5 legendary lost cities that have never been found
From Atlantis to El Dorado, these ancient civilizations remain as mysterious as the cryptic legends surrounding them.
Of all the enduring mysteries embedded in human history, perhaps none capture the imagination as strongly as those of lost civilizations. From the seemingly impenetrable jungles of South America to the depths of the Mediterranean, whispers and rumors of hidden cities buried by time have inspired the minds of explorers, the pens of authors and the imaginations of filmmakers and game developers.
Below are five cities steeped in legend that may yet be discovered by some intrepid archaeologist. Just don't forget your whip and fedora.
The Lost City of Z
The famed Lost City of Z was thought to exist in the jungle of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. (Photo: Alastair Rae/Flickr/Creative Commons)
In 1925, a three-man team led by British surveyor Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett entered the remote jungles of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. Their goal was to find the ruins of an ancient civilization nicknamed by Fawcett "The Lost City of Z."
The three men, unfortunately, were never seen again. In the decades that followed, some 100 people perished or vanished attempting to discover what happened to them. While it's never been confirmed, it's possible that Fawcett's lost city was based on legends surrounding Kuhikugu, a nearby archaeological complex discovered in the early 21st century that once supported more than 50,000 people.
In 2009, American author David Grann released a book on Fawcett's search titled "The Lost City of Z." A film adaptation starring American actor Charlie Hunnam, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" star Tom Holland and British-American actress Sienna Miller will be released on April 14.
First mentioned in writing by the Greek philosopher Plato in 360 BC, the legendary island of Atlantis has captured the imaginations of explorers and historians for more than two millennia.
The island was said to be expansive and home to a powerful kingdom with advanced technology and an unmatched navy. Sometime around 9,600 BC, the entire region was devastated by what Plato described as "one terrible night of fire and earthquakes" and sank into the sea.
While there have been countless expeditions to find the submerged location of Atlantis and disprove its existence as one of myth alone, all have come up short. The most recent, and possibly the most promising, was headed by Canadian-Israeli journalist and investigative archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici, who's made several films about Jerusalem. Partnering with film director James Cameron, the only man to complete a solo dive of the Mariana Trench, Jacobovici and his team used clues in Plato's writings and advanced tech to scour the sea floor for signs of ruins. The most compelling find was that of six bronze-age stone anchors discovered in the Strait of Gibraltar off the coast of Spain.
“What we uncovered points strongly to some kind of major trading civilization 4,000 years ago or so outside the Mediterranean on the Atlantic coast,” Cameron told the Calgary Herald. “There’s been a lot of thought in the archeological community that the city of Tartessos in Southern Spain – which is now buried under mud essentially by some kind of catastrophe that might have been, let’s say, a large tsunami – could have some basis in the Atlantean myth."
The team plans to return in the near the future to further investigate the site with ground-penetrating radar and other tools.
The Kingdom of Lyonesse
According to legend, the kingdom of Lyonesse was a mass of land in Britain's Isles of Scilly that became engulfed by the ocean over the course of one day. Some even speculate that the litany of 140 islands that exist there today are simply the hilltops of a lost drowned world.
The oldest written account of a lost kingdom off Cornwall’s coast is described in William of Worcester's “Itinerary” from the 14th century. According to the author, an unidentified piece of land extending six miles from the sea existed before the flood. "Woods and fields and 140 parochial churches, all now submerged, between the Mount and the Isles of Scilly," he wrote.
While Lyonesse is referenced in various texts, it's most famous for its place in Arthurian legend as the home of the hero Tristan. In fact, the catastrophe reportedly occurred in the sixth century at the time of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
While no great underwater civilization has ever been discovered, geologists say the region has experienced a great deal of submergence over the last 3,000 years. It's possible that stories of lost civilizations that bore the brunt of these changes may have inspired the legends of Lyonesse that grip the imagination today.
The legend of the golden city of El Dorado has its roots in the 16th century at a time when Europeans were captivated with the treasures of the New World. Spain, in particular, was obsessed, sending its now-notorious conquistadors to South America to claim whatever riches could be found. One such rumor involved the existence of a city high in the Andes mountains whose king covered himself in gold dust. Hence the name "El Dorado" or "the gilded one."
Over time, the legend transitioned from a single golden king to a kingdom of gold. Dozens of people have attempted to find the lost city, including two disastrous expeditions by the famed British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh.
While the city may remain nothing more than a legend, its place in popular culture remains strong. In addition to appearing in such films as "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and the animated adventure "The Road to El Dorado," the mythical city has also been brought to life in the action-adventure video games "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" and "Pitfall: The Lost Expedition."
Lost City of the Kalahari
In 1885, a Canadian entertainer and adventurer named Guillermo Farini (aka The Great Farini) became one of the first westerners to cross the unexplored and treacherous Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. Upon his return, he showed photographs and wrote a paper about ruins he discovered that appeared to indicate the remains of a lost civilization buried in the sands.
"We camped near the foot of it, beside broken line of stone which looked like the Chinese Wall after an earthquake, and which, on examination, proved to be the ruins of quite an extensive structure, in some places buried beneath the sand, but in others fully exposed to view," he wrote. "We traced the remains for nearly a mile, mostly a heap of huge stones, but all flat-sided, and here and there with the cement perfect and plainly visible between the layers."
Throughout the 20th century, dozens of expeditions were launched to find Farini's "Lost City of the Kalahari." No less than 12 were undertaken by the grandparents of South African entrepreneur Elon Musk, the same man who one day aims to help humans explore Mars.
In January 2016, the series "Expedition Unknown" chronicled a search by American host Josh Gates for the lost city. Using aerial scans and radar, as well as Farini's descriptions of the site, they discovered man-made ruins near an oasis located just inside the Kalahari. While it has yet to be confirmed, this site may in fact be the lost city mentioned in Farini's travels.
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