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Cueva de los Tayos (Spanish, "Cave of the Oilbirds") is a natural cave located on the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains in the Morona-Santiago province of Ecuador. It is sometimes called Cueva de los Tayos de Coangos (the Rio Coangos is nearby), presumably to distinguish it from other oilbird-containing caves with similar names.
Located at an elevation of about 800 m within thinly-bedded limestone and shale, the principal entrance to Cueva de Los Tayos is within rainforest at the bottom of a dry valley. The largest of three entrances is a 65 meter deep shaft leading to 4.6 kilometers of spacious passages and a chamber measuring 90 meters by 240 meters. The cave has a vertical range of 201 meters with its lowest point ending in a sump.
The cave has long been used by the native Jivaro Indians who descend into the cave each spring using vine ladders and bamboo torches to collect fledgeling tayos (the nocturnal Steatornis caripensis). Written references to the cave go back as far as 1860 and it is known to have been visited by gold-seekers and military personnel in the 1960s.
The cave was popularized by Erich von Däniken's 1973 book The Gold of the Gods, in which he wrote that Juan Moricz had claimed to have explored Cueva de los Tayos in 1969 and discovered mounds of gold, unusual sculptures and a metallic library. These items were said to be located within artificial tunnels that had been created by a lost civilization with help from extraterrestrial beings. Von Däniken had previously stirred public imagination by suggesting that extraterrestrials were involved in ancient civilizations in his popular book Chariots of the Gods?.
As a result of the claims published in von Däniken’s book, an investigation of Cueva de los Tayos was organized by Stan Hall from Britain in 1976. One of the largest and most expensive cave explorations ever undertaken, the expedition included over a hundred people, including experts in a variety of fields, British and Ecuadorian military personnel, a film crew, and former astronaut Neil Armstrong. The team also included eight experienced British cavers who thoroughly explored the cave and conducted an accurate survey to produce a detailed map of the cave. There was no evidence of Von Däniken’s more exotic claims, although some physical features of the cave did approximate his descriptions and some items of zoological, botanical and archaeological interest were found.