Archaeologists discover a lost civilization in the Honduran rain forest
For hundreds of years, there have been stories of a city deep within the Honduran rain forest known as the “White City,” or the “City of the Monkey God.” A recent expedition looking for the legendary city found something else, something far more important.
It found a lost civilization.
According to National Geographic, archaeologists trekking deep into the rain forests of Honduras did discover a lost city, just not the fabled White City. Instead they found the remnants of a city that was abandoned hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. It was abandoned by its inhabitants, and has remained untouched ever since. And it is likely just one of possibly several locations like it.
In the city, the archaeologists discovered a cache of stone sculptures, several plazas, manmade mounds, and an earthen pyramid. The culture predates the Mayans, and has only been hinted at before. So little is known about the civilization that there isn’t even a name for it.
The expedition found the tops of several buried objects, but after cataloging them, it left them for future expeditions. It also discovered numerous ceremonial sets made of stone, depicting animal figures.
One of the most important finds was a carving partially buried depicting a “were-jaguar” (the image above). The carving may indicate a transformed shaman, or be related to an ancient ball game. It is believed to date to somewhere between 1000 and 1400 AD. Future expeditions properly equipped should come away with a whole lot more.
The White City
The White City has been part of the local legend for centuries. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, the city supposedly became safe haven for the refugees. It was a myth, similar to Shambhala, El Dorado, Ys, and others, with countless stories from travelers that swore they saw white towers breaking through the dense forest. People that discovered it, however, were said to remain there forever.
The city remains little more than a myth, but that hasn’t stopped several expeditions from looking for it. In the 1940s, explorer Theodore Morde mounted an expedition into the rain forest, specifically to the region known as Mosquitia. Morde returned with thousands of artifacts, claiming he had discovered a lost city that contained a giant, partially buried statue of a monkey god.
Morde refused to disclose the location of the site, fearing looters would descend upon it. That didn’t stop him from spinning incredible tales of an ancient walled city deep within the forest. Morde repeatedly stated his intention to mount a second expedition and return to the site, but he never did. In 1954 Morde committed suicide, taking the exact location with him.
The current expedition began in 2012, when documentary filmmakers Steve Elkins and Bill Benenson began to look for the White City.
Using aerial surveillance, they identified a crater-shaped valley in the Mosquitia region, surrounded by steep mountains as a possible location. With the help of the Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at the University of Houston, the filmmakers used a million-dollar lidar scanner equipped aboard a small aircraft to survey the valley.
The images from the lidar revealed unnatural features stretching over a mile. A closer look at the terrain showed that it had been reshaped by human hands.
The expedition made its way there and confirmed that the valley contained several manmade structures. The archeologists no longer believe that the White City exists, but they now think that Mosquitia harbors several “lost cities.” Like Morde, they are keeping the location of their find secret to avoid the possibility of looters.
The expedition was co-funded by the Honduran government, who is trying to protect the rain forest. The government is constantly battling the effects of illegal clear cutting from cattle farmers, and the area the lost civilization is centered could soon be in danger.
For now though, the forest is so remote that the expedition reported that the animals they encountered had never seen humans before. They showed no fear of humanity and would simply wonder into their camp.
The Honduran government is hoping that this discovery will help bring international attention to the region, and with it support.
“If we don’t do something right away, most of this forest and valley will be gone in eight years.” Virgilio Paredes Trapero, the director of the Honduran Institute for Anthropology and History said. “The Honduran government is committed to protecting this area, but doesn’t have the money. We urgently need international support.”
Future expeditions will examine the city in greater detail, and others will hunt the area for more cities that belong to the lost civilization.