Legendary lost cities are the stuff of children’s stories and Disney movies, but once in a while, they’re part of real life too. One of these ancient rumored cities has been discovered in the rainforest of Honduras. Known as the “City of the Monkey God,” archaeologists have been working for years to track down the abandoned city’s resting place, and they’ve finally done it.
The team of American and Honduran archaeologists returned from the site last week with amazing discoveries. One of the most shocking things, perhaps, about this ancient city is that the remains have been left relatively untouched since it was last inhabited. That is to say, for whatever reasons, the looters stayed away. A cache of stone sculptures found at the base of a pyramid suggest that they may have been left as an offering. Was this lost city really a site of great spiritual import?
To add to the intrigue and mystery of the legendary lost city, the culture of its people is largely unknown. Other ancient cultures in Maya, which is nearby, have been well-studied, while the as-yet-unnamed peoples of the Monkey God’s city are a complete question mark.
The “White City” as it is also known in tales is located in an largely uncharted valley in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras. The ruins were first spotted in an aerial exploration of the region in 2012, but it took some time before archaeologists could properly investigate the site. Catching a glimpse of artifacts from the sky does not automatically translate into the discovery of a lost city, of course, so their discoveries had to be “ground-truthed” before the Honduran government would recognize the lost-and-found civilization. That process is essentially what it sounds like: a ground exploration team, consisting of archaeologists, engineers, anthropologists, and filmmakers, visited the site to properly investigate. Because the lost city is situated deep in the rainforest, that adventure was no simple task. Several former British SAS soldiers joined the expedition to aid in backcountry survival.
Although the lost city doesn’t appear to have experienced much looting, researchers are concerned that the publicity related to the city’s discovery might encourage some vandals to interfere with the site. A larger threat, perhaps, is deforestation in the area. Rainforest lands are being cleared in large swaths in Honduras to make way for cattle-farming. Beef is big business in Honduras, and much of the meat travels fast-food chains in the United States. With the demand for cheap beef climbing, despite health and environmental concerns, the problem of deforestation throughout Central America is not likely to improve quickly.
Perhaps, however, the finding of this ancient lost city and the desire to learn about its former inhabitants, will help inspire people to fight for its conservation. Archaeologists theorize that this is just one of many ancient cities that were abandoned and then reclaimed by the rainforest. The City of the Monkey God holds secrets never before studied, and it’s likely that other still-lost cities may have their own secrets locked away as well.
Images via Dave Yoder for National Geographic.