Why we keep looking for lost jungle cities.
Dry, desolate landscapes tend to preserve any evidence of human passage—they cling to artifacts like precious memories. A Tyrolean glacier hugged the 5,300-year-old iceman to its breast. The desert helped the ancient Egyptians launch their earthly vessels into eternity. More recently, Antarctica has joined in. The frozen continent recently coughed up a 104-year-old biscuit left by an expedition of Ernest Shackleton’s—in pristine, “perfectly nutritious” state.
The jungle, though, does not take naturally to cultural preservation. The obscuring overgrowth never stops; the landscape digests all. Excavating a 5-year-old site, let alone a 500-year-old one, can be like sifting through a well-advanced compost pile in search of something edible. And yet, we try—especially when inspired by a figure as captivating as Colonel Percy Fawcett.
Fawcett was an intrepid British explorer who disappeared in the Brazilian Amazon in 1925, presumably killed by Indians. He’s the subject of a new biopic, The Lost City of Z, an adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 book of the same name. The Amazon’s greatest cover-up, Fawcett believed, was an utterly forgotten civilization named Z. He aimed, in his quasi-invincible, slightly nutty way, to find it. Read More