Archaeologists find untouched ruins in their search for the Lost City of the Monkey God
Two years ago, an aerial search of the dense jungle of Honduras fuelled by local legends of a lost ancient city, revealed miles of seemingly man-made features. Announcements quickly spread that archaeologists had found La Ciudad Blanca (“The White City”), otherwise known as the Lost City of the Monkey God. But all they had to go on were vague scans of the jungle below. Now a ground expedition has concluded its investigation and has dramatically revealed that the aerial images did indeed show traces of a lost civilization. National Geographic reports that archaeologists have now discovered extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, an earthen pyramid, and dozens of finely carved artifacts belonging to a mysterious culture that is virtually unknown.
Ancient ruins have been found in the jungle of Honduras (pictured). Credit: DAR
Legends of a Lost City
La Ciudad Blanca is a legendary city that was said to be located in the virgin rainforest of Mosquitia in eastern Honduras. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés reported hearing "trustworthy" information about the ancient ruins, but never located them. In 1927, pilot Charles Lindbergh reported seeing monuments constructed from white stone while flying over eastern Honduras.
By the 1930s, there were rumors of a place in Honduras called the "City of the Monkey God", which was equated with Ciudad Blanca, and in 1939 adventurer Theodore Morde claimed to have found it and brought thousands of artifacts back to the United States to prove it. According to Morde, the indigenous people said a giant statue of a monkey god was buried there. He never revealed the precise location of his find as he feared the site would be looted and died before returning to the site for a proper excavation.
Artist Virgil Finlay's conceptional drawing of Theodore Moore's "Lost City of the Monkey God". Originally published in The American Weekly, September 22, 1940 (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1952, explorer Tibor Sekelj searched for The White City on an expedition financed by the Ministry of Culture of Honduras, but returned empty handed. Investigations picked up pace in the 1990s following reports of the legend in popular media and in 2012 the first significant discovery was made.
Aerial Survey Reveals Man-Made Monuments
In May 2012, a team of researchers led by documentary film maker Steve Elkins, conducted an aerial survey in la Mosquitia, Honduras, using remote sensing technology (LiDAR). The scan revealed evidence of man-made features stretching for more than a mile through the valley, leading to a flurry of media interest in the possible discovery of the Lost City of the Monkey God. But the association was quickly criticized by archeologist Rosemary Joyce as hype. In May 2013, additional LiDAR analysis identified large architectural features under the forest canopy. It was time for a ground exploration to confirm the results.
3D digital topological map in Honduras shows a man-made plaza ringed in red. Credit: The University of Houston and National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping
New Ground Exploration Confirms Existence of Ancient Ruins
A team of archaeologists led by Christopher Fisher, an expert on Mesoamerica from Colorado State University, has just completed a ground survey of the site identified by aerial scanning and has announced the exciting news that they have found an extensive complex made up of earthworks, plazas, pyramids, irrigation canals, reservoirs, mounds, and stone sculptures that have lain untouched since the city was abandoned centuries, perhaps even millennia, ago.
“In contrast to the nearby Maya, this vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown,” writes National Geographic. “Archaeologists don't even have a name for it.”
So far, the team has located 52 artifacts that were protruding from the earth, including stone ceremonial seats and vessels decorated with animal and zoomorphic figures. However, they believe thousands more may lie buried beneath the surface.
National Geographic reports: “The most striking object emerging from the ground is the head of what Fisher speculated might be a were-jaguar, possibly depicting a shaman in a transformed, spirit state. Alternatively, the artifact might be related to ritualized ball games that were a feature of pre-Columbian life in Mesoamerica.”
Oscar Neil Cruz, head archaeologist at the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH), and member of the research team, suggests that the artifacts date to A.D. 1000 to 1400, although this cannot be confirmed until further analysis is undertaken.
The archaeologists believe that the ruins do not belong do a single lost city, as described in the legends, but that Mosquitia may be home to many such cities, representing the last traces of a lost civilization. The expedition's ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, told National Geographic, "The importance of this place can't be overestimated." The latest discovery may be only the beginning in unearthing the traces of this little known culture.
Featured image: A “were-jaguar” effigy, likely representing a combination of a human and spirit animal, is part of a still-buried ceremonial seat, discovered in a cache in ruins deep in the Honduran jungle. Credit: Dave Yoder / National Geographic.