Archaeologists discover two lost cities in Honduras Jungle

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By The Guardian

Archaeologists have discovered two lost cities in the deep jungle of Honduras, emerging from the forest with evidence of a pyramid, plazas and artifacts that include the effigy of a half-human, half-jaguar spirit.

The team of specialists in archaeology and other fields, escorted by three British bushwhacking guides and a detail of Honduran special forces, explored on foot a remote valley of La Mosquitia where an aerial survey had found signs of ruins in 2012.

Chris Fisher, the lead US archaeologist on the team, told the Guardian that the expedition – co-coordinated by the film-makers Bill Benenson and Steve Elkins, Honduras and National Geographic (which first reported the story on its site) – had by all appearances set foot in a place that had gone untouched by humans for at least 600 years.

“Even the animals acted as if they’ve never seen people,” Fisher said. “Spider monkeys are all over place, and they’d follow us around and throw food at us and hoot and holler and do their thing.”

“To be treated not as a predator but as another primate in their space was for me the most amazing thing about this whole trip,” he said.

Fisher and the team arrived by helicopter to “groundtruth” the data revealed by surveying technology called Lidar, which projects a grid of infrared beams powerful enough to break through the dense forest canopy.

That data showed a human-created landscape, Fisher said of sister cities not only with houses, plazas and structures, but also features “much like an English garden, with orchards and house gardens, fields of crops, and roads and paths.”

In the rainforest valley, they said they found stone structural foundations of two cities that mirrored people’s thinking of the Maya region, though these were not Mayan people. The area dates between 1000AD and 1400AD, and while very little is known without excavation of the site and surrounding region, Fisher said it was likely that European diseases had at least in part contributed to the culture’s disappearance.

The expedition also found and documented 52 artifacts that Virgilio Paredes, head of Honduras’s national anthropology and history institute, said indicated a civilisation distinct from the Mayans. Those artifacts included a bowl with an intricate carvings and semi-buried stone sculptures, including several that merged human and animal characteristics.

The cache of artifacts – “very beautiful, very fantastic,” in Fisher’s words – may have been a burial offering, he said, noting the effigies of spirit animals such as vultures and serpents.

Fisher said that while an archaeologist would likely not call these cities evidence of a lost civilisation, he would call it evidence of a culture or society. “Is it lost? Well, we don’t know anything about it,” he said.

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