Elias Zandi, also known as "Eli" by his close friends, was a wealthy archaeologist and the father of Jeff Zandi. He often travelled around the world looking at sites and bought a number of valuable artifacts, claiming a connection with the items. Over time, he began to narrow his focus to the American Southwest. He claimed that there was a special mystery to the artifacts there. It was during this time that he became quite close with John Loftin, a man who had proved adept at finding artifacts that interested Elias.
In the late 1980s, Loftin stumbled upon the D'ni digging machines that had been left at the top of the Great Shaft following its completion. Elias was elated by this discovery, and from then on he focused exclusively on excavating and exploring the tunnels. On March 19, 1988, Loftin and Elias went on an expedition that led to the top of the Great Shaft. Remarking on that day, Elias wrote in his journal, "I have come to a place that I could never have imagined, and yet it seems I have come home."
In 1989, Elias and John Loftin found the D'ni cavern during their third major expedition. Following this discovery, Elias began to contact people to help with expeditions and with releasing the information being uncovered. He also bought thousands of acres of land above the tunnels.
In 1990, John Loftin, Elias and Dr. Richard A. Watson went down on a three week expedition and ended up going all the way to Ae'gura, where they discovered a number of artifacts – including Catherine's journals. The three returned in 1991, but only Elias and Watson returned. Loftin died in D'ni; based on accounts from Watson, his death was likely the result of lax safety precautions.
Elias fed the information uncovered from Catherine's journals up to the Miller brothers at Cyan Inc.. These documents formed the basis of Myst, as well as several subsequent sequels. Elias wanted them to release the information found in D'ni as fiction, so that only those that felt what he referred to as "the call" would come to find it.
As time went on, Elias came to believe that some people were partly D'ni in heritage, and began to develop unique opinions on how to go about restoring the Cavern. He wanted to fill it with people who believed that they were descended from D'ni – a stark contrast to the more conventional archaeological restoration advanced by Dr. Watson. By 1992, however, Elias' health began to fail. A year later, he had open heart surgery, and his doctors strongly advised him to slow down. He refused.
By the mid 1990s, some small groups of people began to search for the entrance to D'ni, saying that they "felt the call". Many of these people became volunteers in the restoration efforts. Elias was thrilled by this turn of events, and continued to go on expeditions late into 1995. In November of that year, he and his son Jeff had an intense argument over the purpose of the restoration – Jeff felt that a strictly physical reconstruction was insufficient, and that a spiritual renewal was needed as well. After this argument, the two fell out, and likely never spoke again. In 1996, Elias died of a heart attack, leaving his money to the D'ni Restoration Foundation, and the acres of land in New Mexico to Jeff.
- Dr. Watson, "A little background on Zandi". DRC forums. January 30, 2003.