from Ancient-Origins Website
Illustration of El Dorado,
licensed for reuse.
It's also the name of a film released in 2016 starring Charlie Hunnam, that is supposedly based on the real life story of Percy Fawcett, billed by the promoters as one of 'Britain's Greatest Explorers' - though there is controversy on whether he deserves that credit.
He claims in a Spectator article that in reality Fawcett was,
The film (and book by David Grann upon which it is based) seems to have taken a more sympathetic view of the man and his adventures, focusing, as expected, on the venture he became famous for - the search for the 'City of Z' of the title.
An officer in the Army and trained surveyor, Fawcett was the last of the famous territorial explorers; men who ventured into blank spots on the map with little more than a machete and a compass.
For years he would survive without contact in the wilderness and befriend tribes who had never before seen a white man.
in the Amazon inspired books and Hollywood movies; Indiana Jones is
even purportedly based on Fawcett.
Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett in 1911.
( Public Domain )
In 1906, the Royal Geographical Society, a British organization that sponsors scientific expeditions, invited Fawcett to survey part of the frontier between Brazil and Bolivia.
He spent 18 months in the Mato Grosso area and
it was during his various expeditions that Fawcett became obsessed
with the idea of lost civilizations in this area.
where Percy Fawcett conducted numerous expeditions.
(Phil P Harris/ CC BY SA 2.5 )
His conviction was fueled in part by the rediscovery of the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu in 1911, hidden away in Peru's Andes Mountains.
During his travels, Fawcett also heard rumors of a secret city buried in the jungles of Chile that was said to have streets paved in silver and roofs made of gold.
Of 'Z' itself, Fawcett had a specific idea of what the city looked like.
In a letter to his son Brian, Fawcett wrote:
It was written by a Portuguese explorer in 1753, who claimed to have found a walled city deep in the Mato Grosso region of the Amazon rainforest reminiscent of ancient Greece.
Here are some translated excerpts from the worm-eaten, tattered document:
Pages from Manuscript 512.
( Public Domain )
On the sides of a building were carved letters that seemed to resemble Greek or another early European alphabet.
These claims were
dismissed by archaeologists, who believed the jungles could not hold
such large cities, but for Fawcett, it all came together.
Not long after departing, he and his team became demoralized by the hardships of the jungle, dangerous animals, and rampant diseases. The expedition was derailed, but Fawcett would depart in search of his fabled city later again that same year, this time from Bahia, Brazil, on a solo journey.
He traveled this way for three months before returning in failure once again.
In April 1925, he attempted one last time to find 'Z', this time better equipped and better financed by newspapers and societies including the Royal Geographic Society and the Rockefellers.
him on the expedition was his good friend Raleigh Rimell, his eldest
son 22-year-old Jack, and two Brazilian laborers.
He explained in a letter home they were crossing the Upper Xingu, a southeastern tributary of the Amazon River and had sent one of their Brazilian travel companions back, wishing to continue the journey alone.
The team got as far as a place called Dead Horse Camp, where Fawcett sent back dispatches for five months, but after the fifth month they stopped.
In his final dispatch, Fawcett sent a message to his wife Nina and proclaimed,
It was to be
the last anyone would ever hear from them again.
He told his wife the camp was,
...but he provided his location as 13°43′S 54°35′W in a report to the North American Newspaper Alliance.
wonder if this change was meant to avoid detection by any rescue
missions (Fawcett claimed they should be avoided if he disappeared
since the danger would be high), if Fawcett had found the city and
wanted to keep others from finding it too, or if he simply made a
Numerous rescue missions seeking answers were mounted, despite his proclaimed wishes against this, and many of them suffered the same fate as Fawcett.
For example, a journalist named Albert de Winton went out in search of his team and was never seen again.
In total, 13 expeditions would be launched in an effort to find answers to Fawcett's fate, and over 100 people would lose their lives or join the explorer to vanish into the jungle.
Thousands of people applied to go on these expeditions and dozens
set out looking for them over the next several decades.
(Lencer/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Fawcett had always talked about maintaining positive relationships
with the indigenous people of the area and the way the natives
remember him correlates with what Fawcett has written down.
There had been a revolution in the area not long before and renegade soldiers had been hiding out in the jungle.
On a number of occasions, within
months of this expedition, travelers had been stopped, robbed, and
in some cases murdered by the rebels.
The details of their account suggested that the victims were Percy Fawcett, Jack Fawcett, and Raleigh Rimmell.
Following the report, Brazilian explorer
Orlando Villas Boas investigated the supposed area where they were
killed and retrieved human bones, as well as personal objects
including a knife, buttons, and small metal objects.
with two Kalapalo Indians with
the supposed bones of Colonel Fawcett. 1952
( CC BY SA 3.0 )
However, without the DNA of members of Fawcett's family, who refused to provide samples, no confirmation could be made regarding the identity of the remains.
The bones currently reside in the Forensic Medicine Institute of the
University of Sao Paulo.
Their people had allegedly warned Fawcett and his companions that they were in dangerous territory and may be killed by tribes living nearby.
After five days they no longer saw the evening campfire where Fawcett was staying and they searched for the campsite, when they couldn't find it they presumed their fierce neighbors had killed the Englishmen.
It is allegedly found near where Fawcett's team was searching for the lost 'City of Z'. Though there are questions, it is uncertain if it is the legendary site.
But with the advent of new scanning technology, it is possible that an ancient city that spurred the legends of 'Z' may one day be identified.