A Fabled Lost City Might Be Hiding Under This Remote Honduras Jungle

typical canopyDense forest cover in a remote region of Honduras known as Mosquita.

New pictures may show architectural remains of Ciudad Blanca, a mythical “White City” rumoured to buried somewhere deep in the forests of eastern Honduras.

The 3-D maps are a continuation of a project that made headlines last year when researchers used a special ground-penetrating radar to survey Honduras’ remote Mosquita region, believed to contain the legendary lost city.

The legend goes that Spanish explorer Hernan Cortés first wrote about the wealthy city in 1526 after a trip to Honduras. Cortés wrote in a letter to Charles I of Spain that “he received news of very large and wealthy provinces with wealthy lords…” There’s no evidence to suggest that the “province” Cortés spoke of was Ciudad Blanca, but the myth was born and continues today.  

The newly released computer-generated images provide more detail of what might lie beneath a nearly impenetrable jungle teeming with snakes, mosquitoes, and other lethal creatures. That could be “cities, villages, roads, canals, ceremonial sites, terraced agricultural land, and more,” according to a statement from the American Geophysical Union.

UTL Scientific LLCThis is an example of a digital elevation model created using LiDAR data. The light green top shows vegetation that can be lifted up to show a complex of mounds and ancient building foundations.To get these images, researchers used LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, a mapping technology that uses a plane to shoot down billions of laser beams down into thick forests. The lasers can cut through dense tree cover to get elevation models of geographic features underneath.

The digital images may show sunken or raised regions of different shapes, which researchers interpret as possible architectural remains of an ancient city.

complex revealedLiDAR technology allows researchers to strip away the vegetation to reveal the mounds underneath.

The project involves an international team of scientists and officials from the University of Houston, the National centre for Airborne Laser Mapping, Colorado State University, and the Honduran government, while all of the planning, logistics support is being provided by a company called UTL Scientific.

UTL Scientific is not a scientific organisation, a fact pointed out in a blog post written last year by Rus Sheptak, a historical anthropologist who specialises in Honduras.

UTL is a film company created to produce a documentary about the search for Ciudad Blanca. The film is being co-directed by Steve Elkins and Bill Beneson.

The organisation is careful not to make any claims that they discovered Ciudad Blanca, but it’s a point that is worth hammering home.

Rosemary Joyce, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, put it well in a post she wrote for the Berkley Blog last June when UTL released the first LiDAR images from Honduras:

“It is clear that there are archaeological sites in the areas surveyed by the LiDAR team,” she wrote. Adding that LiDAR “cannot tell you what time period those sites were built or occupied, what the external relations of those sites were, what activities people carried out there.”

To be fair, anthropologists working closely with the project admit that Ciudad Blanca may forever elude our sensing techniques, because of the dense forest that lies over its remains.

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“We may never be able to tell whether any of these are Ciudad Blanca, or whether the legendary city ever existed,” Colorado State University professors Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz said in a statement. “But we can clearly see in the UTL data evidence that there was a densely settled region with a human modified environment. These conclusions provide important new insights into the pre-Hispanic settlement of this largely unexplored region.”

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