Central America’s largest wilderness area may be about to give up some of the secrets of a rumoured giant monkey god, and one of the world’s most enduring horror myths; that of the were-jaguar.
The Honduran authorities are keeping the exact location, where ruins were spotted during an aerial survey in 2012, a secret, but in fact this “lost city” was shunned by locals. NationalGeographic.com has published the first pictures of the archaeological site.
Archaeologists surveyed and mapped extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid belonging to a culture that thrived a thousand years ago, and then vanished. The team, which returned from the site last Wednesday, also discovered a remarkable cache of stone sculptures that had lain untouched since the city was abandoned. reports the National Geographic Society website.
Last used as a sanctuary from the Spanish invaders, but from which no-one returned, its white buildings were visible from the river until overgrown in the 1940s. The mystery of the supposed Eden-like paradise from which no tales ever survived did the rest and it slipped into obscurity.
“Ground-truthing” by archaeologists remains to be done but it is thought the remains are consistent with a city that existed between 1000 and 1400 AD, protected by its remoteness from the nearby Aztec and Mayan peoples.
One of the archaeologists on the team just back from the exploratory expedition told National Geographic in an exclusive that the site was pristine, unlooted, and extremely rare. Of particular interest is a cache of ceramics placed as an offering at the base of a pyramid, in what Colorado State University’s Christopher Fisher called a “unique…undisturbed state”.
The last explorer to have claimed entering the city was eccentric Theodore Morde in 1940, bringing thousands of artifacts out of the rain forest, now in America’s Smithsonian collection. He killed himself, taking to the grave the secret of the city’s location, which he feared would be looted. The legend of a giant buried Monkey God statue was told to him by local people. Two years after the discovery, Hollywood director Jacques Tourneur made the memorable Cat People.
The University of Houston was brought in by a couple of filmmakers in 2012 to use Airborne Laser Mapping on a site the pair found promising in their bid to rediscover the site. A lidar scanner was swept across the area, penetrating the thick tropical foliage.
Back in the lab the results stunned the explorers. They revealed a mile-long stretch of the river bank had been shaped by human hand. everything was there; evidence of terracing, mounds, foundations, irrigation, canals and reservoirs. The more they looked, the more they realised this was pre-Colombian.
The National Geographic’s writer and photographer were just part of a team that needed 16 Honduran special forces soldiers to ensure their security and logistic support, including clearing a helicopter landing area. The area is so unspoiled animals come to watch proceedings, and stroll into camp unafraid.
The initial ground investigation leads the team to believe there is more than just the legendary “white city” and its monkey god to discover. They believe that there are more cities to be found over an extensive area that would mean this was a civilisation for which archaeologists do not even have a name yet.
However the Honduran Institute for Anthropology and History warns the rain forest in which these treasures lie is under severe agricultural stress from cattle ranchers keen to cash in on a beef boom, mostly to supply US fast food chains.
Institute director Virgilio Paredes Trapero warns the forest could be gone in eight years if money is not found to save it.