This week, Discovery launched a new series called Curse of Akakor, in which a team traveled to South America in search of a supposed underground lost city and the explorers who died in the 1980s in quest of it. I was surprised to learn that this “new” show was in fact originally produced in 2019 for Facebook Watch and is now being recycled for Discovery. I have not seen the original 2019 broadcast to know what, if any, changes were made, but the titles, cast list, and episode storylines are the same. The “lost city” of Akakor is quite patently a fake, and it’s rather annoying that the show plans an entire series to get to a point that can be made in a couple of paragraphs.
Akakor was the subject of a book by a German journalist, Karl Brugger, in 1976 called The Chronicle of Akakor—with a preface by Erich von Däniken—in which he claimed that a chieftain from an Amazonian tribe had shared with him (in German, no less) the story of a fantastic city deep in the jungle, one dating back to around 10,500 BCE. Brugger bought the story hook, line, and sinker, and the “secret” of the city gained added weight when Brugger was gunned down in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s, with the crime unsolved. Some speculated he knew too much.
According to the chieftain, the lost city (thirteen actually—Akakor and Akahim among them) were described in a written text which traced history back to 10,481 BCE, roughly the date of disaster indicated by Edgar Cayce. These cities were basically those that Percy Fawcett had described in his failed expeditions to find the fictitious Lost City of Z, as chronicled in a series of books in the 1950s. According to the “ancient” text, the city of Akakor had been built by space aliens from another solar system. These were connected by an underground tunnel system of the kind described by Erich von Däniken, Harold Wilkinson, and Madame Blavatsky in their various works. The cities were destroyed in a great cataclysm thirteen years after the aliens left, conveniently leaving no trace of them behind.
That these claims were all almost perfect copies of contemporary claims in popular ancient astronaut and ancient mystery books have Brugger no pause, seeing it as confirmation of their correctness and not evidence that his source was pulling together fringe ideas in a postmodern grab bag. He also had no trouble with the fact that the man telling him this story knew Juan Moricz, who had spun a similar yarn of underground tunnels and alien gold to Erich von Däniken around the same time—a claim that proved false even as Brugger prepared his book for publication.
However, the chieftain, calling himself Tatunca Nara, turned out not to be a chief, or even a Native Brazilian. German federal police identified him instead as Günther Hauck of Coburg, Bavaria, who had fled Germany in the 1960s to avoid alimony payments after his divorce. In those divorce proceedings, the court noted that Hauck went by the nickname “Tatunga Nare.” Nara denies that he is Hauck, and the Brazilian government identifies him as a Native.
Nara worked as a guide for decades, leading unwary tourists on fruitless Amazon tours in search of the pyramid city of Akahim and lost city of Akakor. However, three of the people he took on his trips between 1980 and 1987 never returned. Forensic investigators later discovered the skull of one of the missing tourists after another tour group stumbled across it in the rainforest. A German documentary crew went undercover on one of Nara’s tours and uncovered many of his lies, eventually suggesting he murdered the tourists, a charge Nara denies. German officials were said to have speculated that Nara had Brugger murdered, perhaps to prevent him from exposing Nara’s true identity after uncovering his lies—but this is unproven.
Curse of Akakor follows this story while simultaneously investigating whether Akakor and Akahim are real places. The Germans managed to do the same story in one hour in 1991 with Das Geheimnis des Tatunca Nara, and I’m not sure that spreading it out to six accomplishes much more. This is, after all, at heart a true-crime story dressed up on the colors of fringe history, and like all true crime stories, it traffics in titillation, using the suffering of real people as entertainment, and drawing out the grisly details for the arousal of the audience.
The story has an unfortunate afterlife intimately tied to the fringe history from which it emerged. The Chronicle of Akator served as the inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which the lost city became an alien citadel.
It’s all very sad and very stupid, and I feel uncomfortable with turning death into entertainment, or allegations of murder into titillation. But that’s true crime TV, and Discovery offers more than enough of it across its family of channels and streaming services to know that a large number of people are very turned on by stories of violence and death.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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