Monday, March 15, 2010

What was Lost is Found?

One of the most enjoyable nonfiction books I read last year was The Lost City of Z (Random House), by David Grann (the book is now available in paperback). Recently, the deforestation of vast amounts of jungle in the Amazon have revealed evidence that The City of Z -- or El Dorado, as some called it -- truly did exist.

In a study published in Antiquity, a British archaeological journal, the magazine details how the combination of deforestation and satellite imagery was used to discern the footprint of the buildings and roads of an enormous and sophisticated settlement located in what is now Brazil.

"The combination of land cleared of its rain forest for grazing and satellite survey have revealed a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society in the upper Amazon basin on the east side of the Andes. This hitherto unknown people constructed earthworks of precise geometric plan connected by straight orthogonal roads," the journal states. According to the authors of the study, the community likely had a population of more than 60,000 people, spanned a region of more than 150 miles across, and may date as far back as AD 800.

This early regional population was likely then wiped out by diseases brought by European conquistadores in the 15th and 16th centuries. The conquistodores had heard from the Indians about a fabulously rich Amazonian civilization, but most scholars concluded that El Dorado was no more than an illusion.

Percy Harrison Fawcett, the British explorer profiled in Grann's book (and soon to be the subject of a big-screen movie, brought to life by Brad Pitt, which presumably explains his out-of-control facial growth of late), claimed he had found evidence of an ancient civilization. He disappeared in the Amazonian jungle during a 1925 expedition. Now, Grann says, "there has been mounting evidence that nearly everything that was once generally believed about the Amazon and its people was wrong, and that Fawcett was in fact prescient."

I'm pretty sure the deforestation of the Amazon basin isn't such a hot idea, but this is exciting stuff nonetheless! And I highly recommend David Grann's book. Speaking of Grann, his newest book just arrived in the store last week: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.

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