CSU professors assist in the discovery of a lost city in the Honduran rainforest

Amanda Thompson

A Colorado State University professor and a team of six other scientists ventured into the depths of the Honduran rain forest, discovering what appears to be an untouched and abandoned city.

Christopher Fisher, an archaeologist and anthropology associate professor at CSU, said the area was discovered through a technique called Lidar. According to Fisher, Lidar uses an airborne platform to shoot a dense grid of lasers onto a landscape in order to detect objects on the ground.

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“Steve Leisz and I were contacted by some of the scientists on the team, and they came to Fort Collins to ask us to interpret the Lidar results they found from the Honduran rain forest,” Fisher said.

Stephen Leisz, also an associate professor in the anthropology department, assisted in the interpretation of the Lidar results. Leisz specializes in geography, with a background in satellite and airborne image interpretation.

“The trip to the Honduran rainforest was to ‘ground truth’ interpretations that we did of the Lidar data,” Leisz wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Although I did not go on the trip myself, I helped analyze the Lidar data for the project.”

According to Fisher, the team discovered a cache of 52 objects and artifacts on the site.

“We found a cache of artifacts that were partially buried and left there, but we’re not really sure why they were left,” Fisher said. “The objects were made out of ground stone and carved into spirit animals, such as were-jaguars and vultures. However, the thing that got me excited were not the artifacts, but the special pattering of the mounds that confirmed that what we found in the Lidar was correct.”

Based off previous discoveries and archaeology work that has gone on around the area, Fisher said the artifacts found could date back to 1000 A.D. – 1400 A.D.

The cause and exact time of abandonment of the city is unknown, but Fisher hypothesizes the cause was due to disease.

“My leading hypothesis is that the city was occupied up until it came in contact with European introduced disease,” Fisher said. “I am unsure of the exact timing, but it could have happened after the first century of European contact.”

Fisher said that the president of Honduras has made this recently discovered area a top priority, and sent in special forces who are specifically trained to help stop deforestation in order to protect the area.

“The political response is pretty amazing, and it’s really gratifying that the press around our work can have a positive real world presence,” Fisher said.

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Kevin Leung, nutrition and food science junior at CSU, found this discovery to be intriguing and impactful to society today.

“We tend to think all these cool new findings are all so far away, but who knows, maybe there are things really close to us still left to be discovered around the world,” Leung said. “Also, this can help society with their fight against all these human causes, such as deforestation and other things that may prevent people from finding new things.”

Alauna Sutton, anthropology sophomore at CSU, hopes that this discovery will add something innovative to the field of anthropology.

“It is strange to think that there are still lost civilizations,” Sutton said. “I think sometimes we forget that there were once great civilizations in what is now Central and South America. I’m interested to see what they learn and discover from this, and it will be interesting to see if this civilization leads them to the discovery of any other lost civilizations.”

According to Fisher, the team is currently working to receive funding in order to eventually recover the discovered artifacts and learn more about this currently unknown lost city. The exact location of the discovery has not been released in order to protect the area from looting.

Collegian Reporter Amanda Thompson can be reached at news@collegian.com or @amanduhh3003.