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Orlando Villas Boas with two Kalapalo Indians with the supposed bones of Colonel Fawcett. 1952 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Lost City of Z

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a famous British explorer who’s legendary adventures captivated the world

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett DSO (18 August 1867 – during or after 1925) was a British geographer, artillery officer, cartographer, archaeologist and explorer of South America. He charted the wilderness of South America but then disappeared without a trace while exploring the Brazilian jungle in search of “The Lost City of ‘Z,'” his name for an ancient lost city, which he and others believed to exist and to be the remains of El Dorado, in the jungles of Brazil.

Danger appealed to Fawcett, and over the course of many years, broken only by a return to the army at the outbreak of the First World War, he ventured out on a succession of missions to map the unknown jungle — sometimes alone — and follow up the tantalising clues that the undergrowth masked a hidden civilisation to rival those of Greece or Rome.

During an expedition to find “Z” a place Colonel and South American explorer Percy Fawcett became increasingly engrossed by over the years, Fawcett vanished in the wilderness on his expedition in 1925, along with his two partners, his son Jack, and another friend. The case is one of the wildest mysteries in missing person cases today, and some believe the trio could have been eaten alive by wild animals.

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett in 1911. Fawcett grew up at the height of the British Empire, inspired by explorers like David Livingstone, who reached the heart of Africa. Fawcett became friendly with authors H Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose novels had explorers for heroes. In truth, though, fewer places were left to explore; Fawcett himself wrote that the Amazon remained “the last great blank space in the world”.(Wikimedia Commons)

Since Europeans first arrived in the New World, there have been stories of a legendary jungle city of gold, sometimes referred to as El Dorado. Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Orellana was the first to venture along the Rio Negro in search of this fabled city.  In 1925, at the age of 58, explorer Percy Fawcett headed into the jungles of Brazil to find a mysterious lost city he called “Z”.  He and his team would vanish without a trace and the story would turn out be one of the biggest news stories of his day.  Despite countless rescue missions, Fawcett was never found.  Was he killed by Amazonian tribesmen? And is there any factual basis for his Lost City of Z?

Percy Harrison Fawcett was born on August 18, 1867, in Torquay, Devon. His India-born father was a British aristocrat and a fellow of the RGS, and also a hopeless gambler and drunk who squandered two family fortunes and besmirched the Fawcett name, much to Percy’s embarrassment and disgust.

He received his education at Newton Abbot Proprietary College along with Bertram Fletcher Robinson. Percy Fawcett’s India-born father was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). His elder brother Edward Douglas Fawcett (1866–1960) was a mountain climber, Eastern occultist and author of philosophical books and popular adventure novels.

Fawcett attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich as a cadet, being commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery on 24 July 1886. On 13 January 1896, he was appointed adjutant of the 1st Cornwall (Duke of Cornwall’s) Artillery Volunteers and was promoted to captain on 15 June 1897. He later served in Trincomalee, Ceylon, where he also met his future wife Nina Agnes Paterson, whom he married in January 1901 after having previously ended their engagement. They had two sons, Jack (born 1903) and Brian (1906–1984), and one daughter, Joan (1910–2005). He joined the RGS himself in 1901 in order to study surveying and mapmaking. Later, he worked for the British Secret Service in North Africa while pursuing the surveyor’s craft. He served for the war office on Spike Island, County Cork from 1903 to 1906, where he was promoted to major on 11 January 1905. He became friends with authors H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle; the latter used Fawcett’s Amazonian field reports as an inspiration for his novel The Lost World.

One of the routes taken by Percy Fawcett (Wikimedia Commons)

Percy Fawcett had joined the army immediately after school, with a commission in the artillery in 1886. The next 20 years involved garrison duty in Ceylon and postings in Malta and England. The only significant events were getting married and becoming a devotee (like many others) of the charlatan psychic Madame Blavatsky. Fawcett’s game-changer came in 1906 when he was 40. The army let him take the Royal Geographical Society’s course on frontier surveying. Far away in South America, Bolivia had just sold its rubber-rich province of Acre to Brazil, so it needed its new north-western boundary mapped. The Bolivians approached the RGS for a mature surveyor to do this. The society’s secretary asked the newly qualified Fawcett whether he wanted to go; he accepted, reported for duty in La Paz and was at work on the new Amazonian frontier by the end of the year. This survey was the best thing Fawcett did. But he described it as boring because the new frontier was all along rivers. This was the height of the great Amazon rubber boom, so he and his team cruised from one comfortable rubber barraca to the next, taking their regular measurements.

Bullet ants have an extremely painful sting

An officer in the Army and trained surveyor, Fawcett was the last of the great 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. His exploits in the Amazon inspired books and Hollywood movies; Indiana Jones is purportedly based on Fawcett.

The Amazon wilderness is about the size of the continental United States and during Fawcett’s time, it remained one of the last unexplored regions on the map. 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.

“Do you know anything about Bolivia?” asked the President of the Royal Geographical Society to Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett early in 1906. The Colonel replied that he didn’t and the President went on to explain the tremendous economic potential of South America and also the complete lack of reliable maps. “Look at this area!” he said, pushing a chart in front of Fawcett, “It’s full of blank spaces because so little is known of it.”

The President went on to explain that the lack of well-defined borders in South America was leading to tension in that region. Much of the area was ‘rubber country’ where vast forests of rubber trees could be tapped to provide the world’s need for rubber and generate revenue for countries like Bolivia and Brazil. The lack of defined borders could lead to war. An expedition to mark the borders could not be led by either a Bolivian or a Brazilian. Only a neutral third party could be trusted with the job and the Royal Geographical Society had been asked to act as a referee.

Now the President of the Society wanted to know if Fawcett was interested in the position. It would be a dangerous job. Disease was rampant there. Some of the native tribes had a reputation for savagery. Without hesitation, though, the Colonel took the job.

The Colonel arrived in La Plaz, Bolivia, in June of 1906 ready to start his expedition. After a disagreement with the government over expenses ,Fawcett started into the heart of the continent to begin the boundary survey. He quickly found that just getting to the area where he was to be working would be an ordeal in itself. The trail lead up a precipitous path to a pass in the mountains at 17,000 feet. It took him and his companions two hours to go four miles and climb 6,000 feet. The pack mules would struggle up the path 30 feet at a time, then stop, gasping for breath in the thin air. The party was afraid that if they overworked the animals, they would die.

Arriving at the town of Cobija, Fawcett quickly got a taste of how difficult life was in the interior of South America. Disease was common and he was told that the death rate in the town was nearly fifty percent a year. Cut off from the outside world, many depressed inhabitants sought comfort by abusing alcohol. One night one of the local army officers became enraged by his subordinate’s refusal to join him in a card game. Drunk, the officer drew his sword and went after the man, injuring him. When another soldier tried to assist the injured man the officer turned on him, chasing him around a hut. The fellow sought refuge in Fawcett’s room, but the officer followed him inside.

“Where is that dirty so-and-so?” the officer roared. “Where have you hidden him?”

When Fawcett reprimanded the officer for chasing unarmed men with his sword, the officer cursed at the Colonel and drew his revolver. Fawcett grabbed the man’s wrist and struggled with him, finally forcing the gun from his hand. Bolivia was a lawless frontier is those days, much like the American West had been a half century before.

Fawcett, in fact, met an American gunslinger named Harvey. The red-bearded, silent man was quick with his revolver and sure with his aim. Harvey, a bandit, had found the United States too civilized and dodged the Texas Rangers, working his way down through Mexico into South America. He had held up a mining company in a neighboring country, and there was a large reward on his head. Boliva had no extradition law, however, and he was safe in this new frontier.

Colonel Fawcett was appalled by treatment of the native South American Indians. Although slavery was illegal, rubber plantation owners would often organize trips into the jungle for the purpose of capturing slaves to be used as rubber collectors. Some of the tribes, in return, became quite hostile toward those of European decent. Fawcett believed that if you treated the Indians with kindness and understanding, you would receive kindness in return. During a trip up the Heath River to find its source in 1910, Fawcett had a unique opportunity to test his theory.

He and his group had been warned off traveling up the Heath because the tribes along it had a reputation for unrestrained savagery. “To venture up into the midst of them is sheer madness,” exclaimed an army major. Fawcett went anyway.

After a week paddling up the river, the party rounded a bend and ran straight into an Indian encampment perched on a sandbar. The natives were as surprised as the expedition. “Dogs barked, men shouted, women screamed and reached for their children” Fawcett recalled. The natives hid in the trees while the group grounded their canoes on the sandbar. Arrows whizzed by the men or fell around them. Fawcett tried some peace overtures using native words he had learned, but the message didn’t seem to be getting through. Then he had an idea. One of the group was seated just beyond arrow range and was told to play his accordion. The man sang “A Bicycle Made for Two”, “Suwannee River”, “Onward Christian Soldiers” and other tunes. Finally Fawcett noticed the lyrics had changed to “They’ve-all-stopped-shooting-at-us.” Sure enough, the singer was right. Fawcett approached the natives and greeted them. Gifts were exchanged as a sign of friendship.

Not all contacts with the Indians ended so well. During a trip down the Chocolatal River, the pilot of the boat Fawcett was traveling on went off to inspect a nearby road. When he didn’t come back Fawcett found him dead with 42 arrows in his body.

Fawcett’s only publications were a series of papers in the Geographical Journal about his mapping work. But he kept a journal, and in 1953 his son Brian edited this and other papers into a book called Exploration Fawcett. He emerges from it as a typical Edwardian colonial officer — friendly with South Americans but looking down on them, appalled by the cruelty at some rubber stations, full of gossip about life on this remote but boom-rich backwater, and uninterested in nature apart from banalities about dangerous snakes and irritating insects.

People were only one of the dangers of the jungle. The animal kingdom was another. One night while camped near the Yalu River ,the Colonel was climbing into his sleeping bag when he felt something “hairy and revolting” scuttle up his arm and over his neck. It was a gigantic apazauca spider. It clung to his hand fiercely while Fawcett tried to shake it off. The spider finally dropped to the ground and walked away without attacking. The animal’s bite is poisonous and sometimes fatal.

Vampire bats were also a nuisance in some remote areas. At night these creatures would come to bite and lap up blood from sleepers. Fawcett reported that though they slept under mosquito nets, any portion of bodies touching the net or protruding beyond it would be attacked. In the morning they would find their hammocks saturated with blood.

Near Potrero, wild bulls became a problem for one of Fawcett’s expeditions. The group was traveling in an ox cart which gave them some protection. Even so, the group was attacked by three bulls one day. They managed to drive them off only after killing one animal and riddling the other two with bullets. On that same trip Fawcett was fifty yards behind the rest of the group when a big red bull appeared between him and the cart. The Colonel wasn’t carrying a rifle and there were no trees or other places to seek refuge. Fawcett was able to get past the animal, as it snorted, lashed its tail and tore up the ground, by moving slowly while fixing it with a hopefully hypnotic stare.

Snakes were also a constant threat too. Once while traveling with a Texan named Ross, they were attacked by a seven-foot long “Bushmaster,” a deadly poisonous snake. The men leapt out of the way as the Texan pulled his revolver, putting two slugs through the ugly head of the creature. On close examination Ross realized the snake had bitten him, but the fangs had sunk into his tobacco pouch. His skin showed two dents where the fangs had pressed against him, but never broke through. His skin was wet with venom. The pouch had saved his life.

Fawcett often found it necessary to swim rivers in order to get a rope across for hauling equipment over. The Colonel had to be very careful there were no cuts or open sores on his body that might attract piranha fish. Swarms of these fish have been known to strip the flesh off a man in minutes if he was unlucky enough to fall into the water were they where congregated. One of Fawcett’s companions lost two fingers to them while washing his blood stained hands in the river.

Though not poisonous, the giant anaconda is probably the most feared snake in the jungle. Fawcett had a run-in with one not long after he arrived in South America. In his diary he noted: “We were drifting easily along the sluggish current not far below the confluence of the Rio Negro when almost under the bow of the igarit’e [boat] there appeared a triangular head and several feet of undulating body. It was a giant anaconda. I sprang for my rifle as the creature began to make its way up the bank, and hardly waiting to aim, smashed a .44 soft-nosed bullet into its spine, ten feet below the wicked head.”

The boat stopped so that the Colonel could examine the body. Despite being fatally wounded, “shivers ran up and down the body like puffs of wind on a mountain tarn.” Though they had no measuring device along with them, Fawcett estimated the creature was sixty-two feet in length and 12-inches in diameter.

In 1908, the Bolivians asked Fawcett to survey another of their frontiers with Brazil: a small river called Verde, far away at the north-eastern corner of the large landlocked country. The preparations were appalling. Fawcett took minimal supplies since he was accustomed to being fed by rubber stations. This was the end of the dry season with the river at its lowest. So they soon had to abandon their boat and continue on foot. After only a week, all food was exhausted and they were really starving. Fawcett casually remarked that five out of his six peons died from the effects of this five-week disaster. This was the only expedition he led into unexplored territory.

The Bolivians invited Fawcett back in 1910, this time to map part of their boundary with Peru. It involved paddling up a frontier river called Heath and two meetings with indigenous peoples on the banks. The first group fired arrows and guns over their heads. But Fawcett waded ashore with presents and shouting a few words of ‘Chuncho’ (the Peruvian word for all forest peoples) that he had memorised but did not understand. That was the only time that Fawcett attempted any language other than Spanish. Further up the Heath River, Fawcett met a tribe he called Ecocha (now Ese Eja) whom he really liked. They were ‘embarrassingly hospitable’ with their food, so Fawcett spent a few days with them and recorded something of their ethnography. He returned for a second visit in 1911.

Hoatzin

Fawcett formulated theories of a city he called ‘Z’ in 1912.  His conviction was fuelled 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 rumours 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:

I expect the ruins to be monolithic in character, more ancient than the oldest Egyptian discoveries. Judging by inscriptions found in many parts of Brazil, the inhabitants used an alphabetical writing allied to many ancient European and Asian scripts. There are rumours, too, of a strange source of light in the buildings, a phenomenon that filled with terror the Indians who claimed to have seen it.
The central place I call “Z” — our main objective — is in a valley surmounted by lofty mountains. The valley is about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barreled roadway of stone. The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple. The inhabitants of the place are fairly numerous, they keep domestic animals, and they have well-developed mines in the surrounding hills. Not far away is a second town, but the people living in it are of an inferior order to those of “Z.” Farther to the south is another large city, half buried and completely destroyed.

Blue poison dart frog

After a final survey for the Bolivian government in 1913, of the upper Beni River in the Andes, Fawcett went sightseeing in central Bolivia. He and two companions were paddled down the big Guaporé river. They stopped at Mequens on its Brazilian bank to visit the Swedish anthropologist Baron Erland Nordenskiöld and his attractive wife, who provided guides to take them on a walk inland to visit a people they called Maxubi (now Makurap). The Maxubi were friendly and hospitable, but continuing on a forest trail Fawcett met another tribe (probably Sakurabiat) to whom he took a violent dislike. When one aimed a drawn bow at him, Fawcett shot the man with a Mauser revolver — absolutely forbidden by Brazil’s Indian Service. He described them as he imagined Neanderthals or Piltdown Man to have looked: ‘large hairy men, with exceptionally long arms, and foreheads sloping back from pronounced eye ridges… villainous savages, hideous ape men with pig-like eyes.’ No Amazonian Indian has body hair or looks remotely like this. These two groups and the two on the Heath were the only tribal people seen by Fawcett. He liked two of them. So it was strange that he wrote gibberish that ‘there are three kinds of Indians. The first are docile and miserable people, easily tamed; the second, dangerous, repulsive cannibals very rarely seen; the third, a robust and fair people, who must have a civilised origin.’

When Fawcett was in the cattle country of central Bolivia in September 1914, news came of the outbreak of war. So he hurried home and by January 1915 was back in the artillery. In his late forties, he was too old for front-line service; but he fought a good war, ending as Lieutenant-Colonel.

A Page from Manuscript 512. In 1920, Fawcett came across a document in the National Library of Rio De Janeiro called Manuscript 512. (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1920, Fawcett came across a document in the National Library of Rio De Janeiro called Manuscript 512. 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. The manuscript described a lost, silver laden city with multi-storied buildings, soaring stone arches, and wide streets leading down towards a lake on which the explorer had seen two white Indians in a canoe. On the sides of a building were carved letters that seemed to resemble Greek or an 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.

In one of his pre-war lectures to the RGS, Fawcett had spoken of possible ancient ruins in the Amazon forests. He was now told about a scrap of paper dated 1743 in which Bandeirantes imagined that they had seen a deserted city in the jungles. (The Bandeirantes were slavers who scoured the interior of Brazil for Indians to capture. Although most of these thugs were illiterate, others did write reports about their travels — none of which said a word about seeing ruins.) Fawcett gave this imaginary ‘lost city’ the code name Z, and finding it became an obsession.

The easiest forest tribes to visit in Brazil were on the headwaters of one of the Amazon’s southern tributaries, the Xingu. A German anthropologist had contacted a dozen amiable peoples there in 1884, and since then they had been visited by seven groups of anthropologists or Indian Service officials. All had walked in by the same trail. So in 1920, Fawcett tried to follow this route — even though it was nowhere near where the chimera city might have been. His plans went wrong, so he got no further than a ranch halfway along the trail.

In 1921, Fawcett set out on his first expedition to find Z. 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 travelled this way for three months before returning in failure once again.

In 1925, by now penniless but desperate, Fawcett tried again to reach the upper Xingu tribes. He now took two inexperienced ex-public schoolboys, his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimmel. The old surveyor made two suicidal pronouncements. One was that the trio should travel light, with nothing more than small packs. Everyone in Amazonia knew that you could not cut trails and keep your team fed with fewer than eight men. Fawcett sent their pack animals and porters back and continued with only his two novices. His other dictum was that Indians would look after them. This was equally dangerous. The Xingu tribes pride themselves on generosity, but they expect visitors to reciprocate. All expeditions in the past four decades had brought plenty of presents such as machetes, knives and beads. Fawcett had none. He committed other blunders that antagonised their hosts. So it was only a matter of days before they were all dead.

Map of the Amazon rainforest ecoregions as delineated by the WWF. Yellow line approximately encloses the Amazon drainage basin. National boundaries are shown in black. Satellite image from NASA.

Percy’s final search for Z culminated in his complete disappearance.  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.  Joining him on the expedition was his good friend Raleigh Rimell, his eldest 22-year-old son, Jack, and two Brazilian labourers.

On May 29th, 1925, Fawcett and company reached the edge of unexplored territory, staring into jungles that no foreigner had ever seen.  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 and after the fifth month they stopped.  In his final dispatch, Fawcett sent a message to his wife Nina and proclaimed “We hope to get through this region in a few days…. You need have no fear of any failure.”  It was to be the last anyone would ever hear from them again.

The expedition had previously stated that they had planned to be gone for around a year, so when two years passed without any word, people began to worry.  Expeditions seeking answers were mounted, many of which suffered the same fate as Fawcett.  A journalist named Albert de Winton went out in search of his team and was never seen again.

Twenty years later, Chief Comatsi of the Kalapalo tribe gave a very detailed account of Fawcett’s visit, reminding his assembled people of exactly how they had killed the unwelcome strangers. But the German anthropologist Max Schmidt, who was there in 1926, thought that they had plunged into the forests, got lost and starved to death; this was also the view of a missionary couple called Young who were on another Xingu headwater. The Brazilian Indian Service regretted that Fawcett, who was obsessively secretive, had not asked for their help in dealing with the Indians. They felt he was killed because of the harshness and lack of tact that all recognised in him.

Such was the sad tale of this incompetent, whose only skill was in surveying. But the disappearance of an English colonel while searching for a mythical ancient city in tropical rain forests was a media sensation. Two expeditions went to try to learn more. There was revived interest in the 1950s with the publication of Exploration Fawcett and the Kalapalo chief’s account of how they killed the Englishmen. Fawcett’s exploits were described by David Grann in 2005 and subsequently in his book “The Lost City of Z” (2009). Grann dramatizes many of the episodes to which Grann and other writers have referred. Unfortunately, Grann hyped the story out of all proportion and wrongly depicted Fawcett as a great explorer.

As he cheerfully admitted, Grann had no experience of rainforests. But he let his imagination run riot, with pages about ferocious piranhas, huge anacondas, electric eels (actually a fish that has never killed a man), frogs ‘with enough toxins to kill 100 people’, ‘predator’ pig-like peccary, ‘sauba ants that could reduce the men’s clothes to threads in a single night, ticks that attached like leeches (another scourge) and the red hairy chiggers that consumed human tissue. The cyanide-squirting millipedes. The parasitic worms that caused blindness…’ and so on. Everyone who know tropical forests, including me, knows that almost every word of this is nonsense.

Fawcett himself gave a simple account of his four surveying journeys for the Bolivian government. But for Grann, ‘in expedition after expedition… he explored thousands of square miles of the Amazon and helped redraw the map of South America’. Fawcett admitted that he was ‘a greenhorn in the jungle’ and knew nothing about nature. But Grann wrote that he moved ‘inch by inch through the jungle, tracing rivers and mountains, cataloguing exotic species… [until] he had explored as much of the region as anyone’.

For Grann, Fawcett was competing against other explorers ‘who were racing into the interior of South America’. The only study that Fawcett made after leaving school in 1886 was his RGS surveying course. He never mentioned any library research. But for Grann he was ‘almost unique’ in viewing 16th- and 17th-century chronicles ignored by other scholars; he re–evaluated El Dorado chronicles and consulted ‘archival records’ and ‘tribesmen’ in ‘piecing together his theory of Z’. Not a word of this was true, either.

When the Colonel vanished, Grann writes that ‘scores’ of explorers tried to find him, and that ‘one recent estimate put the death toll from these expeditions as high as 100.’ Actually, only one search expedition reached the Xingu, led by George Dyott in 1928. (It found that the three Englishmen had been killed by Indians.) The only other expedition was in 1932, but it got only as far as the Araguaia river far to the east. The death toll from these two attempts was zero. In 1935 a ridiculous actor called Albert de Winton went by himself to the Xingu and was killed by Indians who wanted his gun. So if we count him, the death toll is one — well short of Grann’s 100.

These and a great many other passages are artistic licence and hype of an absurd order. Hollywood believed everything Grann wrote and then hyped it up more. People wishing to learn about the Maverick colonel should consult his own fairly modest memoir.

Mygalomorphae

The official report from one of the rescue missions said that Fawcett had gone up the Kululene River and was killed for insulting an Indian chief which is the story most believed.  However, 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.  Another possibility is that he and his team died as a result of an accident such as disease or drowning.  A third possibility is that they were caught off guard and robbed and killed.  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, travellers had been stopped, robbed and in some cases murdered by the rebels.

In 1952, the Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil reported that some explorers had passed through their region and were killed for speaking badly to the children of the village. 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.

The wild wilderness of the Amazon in Brazil, where Percy Fawcett conducted numerous expeditions. A view from the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory in São Sebastião do Uatumã, Brazil.

The bones underwent numerous tests. 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.

While Fawcett’s lost city of Z has never been found, numerous ancient cities and remains of religious sites have been uncovered in recent years in the jungles of Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia and Honduras. With the advent of new scanning technology, it is possible that an ancient city that spurred the legends of Z, may one day be found. To this day, elusive tales and mythologies about Fawcett’s demise abound on the internet. Some even claim that he is still alive (despite the fact that he would be 150 years old this year!) or that he never intended to return, but had set up an occultist commune in the Amazon.

In 1996 an expedition was put together by René Delmotte and James Lynch to look for traces of Fawcett. It didn’t get far. Indians stopped the group, threatened their lives, and detained them for some days. They were finally released, but $30,000 worth of equipment was confiscated. Even seventy years after his disappearance, it seems the jungle is still too dangerous a place for anyone to follow in Colonel Percy Fawcett’s footsteps.

The Lost City of Z: what happened to Percy Fawcett? – The Telegraph

Percy Fawcett – Wikipedia

The Lost City of Z and the Mysterious Disappearance of Percy Fawcett …

The Enduring Mystery Behind Percy Fawcett’s Disappearance …

Veil lifts on jungle mystery of the colonel who vanished | UK news …

Percy Fawcett and the lost city of Z: The history behind the film | History …

The Lost City of Z is a very long way from a true story — and I should …

The Lost City of Z – The New Yorker

Virtual Exploration Society – Colonel Percy Fawcett

Fate of legendary British explorer solved — maybe – Reuters

Meet Colonel Percy Fawcett, the British explorer who disappeared …

Reports about Fawcett’s existence – The Great Web of Percy Harrison …

Murder is Everywhere: The Death of Percy Fawcett

What the Hell Happened to the Man Who Mapped the Amazon …

The Lost City of Z vs. the True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett

In search of a lost city… and a lost explorer – The British Museum Blog

 


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