False facts that actually changed the world

We were sure there was a whole city made of gold in South America, so we destroyed entire civilizations

The stories of a city of gold hidden somewhere deep in the South American jungles started in 1519 with Cortes, his capture of Montezuma, and his complete destruction of the Aztecs. As if that’s not bad enough, the story about Cortes’s ill-gotten fortune in gold and silver started making the rounds throughout Europe, and according to Thought Co, those stories came together to form the legend of El Dorado.

You noticed how it’s called a legend, right? Thousands and thousands of people heard it as a true story, setting off to South America to look for the lost city of gold and doing a huge amount of damage along the way. In 1537, Spanish conquistadors massacred the Muisca peoples and dredged Lake Guatavita, the lake associated with earlier tales of El Dorado and their gold-clad king. When they didn’t find enough gold, they kept looking. In attempts to get leads on where the city was, native people were captured, tortured, and enslaved. It’s also largely why European explorers mapped so much of South America, but that’s a small consolation. If that’s the only good that came of it, we could have waited for satellites.