Ivan T. Sanderson — Chapter 9 — Sidetrip: Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett


During his childhood and early career collecting and studying animals, Ivan Sanderson became aware that a number of explorers and scientific researchers had come across things for which there were no conventional factual explanation. Let us take the colorful story of Colonel Fawcett as an example, as told by Ivan himself:

RG: Well, I think we had better go on and talk about a famous character who you’ve mentioned in your books—Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett [born 1867 – disappeared in or after 1925] was a British archaeologist and an explorer, who did some explorations in South America. He was a surveyor, wasn’t he?

ITS: A most astonishing character. I knew his son, Brian Fawcett who published his diaries. He’ s an old man—my age by now. Fawcett had another son, who had a most extraordinary history too.

Colonel Fawcett apparently was a sort of typical British aristocratic-type fellow. He went in the Army and he didn’t like it at all. They sent him to India. He was obviously one of us, because he was against all this marching about, and heiling Hitler and all that. He was an officer who got along very well with the Indians, I mean the Indian Indians.

RG: From India, not the American brand.

ITS: Who should be called Amerinds or Amerindians, incidentally—it's much better.

Anyhow, Fawcett specialized, when he was at school, in surveying, He was particularly interested in Geography. He took courses in that and related fields. As a British officer in India, he got in with the British-Indian survey of India. You know, they were beginning to map it. It was mostly under the charge of the Army because between military campaigns they had nothing to do. They’d put them to work setting up bits of string and measuring it, you know, all that.

Somehow he got in with the Royal Geographical Society in London. They backed him to do a trip somewhere, which he did, I believe as a civilian, the first time. Well, you can read it in Brian’s book if you want to get the details. Anyhow, he did this and he was very successful. He came back and he got a thing called the Murchison Medal, which is a gold medal given to the most outstanding explorer. It’s still given annually. [He's referring to the Murchison Award given by the Royal Geographical Society and named after Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871). Under his last will and testament there was also established another award, a "Murchison Medal," and a geological fund (The Murchison Fund) to be awarded annually by the council of the Geological Society of London.]

He now had military rank. Such a good job had he done, that certain South American Governments—you know, they were just getting their independence in those days; didn’t know where their borders were—asked him to survey their boundaries for them. I’m particularly fond of Latin Americans, but the Spanish Latin Americans can argue more than anybody else. They were in an uproar, and they were all starting little wars against each other. So three or four of them got together and each of the governments—I think Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil all separately invited him to do a survey of their boundaries. The Bolivians and the Peruvians couldn’t decide where it was going to be, or who was going to do it. So they said: “All right, we’ll bring the crazy Englishman in, and if he’ll tell us, we’ll both abide by it.” They did, and he spent three years in South America wandering around, and he found boundaries—well that is, he made them. Then he went to both governments and one said: “Fine. If you say so it’s all right by us; how about you, Bolivia?” And Bolivia said: “Well, we don’t agree, but we’ll agree.”

Then the President of Bolivia asked him to survey the entire Peruvian boundary, which would take about four years. He couldn’t get a four-year leave from the army, so he went into retirement so that he could do this survey for them.

Later, he got deeply into the jungle and met a lot of people in Brazil who told him of these fabulous cities which they, or their fathers, or their grandfathers, or somebody else had found. He spent most of his life looking for signs of ancient civilizations in South America. South America today, we still believe, is a lot of people from Europe and a lot of Indians who are very primitive, and particularly in Brazil where there are people running around with arrows and all that. But there are now, Richard, there are coming out every year, more and more evidence of very high cultures that once existed there: Stone buildings, and all the rest. Colonel Fawcett spent his entire life on these grueling expeditions, on one of which he died—well, he never came back, he disappeared. It happened on his 14th expedition, in 1941. He had one of his sons with him, and he had another Englishman, too. They all disappeared.

He did find a lot of monuments, but never the great cities that he was hoping for. He did find certain tribes, and he had a genius for language. South American-Indian languages are real complicated. They’re like Chinese, with whistles and clicks and all that kind of stuff. He managed to learn these languages, and he met some exceedingly primitive people. When I say primitive, I mean they were living in a primitive way to us, in villages with thatched roofs, and so on. But those people, he found, had names for and knew the movements of six planets. How you can’t see Uranus with the naked eye, but they had their calculations and everything absolutely down pat for that planet. They made for him, in the clean dust and sand of the village square, a drawing. They knew that we went around the sun. You know, in the olden days we thought that the sun went around the earth. Well, they knew otherwise. They knew Mercury, so help me, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and Uranus, and showed exactly how they went around the sun. They also knew of the asteroids, which should be called planetoids, but they thought that was one continuous thing. They also knew that its ecliptic was completely different to that of the planets, that its more elliptical, you know, and that it goes across the solar system at an angle to the ecliptic plane. Here a lot of what we call “primitive” Amerinds were running around wearing skins and shooting bows and arrows, and yet they knew more astronomy than we knew until 100 years ago when we developed, really developed big telescopes.

That began to make Colonel Fawcett think that perhaps there used to be advanced cultures east of the Andes and that maybe a lot of other things which we ignored, which the Indians said happened, were real.

Of course, the thing that got me most interested in him was, well, he was going up a valley, the Parahyva Valley in southern Peru, on the Amazonian side. He came to a granite cliff in a gorge. This cliff was absolutely upright, like a wall, and then there were these perfect little round holes all over it. As he came down the trail he saw little birds that went in and out of these holes. So he said to the people, “What’s that?” and they said, “Well, they nest in those holes.” He said, “How very convenient that there should be all these little holes all ready for the little birds to nest in!” The Amerindians then said to him, “Oh no. They make the holes.”

Fawcett answered with, “But that’s granite! How can a little tiny bird, about the size of a warbler, make a hole in solid granite?” They said, “Well, sit down sir, and watch!” And sure enough, the birds began coming with little pieces of a red leaf in their bill. We have now found out what the plant is, what the leaf is, and it’s quite well known. It’s a very common plant. As a matter of fact, we use it for ornamental purposes. You can buy it in the stores, in a florist’s in New York. The Latin name escapes me, but its got ordinary sort of rather spongy-looking red leaves–it’s red and purple instead of being green. It has a substance in it that is a very strong alkali and not an acid.

The birds would go and take pieces of these leaves and then they would hang on the cliff with their little claws, like a bat, and they’d rub this leaf onto the rock. Then they would fly away and get another one. They would work on this all day. Then in the evening when the sun went down; with their little soft bills they’d peck, peck, peck, and all the rock would be dissolved by the juice out of this plant in combination with their saliva. As they picked at it, it would all turn to something like sand and crumble away. Working three or four days, they could make a perfect spherical hole big enough to get into and lay their eggs.

Well, Colonel Fawcett got very interested in this, and he said, “There must be something in this juice which softens stone.” And the Amerindians said, “Oh, of course, sir, how do you think we made all our great big carvings? You don’t think that we carved all those huge stone monuments? Oh no, we softened them with this juice until it was like plastic, plasticine, then we molded our gods and figures, and then we poured cold water on it and set it again, and it turned back to stone.”

Fawcett went on with this, and he actually got a pot of this stuff out of an old grave, and it was a long story, but it fell over and broke, and it dissolved the stone under it. It was just like putty, and you could make anything you wanted out of it. Now we’re working back historically and we found that the ancient Hebrews had it in the Near East, and the North American Indians had it, this same process of softening stone rather than chipping it. They could dissolve limestone with it and set it again, making all those fantastic “carvings,” you know? We found out that the process is quite well known, it’s called chelation. It’s well known to all botanists, and it is nothing else but the simple natural process by which the roots of plants dissolve rock. Look out of this window here, I mean we have a picture window here, and all of these trees growing around the house. The way these trees can put their tap roots right down through the soil, into the subsoil, right through that, and maybe into solid rock, is called chelation. The little tiny ends of the soft roots, the very tips, dissolve the stone and soften it. Then they move in, drag all the moisture out and pump it up to make the leaves and everything else. It’s an enormous industry now in this country.

RG: It is?

ITS: Oh sure, it’s all over. There are a couple of corporations experimenting with it, and there are 58 people south of Chicago who are developing chelated products for agriculture and for medicinal purposes, and so on.

You see, people don’t realize it’s been lying under our nose all the time, but it was Colonel Fawcett who first found it.

RG: Think of the commercial possibilities. Just spray this stuff on rock, and you could tunnel through mountains, and things like that.

ITS: Fantastic. They’re beginning to come around to that. It’s been used up till now for agricultural purposes, being an agricultural product. Now they know that they can use it directly on stone. A member of our organization got to Dr. Barney Nashoe, who’s a biochemist, and he went to Central America to study this on our behalf—our Society that is, SITU.

He’s back in Chicago now, and his wife just had a baby, so I haven’t heard from him for a couple of weeks. Very exciting. It’s their first. But he tells me the big corporations are now moving on, and they’re running tests. It will take about ten years to find out what it will do, and how they can do it, and how they can make it commercial, and so on. One great outlet will be for art schools, of course.

RG: Sculpturing?

ITS: For molding, “sculpting” as opposed to sculpturing. Rather than going around “chomp, chomp, chomp” and getting bits of stone in your eye, you can soften it up, at least the surface, and then mold it into whatever you want.

RG: I suppose you could wander around the country making Mount Rushmore Monuments all over the place.

ITS: That’s right. Exactly! Ends Fawcett, I think, for now.

RG: Its interesting though, hearing that they have found evidence of higher civilizations east of the Andes.

ITS: Yes, east, in the Amazon Basin. Well, that’s where Fawcett was operating, and that’s the part I’m most interested in. I mean all those people who used to be in the Andes and on the west side, well, we know all about them. You’ve got Machu Picchu, and you’ve got Cuzco, and Tiahuanaco, and everybody knows about them, because they were there when the Spanish came. Everybody said: “Oh, Brazil and the Amazon River Basin—just a bunch of jungle, there’s nothing there.” But ah ha! Ever heard of Professor Ramos? The Brazilian, who found those Phoenician sculptures all the way up the Amazon? I mean, oh my gosh, this has been going on for years. And everybody’s been saying: “Oh, impossible, impossible, impossible....”

Ivan was refering to Bernardo A. Silva Ramos, a retired industrialist, scholar and archaeologist, who in 1963 translated a very ancient cuneiform inscription (the "Havea Inscription") that had been found in 1836 high atop a summit near Brazil's Rio de Janeiro. Ramos claimed it was carved in the Phoenician alphabet between 887 B.C. and 850 B.C., thus serving as proof of Phoenician expeditions into South America.

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