Percy Fawcett & the Lost City of Z

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Colonel Percy Fawcett in 1911. Credit: Public Domain

Tomorrow, August 18, marks the 150th birthday of British explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett gained fame in the early 1900’s for exploring parts of the Amazon rain forest of South America. Fawcett’s fame was reignited earlier this year with the release of The Lost City of Z, a film about Fawcett’s intriguing adventures. Fawcett believed that the ruins of an advanced ancient civilization—an unknown city he called “Z”—lay deep in the jungle wilderness of Brazil. Fawcett disappeared looking for Z in 1925.

Percival Harrison Fawcett was born on Aug. 18, 1867, in Torquay, Devon, England. He was an officer in the British Army and an expert surveyor. In 1906, the Royal Geographical Society, a British organization that sponsors scientific expeditions, invited Fawcett to survey the frontier shared by Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. He spent 18 months in the jungle, in the Mato Grosso area, where he learned much about the peoples of the jungle.

After fighting in Belgian Flanders during World War I (1914-1918), Fawcett returned to Brazil. He was fascinated by stories of a magnificent city in the Amazon jungle. Historians believe he may have heard of this hidden city from Manuscript 512, a document written by Portugueseexplorers in the late 1700's. The document describes the ruins of an ancient city built of stone in the jungles of Brazil. However, the document does not specify the city’s location. Fawcett planned an expedition into the interior Amazon Basin to discover this lost city, which he called “Z.” In 1925, with his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimell, he departed into the jungle. Nothing was heard of the party again.

Many scholars believe Fawcett and his companions were killed by hostile indigenous (native) people or perhaps died of disease or starvation as they searched for the “lost city of Z.” In the years after Fawcett vanished, several expeditions attempted to find him, and as many as 100 people died while searching for traces of his expedition. The fate of the Fawcett expedition remains an unsolved mystery today. Percy Fawcett’s younger son, Brian, wrote of the expedition in Exploration Fawcett (1953). The 2017 film The Lost City of Z was based on a 2009 book of the same name by U.S. journalist David Grann.

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