'Real Indiana Jones' Dies at 80

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Douglas Eugene "Gene" Savoy, an explorer who discovered more than 40 lost cities in Peru and led long-distance sailing adventures to learn more about ancient cultures, has died. He was 80.

Savoy died of natural causes Tuesday at his Reno home, his family said Saturday.

Dubbed the "real Indiana Jones" by People magazine, Savoy was credited with finding four of Peru's most important archaeological sites, including Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas from the Spanish Conquistadors.

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Hiram Bingham considered Machu Picchu to be the site of Vilcabamba after he discovered it in 1911 in the Peruvian Andes. But scientific consensus now points toward Espiritu Pampa as the Incas' last stronghold; Bingham also discovered that site but Savoy's excavation work in the mid-1960s found it to be a much larger settlement than originally realized.

In the next 40 years in the jungles of Peru, Savoy discovered more than 40 stone cities of a mysterious pre-Inca civilization known as the Chachapoyas. Among them were Gran Pajaten, Gran Vilaya and Gran Saposoa.

"Scientists thought the existence of these cities and settlements in the Peruvian rainforest was all a myth until my father found them," his son Sean Savoy said. "His discoveries opened up a whole new area of jungle archaeology that didn't exist before."

He said his father suffered hepatitis, was bitten by snakes and chased by guerrillas during his explorations.

Savoy also took to the sea to test his theories that the Incas, Aztecs and other ancient civilizations had contact with each other. From 1977 to 1982, he used a 60-foot schooner to research possible trade routes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Savoy wrote dozens of books, including 1970's "Antisuyo: The Search for the Lost Cities of the Amazon" about his early discoveries in Peru, and 1974's "On the Trail of the Feathered Serpent" about some of his sea journeys.

But the bulk of his books and articles concerned another consuming passion: religion.

As founder of a new theology known as "Cosolargy," he established the International Community of Christ, Church of the Second Advent. He taught that the Second Coming of Christ had already become a living reality through a miraculous celestial event.

Savoy was born in Bellingham, Wash., and served as a Navy gunner during World War II. He later was a journalist and newspaper editor in Portland, Ore.

He moved to Reno in 1971 and founded the Andean Explorers Foundation & Ocean Sailing Club based in that city. The nonprofit organization sponsored many of his explorations.

Among other awards, he was honored with medals from the Peruvian Senate and the Peruvian Ministry of Industry and Tourism in the late 1980s. The city of Reno proclaimed "Gene Savoy Day" in October 1996.

Survivors include his children, Gene Jr., Sean and Sylvia Jamila Savoy, and three granddaughters.