by Lakshmi Kalarikkal
It has been 96 years since Colonel Percy Fawcett last made contact with the world, but the mystery he left behind still bewitches minds even today. Col. Fawcett was requested by the Royal Geographical Society to survey the Amazonian Forest. The forest was an exceedingly dangerous location to travel to due to the undocumented and dangerous terrain, local tribes, and its location between Brazil and Bolivia who were on the verge of war. Col. Fawcett managed to complete this exploration unharmed but developed a fierce belief in the existence of an ancient civilization in the forest that has been lost to time. He named this city ‘Z’ and there begins the true story of the lost city of Z.
By 1914, Col. Fawcett had developed detailed hypotheses about the city of Z. He believed it was located in the Mato Grosso region in Brazil based on the centuries-old pottery shards he found. He also found trails he believed could’ve been roads in the past. The finding of a text called Manuscript 512 describes the ruins of an ancient city found by bandeirantes in 1753. The Manuscript recounts the ruins, the temples, and the arches in great detail without giving away its location.
The Colonel was planning another expedition into the jungle in order to pursue the lost city when World War I broke out. He volunteered to serve his country and was stationed in Flanders where he led an artillery brigade. It is postulated that during the war, his fantasy of the city grew greatly. He began to view it as a utopia untouched by the horrors in his daily life. He returned to the jungle immediately once the war had ended. This solo trip had to be cut short due to illness.
On April 20th, 1925, Col. Fawcett, his son Jack, and his friend Raleigh Rimmel set out for yet another expedition to South America but this trip would end much more tragically than the rest. On May 29th, Col. Fawcett would send out his last communication to the outside world informing his wife that they had plans to go into unexplored territory. He seemed confident of success in the letter but that was the last the world at large would ever hear of any of the three explorers.
Various theories have been put forth about the disappearance of Col. Fawcett, Jack and Rimmel but there is no conclusive evidence to prove or disprove any of them. Whether the explorers succumbed to nature, hostile tribes or disease remains a mystery despite the many expeditions that occurred to rescue them or find the truth.
But the Lost City of Z is no longer such a mystery. It is believed that Col. Fawcett may have been influenced by Kuhikugu, an archaeological complex that included twenty towns and villages spread out over 7000 miles. It is believed that up to 50,000 people may have once lived there. It may have been inhabited as recently as 1615 when the population may have died off due to the spread of diseases through indirect European contact. Although the residents of Kuhikugu may have never come in contact with the settlers, their trade partners may have, resulting in the population growing sick and falling into disrepair before they ever had a chance to interact with the Europeans themselves.
But whether this really was Fawcett’s city or not, his fervour for the lost city of Z posed a challenge to the Western belief that an enlightened, complex civilization could not exist in the Amazon. They believed that due to the floods and heavy rainfall, the soil would be leached of all nutrients and would never be suitable for crops.
The lost city of Z and whether Col. Fawcett ever found the object of his obsession or recognized it remains shrouded in mystery even today. But it has inspired many explorers and writers and artists and kept the story alive nearly a hundred years later. Most recently, a movie by the name of ‘The Lost City of Z’ has chronicled the adventures of one of the greatest explorers of the British Empire and immortalized him in film.