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Col. Percy Fawcett
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Legend Of The Search For Lost Jungle City Based On Real Life Explorer

By James Donahue

Almost as long as they have been producing movies and writing adventure books to excite the minds of young boys, we have heard stories of what we thought were fictional hero-type explorers like Indiana Jones who braved the wilds of the Amazon jungle in search of a lost city full of treasure.

What few people know is that the very character of Indiana Jones was based on a real-life British explorer named Col. Percy Fawcett who spent years exploring the wilds of the Amazon jungle, heard stories of such a lost city, and set off with much fanfare on an expedition in 1925 to find it. Fawcett and all of the members of his search team, including his son, vanished and were never seen or heard from again.

The treasure trove was obviously a Hollywood addition to the story to justify the search and make the film story more interesting. There was no evidence that this was the driving force behind Fawcett’s expedition, however. From his life story it can be said that he was simply an adventure seeker who could not resist the challenge.

Fawcett’s story has been kept alive by author David Grann, whose book, The Lost City of Z, chronicles the explorer’s life and carefully documents his expedition into the jungle to find this strange “lost city” and perhaps a lost civilization that went with it. Much of Grann’s work was published by the New Yorker Magazine and can be found on line.

While Fawcett apparently dubbed the place the “city of Z,” the legend of an ancient city filled with gold treasure has been generated around the civilized world even since the Spanish Conquistadors first set foot on the South American continent and began dealing with the names who lived in the area.

Thus sprang the legend of the great golden city of El Dorado.

Indeed, the quest to find El Dorado and all of its riches stirred many an expedition into the South American jungles, beginning with the one led by Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro in 1541. The expedition, like others that followed, ended in disaster. Among the more famous searchers was Sir Walter Raleigh, who ventured into the jungle in 1595 and returned to tell about it.

Fawcett became somewhat of a living legend in his own time. A former soldier in the British Army, and later a surveyor, he was hired by the Royal Geographical Society in 1906 to explore and map the massive unknown jungles of South America. He spent years hiking and mapping the jungles, sometimes disappearing for long periods and then stumbling out alive. He was said to have survived near starvation, dangerous insects, snakes, piranhas, lethal diseases and the dangers of meeting with the indigenous tribes.

It was during his amazing adventures in this wilderness that Fawcett heard the stories of the lost city and developed an obsession to find it. With all of the publicity he received before launching the expedition, Fawcett decided to keep his planned route into the Amazon jungle a secret, thus making it almost impossible for anyone to have retraced his steps. His reasoning was that other explorers might rush into the jungle and somehow find the Lost City of Z before he did.

Fawcett also recognized the expedition as a most dangerous task. He suggested that if he did not return, he did not want anyone trying to find him because if it killed him, he felt efforts to find him might result in more deaths.

He was right. After he was officially declared missing in 1927, numerous other expeditions were conducted in an effort to found out what happened to him and also search for the fabled City of Z. Grimm, who conducted a search of his own and survived, wrote that some of the searchers nearly died of starvation and others retreated after attacks by natives. Others just disappeared in the forests that some have dubbed the “green hell.”

Among the searchers was another well-known explorer and adventurer, James Lynch of Brazil, who in the end said he had never encountered a case like that of Colonel Fawcett.

There may be a strange conclusion to this amazing story of a lost city in the Amazon. Archaeologist Michael Heckenberger, utilizing the amazing satellite imagery from Google Earth, discovered geometric shapes carved into the earth that appear to be remnants of roads, bridges and other man-made structures in a 155-mile area in the upper Amazonian basin, near the Brazilian-Bolivian order.

Also found in the images are what appear to be a cluster of 20 settlements, each large enough to have been home to as many as 5,000 people, and all laid out in a way that suggested a form of engineering and mathematics pointing to an advanced civilization.

Heckenberger published his findings in Scientific American in October, 2009.