Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rainforest

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In search for legendary “City of the Monkey God,” explorers find the untouched ruins of a vanished culture.

 

Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic
By Douglas Preston
Photographs by Dave Yoder

An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture’s lost city, never before explored. The team was led to the remote, uninhabited region by long-standing rumors that it was the site of a storied “White City,” also referred to in legend as the “City of the Monkey God.”

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A “were-jaguar” effigy, likely representing a combination of a human and spirit animal, is part of a still-buried ceremonial seat, or metate, one of many artifacts discovered in a cache in ruins deep in the Honduran jungle.

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.

Honduran troops lead a convoy through a town that served as the base for helicopters ferrying members of the expedition to a location in the Mosquitia rain forest where they examined ruins of an ancient city.

In contrast to the nearby Maya, this vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown. Archaeologists don’t even have a name for it.

Christopher Fisher, a Mesoamerican archaeologist on the team from Colorado State University, said the pristine, unlooted condition of the site was “incredibly rare.” He speculated that the cache, found at the base of the pyramid, may have been an offering.

“The undisturbed context is unique,” Fisher said. “This is a powerful ritual display, to take wealth objects like this out of circulation.”

The tops of 52 artifacts were peeking from the earth. Many more evidently lie below ground, with possible burials. They include stone ceremonial seats (called metates) and finely carved vessels decorated with snakes, zoomorphic figures, and vultures.

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.

“The figure seems to be wearing a helmet,” said Fisher. Team member Oscar Neil Cruz, head archaeologist at the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH), believes the artifacts date to A.D. 1000 to 1400.

The objects were documented but left unexcavated. To protect the site from looters, its location is not being revealed.
Picture of a stream winds through part of an unexplored valley in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras

A stream winds through part of an unexplored valley in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras, a region long rumored to contain a legendary “White City,” also called the City of the Monkey God.

Source: National Geographic

Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic

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