive illegal gold mining operations.

Such photography — and especially satellite — surveys have revealed the extent of the impact of these operations and suggest the rate of forest loss more than tripled as gold prices rose in 2008, largely driven by small, illegal mining operations that now account for most activity in the region.

A team from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, estimated (using satellite data and field surveyed together) that mining covered fewer than 10,000 hectares in 1999, but had spread beyond 50,000 hectares by September 2012.

In 1987–1988, an expedition led by John Hemming of the Royal Geographical Society failed to uncover any evidence of the ancient city of Manoa on the island of Maracá in north-central Roraima, but even though members of the expedition were accused of looting historic artifacts, an official report of the expedition described it as “an ecological survey”.

Although it was dismissed in the 19th century as a myth, some evidence for the existence of a lake in northern Brazil has been uncovered.

In 1977, Brazilian geologists Gert Woeltje and Frederico Guimarães Cruz, along with Roland Stevenson, found that on all the surrounding hillsides a horizontal line appears at a uniform level approximately 120 metres (390 ft) above sea level.

This line registers the water level of an extinct lake which existed until relatively recent times and researchers who studied it found that the lake’s previous diameter measured 400 kilometres (250 miles) and its area was about 80,000 square kilometres (31,000 sq miles). About 700 years ago, this giant lake began to drain due to tectonic movement.

In June 1690, a massive earthquake opened a bedrock fault, forming a rift  or a  graben  that permitted the water to flow into the Rio Branco, but by the early 19th century it had dried-up completely.

Roraima’s well-known Pedra Pintada is the site of numerous pictographs dating to the pre-Columbian era. Designs on the sheer exterior face of the rock were most likely painted by people standing in canoes on the surface of the now-vanished lake. Gold, which was reported to be washed up on the shores of the lake, was most likely carried by streams and rivers out of the mountains where it can be found today.

Since 2007, a team of international and multidisciplinary researchers, led by Venezuelan archaeologist and explorer, Jose Miguel Perez-Gomez, has conducted several expeditions into southeast Venezuela’s unexplored jungle areas in search of the storied Lake Parime.

The team presented its results in October 2019 in Germany, derived from a large amount of data collected from multiple expeditions and based on analysis of historical sources, indigenous oral traditions, archaeological and geological studies, digital elevation models (DEM), as well as aerial, satellite, remote- sensing surveys obtained from NASA and sensors from Germany.

By using these advanced remote sensing technologies, the researchers were able to reconstruct a fossil lake and also identify the place where it emptied.

Based on a GIS flood projection model, the flooding computations for the proposed lake area revealed a body of water much longer than it was wide.

In fact, an elongated rift lake emerged, markedly similar to Sir Walter Raleigh’s original map of 1595.

(NEXT WEEK: The Transition to Oil Dorado)

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