The Lost City of Z (& the Mysterious Disappearance of Colonel Percy Fawcett)

Coronel Percy Harrison Fawcett and the Lost City of Z (Image: Daniel Candido; Percy Fawcett and the Lost City of Z)

In 1925, British explorer Lt. Colonel Percy Fawcett set off into the Amazon jungle in search of a mysterious lost city, which he called Z. He was never heard from again.

If anyone was able to survive the most gruelling of adventures, it was Fawcett. He had served the British military in Sri Lanka, infiltrated Morocco as a spy, and fought in World War One. He had also been to the Amazon half a dozen times, mapping the area and making contact with hostile natives. He was a friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Lost World was based on his adventures.

Lt. Colonel Fawcett‘s contact with local people, and his research into the history of Amazonian civilisations, led him to believe that cities documented by early conquistadors had yet to be discovered. He embarked on two trips that failed early on.

But not one to admit defeat easily, Fawcett organised a third expedition. He rejected an offer of help from fellow British adventurer T. E. Lawrence, known to history as Lawrence of Arabia, instead taking his 21-year-old son, Jack, and Jack’s best friend along with him.

Fawcett believed that the Lost City of Z was to be found in the dense jungles of Mato Grosso, Brazil. The trio left New Jersey in January of 1925 and, by April, were in the jungle in the company of two guides. On May 29, they reached the spot Fawcett had camped before – the place where he had called off a previous expedition. They sent their guides back, with a letter and a warning that no-one would hear from them until they emerged from the Amazon rainforest.

Undocumented indigenous tribe in Acre, Brazil (Image: Gleilson Miranda)

Since 1928, more than 100 people have died trying to solve the mystery of Fawcett’s disappearance, and that of his young companions, as they supposedly searched for the fabled Lost City of Z. No-one was able to uncover any solid evidence of what befell them, but in 2004, an examination of Fawcett’s private papers allegedly brought to light new information, and helped established a bizarre theory about as to his fate.

Television and theatre director Misha Williams claimed to have found evidence that Fawcett never planned on returning from the Amazon at all. Instead, he intended to establish his own secret commune. The theory is certainly unusual. Williams said that Fawcett talked about a “Grand Scheme”, in which he would set up his own community centred around the worship of his own son and the mystical ideas of theosophy.

Fawcett’s papers also referenced the influence of a mysterious female spirit guide, which was reported to lure men into the heart of the jungle; for better or worse. Did Lt. Colonel Percy Fawcett disappear on purpose? Or did something terrible befall the adventurers as they searched for the legendary Lost City of Z?

Interestingly, an archaeological site known as Kuhikugu – discovered by anthropologist Michael Heckenberger – may have existed near the region Fawcett disappeared in, and contemporaneous legends of this undiscovered civilisation may have inspired Fawcett’s visit to the region.

When New Yorker staff writer David Grann visited the Kalapalo tribe in 2005, he learned that Fawcett featured in their oral tradition. The explorer had apparently stayed with the tribe, who believed that he was likely killed by “fierce Indians”. These accounts, and the discovery of Kuhikugu, are discovered in Grann’s 2009 book, The Lost City of Z. A movie based on the book was released in October 2016.

Related: 10 Lost Cities and Mythical Civilisations of the Ancient World


About the author: Debra Kelly




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