OK. This is another trip down the “not quite science” lane. I want to describe another way we might capture the imagination of children to send them down the path of scientific inquiry.
So, let me begin with a funny book, Uncle Scrooge and The Seven Cities of Cibloa. This story written and illustrated by Carl Marks in 1954 deals with a search by the Disney Ducks for a lost civilization in the American Southwest. It was based on stories the Aztecs told the Spanish back in the 16th century. It was a legend but people believed it. The conquistadors looked for it. I read the comic book as a kid and it captured my imagination.
Now, let me introduce a real person, Colonel Percy Fawcett. Fawcett was a late nineteenth explorer and cartographer who disappeared on an expedition up the Amazon River looking for lost civilizations. “Based on documentary research, Fawcett had… formulated ideas about a “lost city” he named “Z” (Zed) somewhere in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. He theorized that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region and that isolated ruins might have survived.” He led several expeditions to find Z. His last search began in 1924. “… with funding from a London-based group of financiers known as ‘the Glove’, Fawcett returned to Brazil with his eldest son Jack and Jack’s best and longtime friend, Raleigh Rimell, for an exploratory expedition to find “Z.” Fawcett left instructions stating that if the expedition did not return, no rescue expedition should be sent lest the rescuers suffer his fate.” He never returned. What exactly happened to Fawcett has never been completely discovered. A mystery for future scientists to unravel. (Wikipedia)
Fawcett might have been the spiritual father of Indiana Jones and there is evidence that Arthur Conan Doyle used his adventures as a model for his classic book, The Lost World.
The Lost World is a science fantasy novel written by Doyle in 1912. It features my favorite character, Professor G. E. Challenger, and an adventure to find dinosaurs in the modern world. Fawcett never found Z and Doyle exercised his imagination in creating his story but it’s a great adventure. Several films have been made based on the book. My favorite is a silent version made in 1925 that starred Wallace Beery, Bessie Love and Lewis Stone. It features stop-motion model dinosaurs and very early combinations of live action with the dinos. It is very much a foretaste of King Kong made in 1933. The silent film is really quite compelling, and it’s only an hour long. It makes a good introduction to studying dinosaurs.
Now to actual science. New laser techniques add to the factual basis of fabled lost cities of gold or El Dorado as one fabled golden location was called. This tool is called LiDAR and it is an airborne laser scanning technology. Mounted on a airplane or helicopter, scientists fly in a grid pattern and create a map of elevations that show the land under forests. Instead of tramping through the jungle for months or years, one can map a fairly large area in weeks. The resulting maps show not only long-lost buildings but “remains of earthworks such as mounds, canals, roads and quarries.” (Horton, 2016)
The fictional examples of the Lost City story can be used as the jumping off point for a serious exploration of the current research into the ancient civilizations of Central and South America using the latest scanning technologies. Myself, I would start off with the silent film of The Lost World, then have students read an article about the LiDAR. technologies, then locate articles about recent findings and finally create a huge map showing the locations of all the no-longer-lost places. A final step could be to discuss how these locations might be related to each other and why they became “lost.”
I affirm y’all can come up with further ideas to capture student’s imaginations.
- Uncle Scrooge #7, September 1954.
- Seven Cities of Gold, Wikipedia.
- Percy Fawcett, Wikipedia.
- Lost in the Amazon, Secrets of the Dead, PBS, 2011
- The Lost City of Z (film), Wikipedia.
- The Lost World, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1912 (Read the novel at Project Gutenberg).
- The Lost World, First National Pictures, 1925 (View the public domain film at the Internet Archive).
- El Dorado, Wikipedia.
- Meet LiDAR: The Amazing Laser Technology That’s Helping Archaeologists Discover Lost Cities, Mark Horton and The Conversation UK, Scientific American, June 2016.
- Archaeologists Discover Ancient Cities Hidden in the Ecuadorean Amazon, Sonja Anderson, Scientific American, January 2024.
- Remnants of Sprawling Ancient Cities Are Found in the Amazon, Alan Yuhas and Jesus Jiménez, New York Times, January 2024.
- Archaeologists Use Lasers to Discover a Lost City, Tiffany Brown, Business Insider, August 2021
- How scientists lasered in on a ‘monumental’ Maya city — with actual lasers, Emily Olson, National Public Radio, August 2023.
- Beyond Angkor: How lasers revealed a lost city, Ben Lawrie, BBC News, September 2014.
- In case you are wondering if a comic book is suitable for serious learning, remember that the US Army developed a comic book to teach M-16 rifle maintenance in 1968.
- A further aside. One scene in the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, appears to have been copied from a scene in the Scrooge comic book. The parallel scenes involve a booby-trapped gold figure and a giant rolling rock.
- The paragraph about The Lost World was lifted from my earlier column, Kings of the Past, April, 2021.
- The photo of Percy Fawcett is 100 years old and in the public domain.