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Great Adventures

When a gentleman explorer set off to find El Dorado under the media spotlight, he wasn’t to know that his expedition would conclude with a very unexpected headline, writes Pat Kinsella


Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett served in World War I before embarking on his mission into the Amazon jungle

In April 1925, veteran English explorer Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett hacked his way into the near-impenetrable jungle of Mato Grosso, deep in the sweaty unmapped mess of the Amazon, accompanied by his son Jack and young Raleigh Rimmell. Armed with custom-made machetes, rifles and a ukulele, the intrepid trio hoped to discover a long-lost city that Fawcett was convinced lay deep in the wilderness, beyond the Brazilian Pale: an Atlantis of the jungle, the shell of an ancient and highly developed civilization.

“The difficulties are great and the tale of disasters a long one, for the few remaining unknown corners of the world exact a price for their secrets”Percy Fawcett

It was Fawcett’s eighth foray into the ferociously fecund forest. His 58-year-old body had thus far withstood everything the Amazon had thrown at him, including encounters with anacondas, vampire bats and piranhas, infestation by flesh-eating maggots, relentless clouds of blood-sucking mosquitoes, poison-arrow attacks by tribespeople and weeks-long periods of near-starvation. But this was his last chance. And he knew it.

One last time he would follow the jealously guarded handful of hints, hunches and half-clues he’d amassed during a colourful career, to risk life and loved ones on a quixotic quest for the elusive citadel he referred to only as ‘Z’.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

This might well be our most-packed issue ever, and we’ve got pretty much every time and place imaginable covered. Our section in the centre pages looks at those archaeological discoveries that make our understanding of the past possible – from buried kings to mysterious writings.