Searching for the City of Z
Retracing the steps of Col. Percy Fawcett.
By Torie Bosch
Sept. 12, 2005
The New Yorker, Sept. 19
[...] journalist David Grann follows the steps of Col. Percy Fawcett, an English explorer who disappeared during a 1925 trip to find the "City of Z," a rumored ancient civilization in the Brazilian Amazon. The article concludes that Fawcett and his companions were killed by natives during their quest. Though archaeologists dismissed the City of Z as a myth and Fawcett as an amateur, an archaeologist takes Grann to see ruins of bridges, moats, and roads, grown over with vegetation, that suggest a complex civilization did exist near the scene of Fawcett's disappearance.
via The New Yorker, 9/11/05 (thanks Ross!):
In "The Lost City of Z" (p. 56), David Grann follows the trail of adventurers and scientists seeking to uncover a lost civilization hidden deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Grann sets out to retrace the secret route of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British explorer who, in 1925, disappeared along with his son and a companion while searching for the ruins of an ancient empire, which Fawcett had named the City of Z. "In the next seven decades, scores of explorers had tried and failed to retrace Fawcett’s path. Some nearly died of starvation, while others retreated in the face of tribes that attacked with poisoned arrows. Then there were those adventurers who had gone to find Fawcett and, instead, disappeared along with him," Grann writes.
Grann researches Fawcett's letters at the Royal Geographical Society, in London, and visits Fawcett’s granddaughter, in Cardiff, where he examines Fawcett’s diaries and logbooks, discovering that Fawcett had provided false coördinates in order to throw off would-be seekers of the City of Z. In Brazil, Grann and his guide, Paolo Pinage, follow in Fawcett's footsteps through the Amazon basin, a region nearly the size of the continental United States. Describing just one portion of his travels, Grann writes, "[T]he road was worse than any that Pinage and I had travelled: pools of water reached as high as the floorboards, and at times the truck, with all its weight, tipped perilously to one side. We drove no faster than fifteen miles an hour, sometimes coming to a halt, reversing, then pressing forward again. The forests had been denuded here as well. Some areas had been burned recently, and I could see the remnants of trees scattered for miles, their blackened limbs reaching into the open sky." Along the way, Grann meets the chief of the Kalapalo tribe, who some believe might have killed Fawcett, and who takes Grann into Xingu National Park, where Fawcett's bones had allegedly been discovered. "Up that way is where the bones were dug up. But they were not Fawcett’s bones—they were my grandfather's," he tells Grann. Later he says, "I would like to get the bones back and bury them where they belong."
Determined to find Z, Grann presses on to the village of Kuikaro, where he meets archeologist Michael Heckenberger, who tells Grann the area was once part of a vast ancient settlement, with roads, bridges, and causeways. Heckenberger has uncovered twenty pre-Colombian settlements in the Xingu. "All these settlements were laid out with a complicated plan, with a sense of engineering and mathematics that rivalled anything that was happening in much of Europe at the time," he says, estimating that each cluster of settlements contained anywhere from two thousand to five thousand people, which means that the larger community was the size of many medieval European cities. Heckenberger tells Grann that it was understandable why Fawcett wouldn't have been able to find the ruins. "Fawcett was probably the last person who came in here looking for lost cities," he says. "There isn't a lot of stone in the jungle, and most of the settlement was built with organic materials—wood and palms and earth mounds—which decompose. But once you begin to map out the area and excavate it you are blown away by what you see." Grann writes, "Heckenberger has helped to upend the view of the Amazon as a counterfeit paradise that could never sustain what Fawcett had envisioned: a prosperous, glorious civilization."
Veil lifts on jungle mystery of the colonel who vanished
Did an erotic siren lure Percy Fawcett to his death as he searched for a lost city in the Amazon?
Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent
Sunday March 21, 2004, The Observer (UK)