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Honduran Jungle Hides a ‘Lost City’ With Pyramids, Stone Sculptures and a Vanished Civilization

Mar 08, 2017 05:35 AM EST

More than five hundred years after the famous Mayan civilization collapse, another Central American society vanished. Unlike the Mayans, who have been thoroughly studied and explored, this culture at the heart of the Honduran jungles remains a mystery.

Archaeologists say the people of the settlement suddenly buried all their sacred belongings in the middle of their city and disappeared forever, according to a report from Business Insider. No one knows what happened to them, but centuries after their departure, humans once again tread their long-abandoned land.

It was in 2015 that an excavation unearthed this lost city, according to a report from National Geographic.

Legends tell of a site as the "White City" or the "City of the Monkey God", and the mysteries that surround it are as peculiar as its name. Although archaeologists have long concluded that there's not just a single lost city but many across Central America, this particular city bears striking similarities to the stories of White City - a wealthy town that disappeared about 600 years ago.

Explorers have scoured the region for a glimpse of the White City - or Ciudad Blanca - since the 1920s. In 1940, Theodore Morde returned from his expedition with thousands of artifacts and stories of entering the great City and interacting with the indegenous people, who believed in a giant statue of a monkey god buried underground. Morde never divulged the location for fear of looting.

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Filmmakers Steve Elkins and Bill Benenson mounted their own search in 2012, this time with technology on their side. After identifying a crater-shaped valley as a potential site, the pair flew over the valley with a million-dollar lidar scanner that probed the dense jungle with laser light. The processed images revealed a terrain reshaped entirely by humans, plus evidence of architecture, earthworks, house mounds and even irrigation systems that pointed to a pre-Columbian city.

An expedition on-ground only proved the scanner images. One of the most amazing discoveries was how untouched the site was by people for so long. Animals like spider monkeys and guinea hens peeked at the explorers curiously, unfamiliar and unafraid of human presence. Ethnobiologist Mark Plotkin called it "the most undisturbed rain forest in Central America."

Some of the objects unearthed in the initial expeditions to the 1,000-year-old are remnants of plazas and pyramids, the Business Insider report revealed. On a more recent trip, researchers found nearly 500 intricately carved stone objects in what seemed like "a grave not for a person, but for a civilization."

"At the base of a pyramid we discovered an enormous cache of beautiful stone sculptures," Douglas Preston, who was part of an expedition, said. "It appears the people brought their objects, carefully laid them to rest, and then walked out of the city."

Preston recently published a book on his experience at Honduras entitled "The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story".

A number of the archaeologists and anthropologists on Preston's team believe that a disease ended the settlement, specifically European-brought diseases such as smallpox and measles. Although it's unlikely that Europeans ever made it to the city, the disease may have found its way to Central America through trade of goods.

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