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Has Google Earth located El Dorado?

Archaeologists using satellite imagery believe they may have found what could be the mythical El Dorado. However, they want Google Earth to offer better coverage.

For some, the words "El Dorado" represent something magical, a place where untold riches and beauty are there for the taking.

For others, the words represent a much underrated album by the Electric Light Orchestra from 1974.

Still, it is the former that has interested historians, archaeologists, and greedy people for many centuries. There are many legends, some more plausible than others. Yet many seem to have located this wondrous place in Colombia.

But these speculators didn't have satellite technology, did they? So I was delighted, and only slightly skeptical, to read a New Yorker article that might overturn much of what might have been thought about the alleged inhospitable nature of the Amazon climate and the real location of El Dorado.

The systematic culling of the Amazon forest has ironically allowed archaeologists to learn more about ancient civilizations that might have grown within and to pursue the notion that El Dorado might be a real place.

Do the trees conceal a golden civilization? CC Alex Terrenegra/Flickr

By following satellite imagery of the forest, the truth diggers, led by Martii Pärssinen from the University of Helsinki, believe they have found more than 200 "geometric structures" (circles, squares and other shapes), some of which, they believe, might be as much as 1,700 years old.

These structures stretch out over an area from Bolivia to Northern Brazil.

Those who bought into the legend of El Dorado believed it wasn't merely a place, but a whole civilization, perhaps one of the first to suggest how a relatively sophisticated society might be structured.

The pooh-poohers, many from the last century, believed the Amazon was the last place any kind of ideal society might have survived or even prospered.

Parsinnen and his team, who published their work in the journal Antiquity, under the less than sensationalist title of "Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in the upper Pur´us: a complex society in western Amazonia," believe what they have found already suggests a society of a complex nature. They also seem a little cross that Google's technology isn't helping them more.

They write: "Given the poor coverage that Google Earth has for non-urban areas, we believe that the sites already found make up only 10 percent of what is actually there. We can anticipate the exploration of a substantial population purposely modifying, for centuries, environments that we once considered marginal."

However, from what they have already discovered, they believe that in order to have built one Amazonian structure or "geoglyph" of 200 meters in diameter, it would have taken 80 people 100 days.

Perhaps some of the folks at Google Earth can dedicate a little more of their technological expertise to finding a way to help these fine archaeologists unearth the whole of El Dorado. Might they have 80 people with 100 days to spare?

After all, there might be a large pot of gold at the end of it.