September 26, 2021

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Does bad archaeology make for the best games?

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In 1925 the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his expedition team set off from the Brazilian city of Cuiabá in search of the Lost City of Z, which Fawcett was sure lay hidden in the depths of the Amazon rainforest. It was the culmination of years of obsession for Fawcett, who had come to believe in the existence of an advanced lost civilisation based on sketchy travellers’ tales and a mysterious idol given to him some years earlier by the pulp author H. Rider Haggard and said to be from the region.

Abandoned cities had been found in jungles before, of course. It was still not that long since 19th-century expeditions had mapped the Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala (though knowledge of that, like many ‘lost cities’ had never been entirely lost to the indigenous population). But Fawcett’s quest for Z was no conventional archaeological enterprise. Fawcett had long been a devotee of spiritualism and the esoteric, and his obsession with Z was deeply intertwined with his beliefs about human history. He had determined the origins of Rider Haggard’s idol by showing it to a psychic, who had performed a reading and told him that it had been saved by a priest from a temple in a land that was sinking beneath the waves. In Fawcett’s mind Z wasn’t just an indigenous city that had been swallowed by the jungle and had fallen out of memory, it was a relic connected to Atlantean civilisation, the key to a deeper understanding of the esoteric mysteries that preoccupied him.

There’s only one way this story could end, of course. Fawcett’s expedition set off into the jungle and were never seen or heard from again. Numerous follow-up expeditions have found no trace of them or their lost city.

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