By Charles C. Poling
On March 2, 2015, a news story on the National Geographic website announced the discovery of an ancient “lost city” that was once inhabited by a mysterious culture in the Mosquitia area of eastern Honduras. The article said an expedition, which had been searching for the legendary White City (also known as the City of the Monkey God) verified the existence of an ancient site found by LiDAR during a 2012 aerial survey. After the National Geographic story appeared, dozens of other media published versions of it, some embellishing the account into a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style epic, with references to cannibals and human sacrifice.
Shortly thereafter, 27 researchers and scholars with knowledge of the region, including several Hondurans, signed an open letter attacking the press accounts of this project, known as the Under the LiDAR (UTL) expedition. They complained that the National Geographic article—published by the venerable organization that has supported numerous archaeological projects—and subsequent media coverage exaggerated and sensationalized the expedition’s discovery, and ignored previous research and local knowledge about the thousand-year-old ruins.
“By focusing on the White City legend, citing the ‘Lost City of the Monkey God’ … and by presenting the area as ‘one of the last scientifically unexplored places on earth,’ these articles exploit hyperbolic, sensational, and unscientific rhetoric. Explanation of research questions and other essential aspects of a scientific approach are largely ignored,” the letter stated. “One day it’s this, the next day it’s Atlantis,” says conservationist and cultural geographer Mark Bonta of Penn State University Altoona, one of the letter’s signees. “It’s almost like it’s a reality show.”
Summary. Read more in American Archaeology Vol. 19 No. 2, Summer 2015
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