Percy Harrison Fawcett, born in 1867, disappeared into the Amazon jungle in 1925. He was one of the foremost and one of the last of the Victorian/Edwardian explorers.He graduated from a course at the esteemed Royal Geographic Society where he was a member. His studies included surveying, how to record and classify what was around him, and the fundamentals of mounting and executing an expedition. The society bred him as an explorer.
Fawcett’s first mission was a two year expedition to map regions of south america between Bolivia and Brazil. He successfully completed the mission, redefining the borders of South America and did it almost a year early. In 1916, the royal geographic society awarded him with the blessing of George V gold medal for his contributions to the mapping of South America.But most importantly, it was on that expedition that he fell in love with the wilds of the Amazon.
Fawcett returned to the dangerous Amazon jungle seven times. Some things he claimed to have seen on these expeditions were a 62 foot long anaconda, a double-nosed Andean tiger-hound (a rare breed of hound with a double nose), and a giant Apazauca spider (a black tarantula so big a plate can barely cover it). His accomplishments also include tracing the source of the Rio Verde, and travelling along the Heath River on the border of Peru, to try to trace its source. Fawcett found evidence on these expeditions that indicated there had once been a large, organized and advanced civilization with what must have been a huge city deep in the Amazon. One example of his findings was that in several high areas of the Amazon just a bit of scratching into the dirt would reveal shards of beautiful quality pottery to rival ancient Greek relics. He grew more and more interested in discovering this city lost in the jungle. He even gave it a name…Z.
Fawcett and other explores of his day didn’t have the fancy gadgets and communication devices we have now. These adventures braved the unknown with a compass, a machete, and an uncompromising belief in themselves to succeed. This was before specialist so they had to have the skill set of an explorer, a geographer, an anthropologist, and archaeologist, an emergency medical technician, and a leader all in one, in addition to being exceptionally physically ft. Percy Harrison Fawcett was all these things. Even at age 57 when he embarked on what was to become his last expedition, his body was resistant to illness and ailments, and he could walk for days with little or no nourishment. What he and other explores faced in the Amazon jungle were jaguars, snakes including anacondas, wild pigs, even some frogs there are poisonous to the touch, mosquitoes which carried diseases from malaria to yellow fever and settled on the explorers in swarms biting every inch of their bodies, ticks that descended on them like clouds of black rain…and they were also subject to attack by hostile native tribes.
It’s said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used Fawcett as his inspiration for Lord John Roxton in his 1912 book The Lost World. Also Fawcett’s older brother Edward was an adventure novelist and drew on his younger brothers private fantasies in his book, The Secret of the Desert, where an explorer finds an ancient abandoned temple laden with treasure.
Fawcett’s theories of the ancient abandoned city of Z were considered nonsense by his peers. In the Edwardian era it was a widely held belief not only that El Dorado was a false myth but that all the documentation of the conquistadors discoveries were fantasies. Fawcett’s colleagues believed the Amazon natives were incapable of having developed a complex civilization.There was a theory at that time as well that the Amazon itself was too inhospitable for anyone to have created a sophisticated society there.
Fawcett didn’t believe in El Dorado but he thought many of the journals of these early Spanish expeditions contained accurate descriptions of the Amazon before the natives were almost entirely wiped out by small pox and other European diseases. For instance the 16th century Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana reported seeing many fine roads leading into the interior. A conquistador on another expedition wrote of seeing towns so large they he was astounded by them.
After studying the conquistador’s records and native myths Fawcett figured out the location of Z. He formed an expedition to uncover the lost civilization despite being considered a fool by his colleagues. It took him a long time to get funding, but at last he was ready to set out. In 1925, Fawcett formed a small team of only three – himself, his son Jack, and Jack’s friend Raleigh, because that was a small enough party that they could live off the land and three men wouldn’t pose much of a threat to hostile Indians.Their explorer outfits included lightweight tear-proof pants, stetsons, 30 caliber riffles and machetes.The three men entered the Amazon in search of the lost city of Z, but they disappeared in the jungle never to be heard of again.
It’s know that Fawcett’s party crossed the Upper Xingu, a south-eastern tributary of the Amazon and got as far as the Suyas and Kayapos tribes and then planned to turn eastward and confront the Xavante, an inhospitable tribe said to usually kill anyone they could catch. Some members of the Kayapos remember warning Fawcett not to go east as the tribes there were so hostile. The Kayapos saw the smoke from Fawcett’s campfire for five days after they left them then it went out. It is still unknown happened to Fawcett and his son and Raleigh after that. Over the years the mystery of his disappearance grew. Many rescue missions followed as well as many ideas about what happened to Fawcett, including one theory that he found Z and stayed there to live in the ancient city in the jungle he so loved. .
Though Fawcett’s theories of Z were dismissed by most of his peers, it’s now known he actually saw things clearer than them. His theory of an advance civilization in the depth of the Amazon jungle, a city he named Z, had proven to be true. Anthropologist Michael Heckenberger, working alongside the local Kuikuro people,uncovered huge man made moats that once had palisade walls, as well as large circular plazas and a huge area where many dwellings once stood.These ancient people had also build roads up to a hundred and fifty feet wide as well as causeways canals, and there is even evidence of bridges built over rivers. The roads connected large settlements about two to three miles apart. Each settlement contained about two to five thousand people and they lived here between 800 to AD to 1600 AD before European diseases basically wiped most of the out.. All of the cities and roads an other construction were built with a sense of engineering and mathematics which rivaled anything happening in most of Europe at the time. Heckenberger calls it Kuhikugu and it was most likely created by the ancestors of the Kuikuro. As there wasn’t much stone in the jungle Kuhikugu was built with wood, palm, and earth mounds which decompose.And this ancient advanced civilization lay right where Fawcett determined Z was.
If your interested in writing a Steampunk adventure story, Fawcett and his expeditions offer great inspiration. One of the best nonfiction books and also a great, page turner read, about Fawcett and his expeditions is The Lost City of Z by David Grann.
STEAMED! | Writing Steampunk Fiction// //
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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 26 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.