Percy Fawcett and The Lost City of Z

There is nothing more alluring than finding a lost city. Well, perhaps there is one more thing: the belief that it does exist. Any object worthy of a quest is alluring. But anticipation is often better than fulfillment, as I have learned too many times while in quest of something.

Percy Fawcett became enamored of the prospects of finding a lost city in the Matto Grosso of Brazil. It was not that he believed there was just a city to be found. He believed it was the cradle of civilization. The beginning point. It was more than El Dorado. Its treasure was the secrets of the origins of mankind and all civilization. In a way, it was Fawcett’s Atlantis.  It was a civilization that tumbled down in prehistory. Even the Inca had recollections of the Andes being thrust upward during a great continental cataclysm. Were they the survivors? Was the first civilization started in the Matto Grosso, the heart of Brazil?

Like the sea, the jungle holds its secrets, causing us to stand on its perimeter and gaze in anticipation. Fawcett believed in many of the nuances of the time– from psychometry to “readings.” He was broadminded and adventurous. My kinda guy. He also did lots of research. He examined some ruins far from the object of his quest– ancient Peruvian structures of dark rooms wherein there was no hint of soot. He believed it could have mean the ancients here at electricity.

The rumors of the Lost City he called “Z” came from many locations. No doubt they were of the same type that had beguiled the early Spanish conquistadors about El Dorado, the lost city of gold.

But Fawcett was one up on them. He had discovered that Manuscript 512 now in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro. A 17th century Portuguese settler describes having found a city with arches and a statue. . . and hieroglyphic writing. The Inca had no script. Only the Maya did and they too recalled the destruction of a great civilization to the “east.” According to the map the lost city was in Bahia State, the province bordering the Atlantic.

In 1925, when Fawcett finally prepared for his final journey, he was going to go through the Matto Grosso and then come out and head into Bahia State and make this city his secondary goal. This wasn’t Z. From all he had discovered, its location didn’t fit. But its existence served to underscore a civilization of cities, obviously once connected by roads, that had existed once upon a time in the lush Amazon.

map blow up

Part of a map showing Percy Fawcett’s expedition in 1925, contained in Brian Fawcett’s book Lost Trails, Lost Cities.  Raposo’s city is marked by the arch and statue.

This made sense to Percy Fawcett. Why would the spectacular civilizations of the Andes limit themselves so such remote areas with a lush and fertile chunk of land– the vast majority of land in South America– at their doorstep? It seemed as if these impressive Andean civilizations were merely the last remnant, the survivors of an even more opulent civilization. Z represented this. It was the heart of prehistory. It was the Atlantis swallowed not by the sea but by the jungle.

Percy Fawcett, his son Jack, and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimmel, never found Z in 1925. Nor did they find the city Fawcett called Raposo’s City, which is the one he believed was described in Manuscript 512. The Amazon swallowed the three of them and no trace was ever found.

Does Z exist? Symbolically, I think we should all wish it to exist. It is Babel. It is Atlantis. It is El Dorado. It is the object of a quest. But can it truly exist today in the Amazon and have gone undetected? Not even Raposo’s city in the Bahia has been found, and yet the settler wrote that he had found one.

The jungle can cover anything. Aerial photographs have captured intriguing objects that look like pyramids in the jungle. There are still reasons to hope.

LandsatA once intriguing Landsat satellite photo over the Amazon.

It is speculated today that Fawcett was picking up stories about the lost civilization of Kuhikugu near the headwaters of the river Xingu. It was later discovered after his death. Several settlements were connected with roads and interspersed with farmland.  Perhaps as many as 50,000 had once lived here. If they had built such a community, could they too have been the survivors of a vanished age?

Soon the movie The Lost City of Z will be released. This is one movie I am going to go see. I hope it is done well and captures the adventure and the reasons why Fawcett truly believed there was a fabled ruined city of an advanced prehistoric civilization in the Amazon. Without it the quest cannot be appreciated. It is, in fact, the spirit of the whole quest. The quest was not jut an object. It was what it contained.

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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.


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