Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Searching for Eldorado

A few metres from our log-cabin porch is jungle. OK, perhaps jungle is stretching it a bit, but there's a lot of foliage and at night time it is loud with insects. I've just finished a book by David Grann called The Lost City of Z about Percy Harrison Fawcett, among the last of the great Victorian explorers. For years he explored the Amazon and came to believe that its jungle concealed a large, complex civilization, like Eldorado, which he called Z. Like many before him - not least the Spanish conquistadors - his quest became an obsession and he became quite possibly unhinged. He disappeared, with his son Jack and his friend Raleigh, in the Upper Xingu area of Brazil in 1925.
Fawcett's escapades inspired Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), and countless other fables, from Herge's Tintin and the Broken Ear to Herzog's Aguirre: Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, and from Pixar's Up to the fourth Indiana Jones film.
Years after his disappearance, people thought he was still alive, either held prisoner or gone native. There were various expeditions to rescue him. But it's almost certain he and the two young men were killed by native Indians.
And what of Z? Interestingly, it appears that he was right. There was a 'city' in the area where he disappeared, but it had existed roughly between 500-1600AD. The German archaeologist Michael Heckenberger has spent years uncovering moats, palisades, roads, pottery etc. It was called Kuhikugu. Its possible demise may be attributed to Europeans arriving with smallpox and other diseases. Poor old Fawcett - so near yet so far.


  1. Yes, finally! Must read that one about Sierra Leone (or was it Liberia?) soon.