Posted: April 6th, 2011
Lost in the Amazon
About This Episode

On April 20, 1925, Colonel Percy Fawcett, his elder son Jack Fawcett and Jack’s lifelong friend, Raleigh Rimmell, departed from Cuiabá, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, to find “Z” — Col. Fawcett’s name for what he believed to be an ancient city lost in the uncharted jungles of Brazil. The search for the mysterious Lost City of Z would be the great explorer’s last expedition. All three men would vanish without a trace.

Eighty-six years later, Secrets of the Dead has mounted a modern day quest with explorer Niall McCann to find the truth behind the disappearance of famed adventurer Col. Percy Fawcett and his party in Lost in the Amazon, premiering nationally Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

Secrets of the Dead is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET– one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

When Col Fawcett set out in 1925 to find the lost city he called “Z,” it was the biggest news of the day. Millions followed the reports he sent back to civilization with local runners. But, he was not a treasure hunter like those seekers of El Dorado, the mythical city whose king was said to cover himself with gold dust.

Preview this episode:

Inspired by the discovery of Machu Picchu and other Incan sites in 1911, this war hero, surveyor and amateur archaeologist, became fascinated with the notion that large civilizations once existed in the Amazon. This fascination, coupled with a spiritual and mystical belief that his son was a “chosen one,” suggest the true purpose behind his final journey.

Along with new archaeological digs and the science behind the discovery of newly found jungle cities, there are two clues pointing to the fate of Fawcett and his two companions: his signet ring which surfaced 60 years after he disappeared and a map with a secret code only his wife could decipher. In addition, Secrets of the Dead shares surprising finds that are causing experts to re-think the image of a pristine uninhabited, uncivilized Amazon rainforest — a place that before Columbus, may actually have had large populations living in sophisticated towns and cities. Is it uninhabited or just not urban?

THIRTEEN’s Secrets of the Dead: Lost in the Amazon is a Lost World Films Limited production for THIRTEEN, VISION TV, JOY TV, and AETN in association with WNET. Narrator is Live Schreiber. It is directed and written by Peter von Puttkamer. The producers are Sheera and Peter von Puttkamer. Executive Producers for WNET are Jared Lipworth and William R. Grant.

  • » Secrets of the Dead is One of the Best Shows on TV!

    [...] season, the show is once again delivering the goods. April 20th’s upcoming profile “Lost in the Amazon,” which chronicles the travels of Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett and his search for the Lost [...]

  • Donna

    Someone should make a movie about this, sounds absolutely fascinating!!!! Can’t wait to watch the “upcoming profile”!!!!


    [...] Find out more » [...]

  • Walter Mattheau

    The book The Lost city of Z is really good.
    I always wanted to take a trip down the Amazon. After reading this book I realize that a trip like this explorer took and hell would be the same. He was an amazing explorer and this segment should be very good but someone should make a movie of the entire story

  • Janet Searl

    I missed this! Will you repeat the Col. Percy Fawcett episode? When? Please!!!!! Thank you. JS

  • mark

    Wake Up !
    Just watch it online !

  • Richard Yoast

    Regardless of the fine qualities of this production is all the content a plagiarized video using all the information and findings of the national bestselling book “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann which, at least on this website receives no credit? Can you say that the investigator shown in the program never read or used any of Grann’s work?

  • John Z.

    This episode follows very closely what I read in “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann. I read the book about a year ago and when I saw this episode in the TV listings I couldn’t resist and I wasn’t disappointed. Very well done.

  • dolan eargle

    Just say this presentation. What an excellent intro to the Charles Mann comments on that ancient civiliazation.
    I hope there will be a lot more on these ancient cities .

  • Jon L.

    Enjoyed the program last night on WGTE, Toledo, Ohio. Unfortunately, I fell asleep and only tuned in about 20 minutes into the show. Hope it will be broadcast again.

  • j h

    Why was it not said where Fawcett’s ring was found?

  • valora tree

    M. Blavatsky played a roll in Fawcett’s far-flung beliefs. Truth, in truth (I believe), is pretty down to earth. This is another example of someone a bit off his rocker (as was Hitler).

  • valora tree

    I mentioned Hitler (4/21/11) because he was intluenced by the occult.

  • Peter von Puttkamer

    Hello, I’m the show’s Producer/Director. Thank you for tuning into our program- Lost in the Amazon. Just to clear up a few questions: our primary historical source for this production was “Exploration Fawcett” (published 1953) written by Percy Fawcett himself (from his journals) and edited by his son Brian Fawcett. Next, the family biographer, William Lowther was crucial to bringing new factual evidence to this story- Lowther is the greatest living expert on the life of Col. Percy Fawcett and approved by the Fawcett family to comment on Percy Fawcett’s life. Finally, Fawcett’s grand daughter herself gave us access to logs, people and materials previously not investigated which gave us new insight into the Percy Fawcett story. Of course, since it is an historical work about an actual person, there will be some similarities to other books/films dealing with Percy Fawcett. The difference with our production was that we are the first people to really reach Fawcett’s final camp- Dead Horse Camp and we are the first documentary on Fawcett to really state that he likely never made it as far into the Amazon as people believe. We have much evidence for this, laid out in the film. And btw, the producition does tell us that Fawcett’s Signet ring was discovered in a Cuiaba (Mato Grosso) shop in Central Brazil. We are the first team of researchers to ever hold that ring and lay it side by side with a matched wax impression (photo) left by Nina Fawcett (Percy’s wife) at the Royal Geographical Society. The production was also unique in being able to obtain great insights into the kind/fair personality of Fawcett from the native people whose villages he passed through. So in short, there are many firsts and new discoveries about Fawcett never before revealed in any book or film.

    Regarding Fawcett’s personality- remember he was a trained RGS Cartographer and Explorer with a keen sense of survival and a brilliant mind that was able to see things and make conclusions that few of his Amazon contemporaries did. As we learn in the show, he was well ahead of his time in believing that large populations, living in sophisticated city-states lived in the Amazon jungle….since proven to be an accurate assessment. Like many of his Victorian-style predecessors, Fawcett was also a romantic with some fantastic theories- this doesn’t make him “like Hitler”- far from it, as we was renowned for his gentle manner and fair dealing with his expedition teams and the natives. Despite some eccentric spiritual beliefs, Fawcett was an incredibly brave explorer and trailblazer whose beliefs about the Amazon and the people that live there, are only now just being discovered.
    Peter von Puttkamer, Producer/Director

  • Leo Wery

    Cheers Peter. It seems good from what I hear and read. Bit of a shame we can’t seem to see it on-line here in Brasil!

  • Arlene Lopas

    Watching this program a week ago, brought to mind something I had read years ago that I found very disturbing and had similarities to the Fawcett expedition. That is , the book A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh. This book gives a potential but horrific explanation of what could have happened to an adventurer similar to Percy Fawcett. Tonight I did a search on the web and discovered that, indeed, Waugh may have based his novel in part on the mystery of Percy’s disappearance.

  • Daniel

    Thanks for the great job Peter! Lost in the Amazon was thoroughly educational and thought-provoking. I think you’ve laid out a rather solid theory of what might have happened to Fawcett, with some strong evidence to boot.

    I would be interested in knowing how closely Fawcett’s diaries matched or differed from what Brian transcribed and wrote into Exploration Fawcett. While it seems Fawcett was a very serious, detail oriented professional, some of what he claims to have witnessed goes beyond what we know today. One in particular was the Maricoxi, which Fawcett describes as certainly not being human…in a modern sense at least.

    Great stuff! Look forward to your next endeavor!

  • Peter von Puttkamer

    Great comments…thank you all. The Fawcett mystery is a deep and complex one and the never-ending connections to people and events around the world, continue to amaze and astound me. The expedition to go find out what really happened to the man and unravel some of the layers of this mystery was an exciting real-life adventure all on its own: a modern treasure hunt combined with a film shoot. It was a boys-own adventure for every member of the crew and I think it was a journey none of us will ever forget! :-)

  • Brian

    Peter, I am especially interested in one particular scene in Lost in the Amazon. It was a fraction of a second before the discussion about the Indian delegation began. It was old footage that showed men dancing with circular breast plates on. I’d like to know the location of where that dance was taking place. The ritual looked tribal as if it was from the Amazon but the way the story was going at that time, it could have been anywhere. I’d be amazed to find that it was in Brazil though because the breast plates almost appeared to be Buddhist Eight Spoked Wheels. Location where the old footage was taken?

  • Marc

    I understand that when dealing with a historical subject, certain facts will be repeated in multiple places by multiple authors.

    Unfortunately, this entire episode feels like it was scripted using David Grann’s excellent book, the Lost City of Z. This book from 2009 covers virtually every single thing your show claims to have done “for the first time ever!”

    No matter how lovely the cinematography, no matter how far into the jungle you took your cameras, the raw content is nothing more than a pale copy of Grann’s book. I hope people who found your show interesting will read the uncredited source material.

    And I hope PBS is reading these – I’ll send them an email just in case. It’s a shame to see something like this happen.

  • Daniel

    Marc, not true. Grann never proposes that Fawcett was killed by bandits or shows evidence of some of Col. Fawcett’s effects found to have been sold (pretty intriguing evidence toward that theory). Grann leaves us with the idea that after 4 or 5 days the Indians he last visited could see his campire in the distance and then one night, not all all, leaving them to believe a more ruthless tribe of people killed them.

  • Fred

    Peter von Puttkamer: You mentioned William Lowther is the “family biographer.” Has he written a book about Col. Fawcett?

    I would certainly agree with you that “Expedition Fawcett” is first-rate. So is “The Lost City of Z.”

    I do think it quite unfair for any outsider to accuse you and your production of team of using any source without attribution or permission. One would have to be on the inside to know that.

  • Peter von Puttkamer

    Thanks for your input. For Brian: the scene just before the “Buddhist delegation” sequence was taken from an archival film, shot in Ceylon in the 1920’s and shows one of the sects/groups that Fawcett may have encountered while in that country. I found the dance strange and exotic and a contrast to the ordered appearance of the Buddhist holy men.

    Good to here from you Fred. Yes working with Fawcett’s grand daughter Rolette de Montet-Guerin was most helpful in telling this story, plus having access to the family papers and Fawcett diaries, the expertise of the Torquay Museum, as well as considerable input from Mr. Lowther gave us great historical detail and quite an insight into the mind of Fawcett and his motivations. William Lowther has a long history with the family and even worked with Brian Fawcett, the surviving son, in collecting and analyzing the writings of Percy Fawcett. He is considered by Rolette to be the foremost authority on her grandfather and as such was recommended to us. I’m not sure what Mr Lowther’s plans are for a book, but his knowledge is substantial: he has amalgamated the family papers and Fawcett journals, read every scrap of paper on Fawcett: historical references and newspaper articles of the day; not to mention he has spent countless hours interviewing family and anyone connected to the Fawcett saga. Thanks again for your interest in our show! :-)

  • The Mundane Chatter Podcast 2.0 Episode 14: Secrets Of The Dead « Mundane Chatter Podcast

    [...] How Percy Fawcett dissappeared searching for a Lost City in Brazil [...]

  • JMH

    Saw this on NetFlix. Very good! I fail to understand why PBS doesn’t offer up some full length vids on this site. Surely, PBS can gain rights to a few.

  • Lawrence B.

    Just watched the rebroadcast and found it fascinating. I had not seen it before. I did read the Grann book “The Lost City of Z” a year or so ago after seeing an excellent piece on him on a CBS news show. I don’t remember what show. The fact I found so interesting in both the book and in the Secrets of the Dead production was not what happened to Fawcett, but that he had been right about the local civilization. This production went much further on that point. The book and this production were wonderful uses of television. I’d like to see more.

  • J. A. Jordan

    I agree with Marc who commented May 31. This episode appears to have been largely lifted from David Grann’s book (2009), “The Lost City of Z.” Grann’s book was well-researched and documented and concludes with an interview with Michael Heckenberger, an archaeologist/ethnologist excavating prehistoric sites in the Xingu region, the region in which Fawcett last travelled.

  • Thom

    Peter von Puttkamer-Whats up with the flashing on the screen every time a new scene is shown, its extremely disconcerting and making it difficult to watch???

  • Stanley

    Sorry Peter, but I was kind of appalled, not entertained, and your claim of “many firsts and new discoveries” is just silly. I won’t try to get into a point-by-point, but I am very disappointed that PBS would show this. It was a rehash of Grann, with different people saying exactly what he said, except for very minor speculation — such as, the “bandits” and “locating” Dead Horse Camp. I blame PBS for accepting your piece, but you should at least acknowledge that you are indebted to Grann.

  • DF Bunnell

    They ARE making a movie of it or so they say. The story has been optioned to Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company & Paramount. Additionally, one of the Indiana Jones after-market novels (a fictional book) is loosely based on finding Fawcett: Indiana Jones and The Seven Veils.

  • Bob Meyers

    I too saw this excellent documentary on NetFlix. As you can see this ignites a lot of people and we want top see more. I wonder if any explorers of late have gone into those areas, especially near campsites with some good metal detectors? Although their bones are long gone, artifacts of the expedition might be found. Perhaps there is so much metal in the ground it is impossible.

  • Audrey

    Wonder why more investigation of where the ring came from and how it made into into the brazilian shop was not conducted. Surely a good bribe should have been able get relevant parties to show where the bodies were disposed/buried. That is not a very wealthy region after all and the people who murdered them are beyond prosecution now. Grease the wheels to find the truth, sometimes that is how it is done.

  • Peter von Puttkamer, Producer/Director

    Glad to hear how many people are enjoying this show and arguing over the many aspects of this complex story- that’s why I got into filmmaking! :-) It was a pleasure to research, plan the expedition and go out on a real-life treasure hunt using modern GPS and the ancient Portuguese manuscript and other clues to locate Dead Horse Camp- the first time the camp has been found; also we discovered the “magical/spiritual” waterfall referred to Fawcett in his logs and by the Portuguese fortune hunters.

    Of course I have spent a lifetime with this story since my mother briefly helped raise Fawcett’s grand daughter Rolette in Switzerland after World War II..and it is through our close connection with her, the family biographer Lowther and Fawcett’s own papers that we were able to glean the truth about Fawcett’s journey- not presented officially in any biography about him: the true spiritual purpose of his journey and that he did not make it into the Xingu. He was stopped dead in his tracks in the Mato Grosso near Dead Horse Camp.

    Therefore speculations about the longhouses in the Xingu (Kuikuro people) and trenches being excavated by Heckenberger, are based on the supposition that Percy made it that far into the jungle or that tales of gleaming adobe-style mud houses were mistaken for marble buildings and passed down as lost-city legends. Remember every expedition to find Fawcett (including the recent book) since 1927 went on a wild chase deep into the Xingu jungle- based on the decisions of Col Dyott (official RGS rescue party) to go into the Xingu; remember as we revealed Dyott ignored the testimony of an unsavory character- Captain Miranda in the Mato Grosso who claimed Fawcett was killed by bandits. Based on our research with the revelations of the signet ring and corrected (un-coded) map coordinates and more, we maintain that Percy Fawcett did not make it that far. If you look at the design of the Xingu (Kuikuro) village- communal sites being unearthed by Heckenberger- they are interesting and point to a large population, but in my estimation don’t necessarily have all the qualities that a “Lost City of Z” should have- namely a massive infrastructure.

    We went to the Acre state in the Western Amazon (which Fawcett mapped in 1907)- near Rio Branco to explore the recent discoveries of “Geoglyphs”- a massive site, more than 160 sq miles across, featuring hundreds of complex geometrically shaped religious sites- trenches, earth works, mounds and evidence of a truly massive civilization living in the jungle. This existed 2000 years ago- and may have spurred the legends Fawcett was seeking. There are many candidates for “The Lost City of Z” and Fawcett’s foray into the Mato Grosso toward the Xingu- may have been only one of the avenues he was pursuing: the Chachapoyas (known as “The Cloud People”) in Peru- who lived in a stone city on the edge of the Andes- beside the Amazon were said to be “white or pale-skinned” natives living next to the Incan empire; they may have been the people Fawcett heard about (and refers to in his journals) whom the Incans had warned to flee the Spaniards; Did the Chachapoyas come down further south into the jungle and build another stone city somewhere else in the Amazon? That’s another piece of recent research we just dug up. We’ll likely never know the truth. It’s just part of the ongoing mystery of Col Fawcett.

    Audrey- as far as paying people off to find the bodies goes- sounds like a good idea! :-) All I can say is, when we spoke to Brian Ridout, who is in the film, and brought the ring out of Brazil- there was a whole cast of shady characters he spoke to: who made up stories and refused to be nailed down to exact dates (of where they were, and when) and also remember much time had passed. From the 1925 disappearance of Fawcett to Ridout’s enquiries in the early 1970’s is a very long time and some people had died, the shop keeper Grisolia’s wife stayed quiet on the whole story- even after her husband died- and it was only years later when she had moved again- then Ridout was able to acquire the ring.

    Sorry Thom don’t know about the flashing you are referring to between scenes. It wasn’t on our master tape and I certainly wouldn’t have let it go out like that and PBS technical department wouldn’t have approved it like that. Perhaps there was a problem with the broadcast you saw, or the DVD you viewed it on. There is no flashing in the show….

    Thanks again for all the comments…I’m sure Col Percy Fawcett will continue to draw much interest and controversy as he always has over the decades!

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  • Sigrun

    I stumbled upon this blog because I was interested in the Viennese Lippizzaner horses. Unfortunately, the program was unavailable to me (in Ontario). While browsing a bit further I came upon this page and the one before it. Languages and archaeology are two of my passions. I saw some of the older Viennese stallions one summer. They remain in the barn at the palace in Vienna. They are so beautiful. Unfortunately, of course the older ones don’t perform much any more and probably especially in the summer.

    Then I saw the article about the interaction with German soldiers after the war. My father barely made it out of Russia at the end of the war and barely escaped at least one Russian firing squad. Fortunately, he was good at long-distance sports and ran from it, later swimming one of the big rivers to Rumania where farmers gave him food and some warmer clothing for him to make it back to my mother and me.

    But I was especially interested in the last two stories here. Unfortunately we don’t often get archaeological news here if it doesn’t directly concern us. I once got a book from the library about the City of Z. Other things got between that book and me, and I’Il try to get it again soon. I think general-interest stories like these should be made available more easily. Yes, the Internet makes such things attainable, but if you don’t have the time to search constantly, and hope that you find something by a fluke, you get nowhere fast. I’ll certainly be looking at your site more avidly to find more stories that interest me. It’s almost 3:00 a.m. and I should get to sleep.

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