Explorers have been searching on foot for Hondurasís mythical city for generations. Now, they seem to have found it from a tiny Cessna airplane, aided by million-dollar technology.
Is the fabled lost city of Honduras hiding beneath the dense jungle canopy?
The Mosquitia rain forests of Honduras and Nicaragua are, to put it mildly, thick jungle. As one travel guide notes, "While the edges of the Mosquitia can be reached by pickups driving along the beach, the vast majority of the region is accessible only by plane, boat, or foot, lending it the feel of a separate country, cut off from the rest of Honduras and the world."
The lushness of this biosphere -- at 32,000 square miles, "the largest remaining expanse of virgin tropical jungle in Central America" -- draws its share of adventurers and nature lovers each year, but that is not its most remarkable appeal. Over the past century, archaeologists have set their sights on that dense vegetation, hoping that beneath it they would find the ruins of Ciudad Blanca, a fabled ancient settlement seemingly swallowed by the Earth. In 1526, Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes wrote to emperor Charles V, relaying word of a purported province, deep in Honduras, that "will exceed Mexico in riches, and equal it in the largeness of its towns and villages."
Today, at the American Geophysical Unionís meeting in Cancun, scientists have released images of what they believe to be that lost city, discovered not by machete-hacking their way through the jungle, but from above, in a tiny Cessna plane, the bottom of which had been cut open to make room for a million-dollar LIDAR machine, which can see through the forest canopy and map the topography below.
"This whole adventure for the last couple years has been quite a wild ride," the expeditionís leader Steve Elkins told me on the phone from Cancun. "There were times I felt like if I didnít find anything, everybody would say, íWhat a fool you are. You spent all this money, all this effort. Thereís nothing there.í" But maybe, just maybe, they would get lucky, and the LIDAR would see something -- walls, pyramids, symmetry, straight lines of any kind -- that was at odds with the natural contours of the jungle floor. Something, maybe, like this, the first ever visual confirmation of a lost civilization in the Mosquitia forest:
In some places, peeling back the layer of trees revealed symmetrical structures below.
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