TOEFL: Author Douglas Preston describes the discovery of an ancient lost city in Honduras - the Lost City of the Monkey God.
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We've long been fascinated with the World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries - pirate treasures, ancient tombs, shipwrecks filled with gold, lost cities and the civilizations that disappeared along with them. One of those lost cities has existed in Central American myth and legend dating back to the time of the Spanish conquistadores. It's known as the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. And it was believed to have been located in one of the most impenetrable and dangerous jungles in the world - a valley in the mountains of eastern Honduras. But along with the difficulty of simply exploring and conducting archaeology in such a region came a curse. According to the ancestors of those who once lived there, anyone who enters the city will fall ill and die.
Well not to be dissuaded, a team of scientists determined to solve the 500 year old mystery set out to find the white city. They were equipped with state of the art aerial technology able to penetrate the thick jungle canopy and profile the ground below. It was the first time LIDAR had been used for archeology. Success came quickly but not easily. Images of a sprawling metropolis did emerge, but the expedition to uncover that Lost City was so hellish, so harrowing, it's a wonder the researchers made it out alive. One member of that team was best-selling author Douglas Preston. He chronicled the journey in his new book The Lost City of the monkey god. Mr. Preston welcome to Quirks and Quarks.
Well thank you.
First of all tell me about the legend of the White City.
Well it dates back to the time of Cortez. He wrote a very famous letter to the Emperor Charles the Fifth while anchored off the coast of Honduras, reporting on that he had many reliable reports that somewhere deep in the interior of Honduras was a great civilization a very wealthy full of gold and silver. But he was not able to explore it. That sort of launched the myth of the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God.
What's this region like now?
Well you have the Mosquito Coast, which are endless swamps. And then in the interior, you have these incredible mountain chains, some of which are over a mile high covered with the thickest jungle in the world. And inside these chains of mountains or valleys that have never been scientifically explored and are completely unknown are there some of the last unexplored places on the s urface of the earth. And that's where the legend has remained alive. There are many people who have felt well there very well could be a lost city hidden in one of these valleys.
Well tell me about the expedition that you were part of. When did you first start to look for this last city?
Well I've been following this crazy guy named Steve Elkins, who back in the mid-90s conceived of finding this lost city and filming the discovery. He was a filmmaker. I took him 20 years, but finally in 2012, he raised a million dollars. He brought a plane down to Honduras carrying a LIDAR machine, which by the way was built in Toronto. And this extremely powerful technology was able to actually map the floor of the jungle beneath the thickest 150 foot jungle canopy in the world. And so he mapped three unexplored valleys in the mountains of Honduras and La Mosquitia. And in the first valley, called Target One, he found a lost city. In the second valley, called Target Two, he found some very unusual features which have not been visited or explored yet. And then in the third valley, Targets Three, he found another lost city. So we're really talking about here are two cities that were completely unknown to archaeology discovered with some remarkably powerful technology.
But I'll never forget the initial LIDAR exploration took place on in May of 2012. And I remember on May 5th, the LIDAR engineers who had come down from the University of Houston, who were very skeptical of this whole project. They really thought it was a bunch of craziness. One of the engineers burst out of his bungalow (we were on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras) just waving his arms and yelling. He looked like a Christopher Lloyd going crazy. He said, There's something in the valley! There's something in the valley!” So we all rushed into his bungalow and looked at his laptop computer and I couldn't believe my eyes. I mean I thought maybe they might find something, but you didn't have to be an archaeologist to see the pyramids, the earthworks, the roads, the leveling, the plazas. I mean there was a city in this valley. I couldn't believe it. And then three days later when the images came back from T-3, they also showed a city. So what really in effect the team discovered wasn't just the lost city but a lost civilization and a very mysterious civilization at that.