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
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.
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.