It sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie: A research team discovers the remains of a fabled lost civilization in the depths of the Honduran rain forest.
As reported in National Geographic, the expedition found evidence of human life in a remote area linked to the mythology of the "City of the Monkey God" or "White City."
"Indigenous stories speak of a 'white house' or a 'place of cacao' where Indians took refuge from Spanish conquistadores -- a mystical, Eden-like paradise from which no one ever returned," NatGeo reported.
That myth, though, is challenged by Colorado State University archeologist Christopher Fisher, who was part of the expedition.
“There are a lot of myths and legends about an ancient lost city in this part of Honduras -- and that’s what they are: myths and legends. And the place that we found is probably not [the City of the Monkey God or White City] because I don’t actually believe it existed," Fisher told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.
"The myths and legends probably refer to an area that was densely occupied at the time of European contact, including many cities that are yet to be found. ... Some of those have been documented, many of them have not.”
Specialized technology called lidar-- Light Detection and Ranging -- was used to survey the dense foliage of a remote valley near La Mosquitia in 2012 before the researcher set out. A plane flew the lidar instrument over the area, scanning the jungle below with laser light, helping provide information that could identify if any archeological artifacts or structures were present.
Fisher and fellow CSU associate professor Stephen Leisz helped decipher the lidar images, which Leisz describes as a "three-dimensional cloud of points."
Fisher joined the international team of experts, along with a film crew, in the Honduran jungle to uncover the mysterious region.
On how the “ah-ha” moment happened in Fort Collins
“[The international research team] actually contacted us and came out to Fort Collins and showed us the data that they had collected. And we were able to immediately, because of our previous experience using the technology, identify many cultural features that they weren’t necessarily able to see.”
On getting boots on the ground in Honduras
“It was a true wilderness, a jungle wilderness. And to be able to be in that environment and see and encounter animals and other things that really didn’t have much experience with humans was a really transformative experience for me.”
On the future of lidar and archeology
“We’re, in many respects, going to be able to re-populate the Americas. We are going to find all of these places that we previously thought were lightly occupied or perhaps not occupied. And I think that we are going to be surprised at the extent of the human occupation of the Americas and the amount of environmental transformation. And I think that also, theoretically, is going to have a profound influence on archeology.”
CPR digital producer Nathaniel Minor contributed to this story.