Archaeologists Discover Lost Mayan City In Jungles Of Mexico

A lost Mayan city is uncovered in Mexico
INAH Reuters

Hot on the heels of the news of a lost city being discovered in Cambodia comes word that another ancient city has been unearthed, this time in the Yucatan region of Mexico. A few days back, a team of archaeologists announced that they had located a large site that has been covered by thick jungle foliage for centuries. Underneath all of that growth sat a city that was once a part of the Mayan Empire.

The team, which is led by Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Sprajc, call the city “Chactun” and believe that around 600 to 900 A.D. it was one of the largest in the Yucatan. So far, the site stretches out across more than 54 acres and includes 15 pyramids, the tallest of which is 75 feet in height. At its peak, the ancient city was likely home to as many as 40,000 people, although its population likely declined very quickly as the empire crumbled.

The city was first spotted in a series of aerial photographs and an expedition was eventually organized to travel to the site to examine it first hand. The team spent three weeks cutting their way through the dense jungle, carving a 10-mile trail in the process. Although they’ve only just begun to uncover the various buildings and other structures, what they’ve seen so far leads them to believe that Chactun will be an incredibly important find.

Historians and archaeologists have long struggled to explain what exactly happened to the Maya. At the peak of their civilization their empire stretched across the entire Yucatan, into southern Mexico and continuing on to Central America, all the way to Guatemala and Honduras. But at the height of its power, the empire suddenly and unexpectedly fell into a speedy decline, becoming just a footnote in history. This lost city could hold clues that can help unravel that mystery, as well as provide important insights into day-to-day life of the Mayan citizens.

Lost City Uncovered In Cambodia

Ta Prohm Temple
saturn ♄, Flickr

A 1,200-year-old city has been uncovered by archaeologists in a thick, mountainous jungle in Cambodia, Australia’s Fairfax Media has reported. An international team of researchers using helicopter-mounted laser-imaging technology discovered dozens of temples connected by networks of roads, canals and dykes some 25 miles north of the famous Angkor Wat complex.

The city, Mahendraparvarta, predates Angkor Wat by 350 years. Archaeologists have been studying the area for some time, but only realized the extent of the city after mapping the area using lidar technology. Lidar is similar to radar, but uses laser pulses in lieu of sound waves to map terrain.

The researchers had to trek through dangerous landmine-ridden jungle to get to the city. Much of the medieval infrastructure is invisible behind a shroud of dense foliage. Promisingly, due to the difficulty of access, it appears some of the temples may have avoided being looted.

With further study, the team hopes to discover why the city was abandoned. According to Damian Evans, a co-leader of the expedition, deforestation and overpopulation may have resulted in the exodus.

Lost City Discovered In Honduras

A lost city hidden in the jungles of HondurasResearchers from the University of Houston have used a high-tech mapping system to discover a lost city hidden away in the jungles of Honduras. The discovery has led some archaeologists and historians to wonder if the legendary Ciudad Blanca, or White City, has been found after nearly five centuries of searching.

The team that made the discovery was using a sophisticated system of lasers attached to a low flying airplane to map the remote landscapes of Honduras. The system, which is accurate within inches, is able to penetrate the dense jungle canopy and create a detailed image of the topography below. While examining those images the researchers discovered the city, which features a number of structures surrounding a large open plaza. That plaza is flanked on both ends by pyramids, one large and one small.

The discovery has prompted some to speculate that the ruins could be the fabled Ciudad Blanca, which is well known in Central American folklore as the birthplace of the Aztec serpent-god Quetzalcoatl. The city is also said to have been fabulously wealthy and legends tell of intricately carved white statues that gleamed brilliantly in the sun, earning the place its name. The allure of Ciudad Blanca was so great that over the centuries many explorers went in search of its gold, including Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes who first mentioned the city in his writing back in 1526.

In order to explore the site further archaeologists will now have to organize an expedition to visit the site in person. That journey will not be an easy one, however, as the dense jungle will make passage very difficult. What they find when they get there will remain a mystery for now, but it seems likely that it will be a fabulous discovery, with or without the gold.

[Photo credit: National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping/University of Houston]

Colombia’s Lost City gets long-term preservation plan

Lost City
Last year, Gadling’s Aaron Hotfelder braved the mountainous jungles of Colombia to visit Ciudad Perdida, the nation’s famous “Lost City“.

These remote ruins were built by the Tayrona, a culture that thrived from 200 AD to c.1650 AD. More than 250 of their stone settlements have been found in a 2,000 square-mile area. The Lost City is the largest Tayrona site known with more than 200 structures over 80 acres. One highlight is a strange carving, shown below, that appears to be a map of the city.

Unknown to the outside world until the 1975, the site now attracts an increasing number of tourists willing to make the five-day trek, and this is destabilizing some of the structures. Erosion and local narcotics traffickers are also taking their toll, Popular Archaeology reports.

Now the Global Heritage Fund has teamed up with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, which runs the Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida Archaeological Park, to preserve the site. The area will be fully mapped and examined, and they’ll create a management plan to reduce natural and man-made damage to the site. One good aspect of the plan is that it’s incorporating the local indigenous people. They’ve always known about the Lost City and consider it sacred, so their input will be crucial to ensure its future.

Photos courtesy William Neuheisal.

Lost City

Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s City of Saints

Ethiopia, ethiopia, Harar, hararWhat makes an adventure traveler return to a place he’s been before? When so many other destinations beckon, why spend two months in a town you’ve already seen?

Because there’s so much more to see. Harar, in eastern Ethiopia between the lush central highlands and the Somali desert, can take a lifetime to understand. For a thousand years it’s been a crossroads of cultures, where caravans from the Red Sea met Central African merchants, where scholars and poets have traded ideas, where a dozen languages are heard in the streets.

Harar’s influence spread wide in those early days. Harari coins have been found in India and China, and a couple of my Harari friends have subtly Chinese features.

The Harari have always mixed with other tribes. Some say if you live within the medieval walls of the Jugol, the old city, and follow Harari ways, that you are one of them. Hararis have their own language spoken only by the Jugol’s 20,000 residents, yet this language has created literature, poetry, and song for centuries. As Harar faces the new millennium, a dedicated group of artists and intellectuals are working to preserve and add to this heritage.

But this is no Oxford, no Western-style center of learning. Harar is different. The day starts at dawn with the muezzin’s call to prayer. Hararis are moderate Sunnis with a broad streak of Sufi mysticism. There are more than 90 mosques hidden in the labyrinthine alleyways of the Jugol, and more than 300 shrines to saints. Harar is considered the fourth holiest city of Islam after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.

The morning is a busy time. Oromo farmers from the surrounding countryside fill the markets with their produce. Camels and donkeys jostle each other in the narrow streets. Kids go off to school. Offices and shops fill up. As the sun reaches its zenith and presses down on the city, people retreat to the cool interiors of their whitewashed houses with bundles of qat under their arm. Groups of friends chew this narcotic leaf during the hot hours of the day. As the buzz sets in, people relax and engage in long, animated conversations that after a time lapse into quiet reflection. One man will go off into a corner to write the lyrics to a song, while another will set to work on a Harari dictionary. Others will remain together, sharing stories about Harar. The afternoon and evening are spent in studious concentration, the main benefit of the so-called Leaves of Paradise.

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%Gallery-91809%Night falls and people still work. Ethiopia is a developing country and want is never far away, so everyone puts in long hours. As the final evening call to prayer echoes away, the Hararis set down to eat or chat in cafes over a cup of the region’s coffee (considered by many the best in the world) or retire to a shrine to perform all-night ceremonies of ecstatic chanting.

Then Harar’s other residents appear. Packs of hyenas gather at the edge of town, waiting for the humans to go to sleep so they can prowl the streets, eating the garbage or scraps left out for them. The Hararis consider the hyenas neighbors and they share an uneasy but close relationship. The Jugol walls even have low doorways to allow them to pass. Hyenas are magical beings, able to take the djinn, spirits, out of the city. Some say they’re djinn themselves, or blacksmiths turned into animal form. Sometimes as you walk home along a moonlit alley one will pass by, its bristly fur brushing against your leg.

I’m spending the next two months living here. This is a journey measured not in miles traveled but by people befriended and knowledge gained. I’ll sit with Harar’s great scholars and artists to learn about the heritage of this unique city, and I’ll meet the regular people–the Oromo farmers and Harari shopkeepers, the Tigrinya university students and Somali refugees. I’ll watch traditional blacksmiths working the way their ancestors did, and women weaving the colorful baskets that adorn every Harari home.

As a former archaeologist, there are some mysteries I want to explore. I’ll visit the ruins of Harla, said to be the predecessor to Harar, and investigate the prehistoric cave paintings at Kundudo, the region’s sacred mountain. I’ll descend into the Somali desert to visit Chinhahsan, where the 16th century conqueror Ahmad The Left-Handed is rumored to have had the capital of his vast but brief empire. Among the ruined castle and crumbling city walls I’ll look for the truth behind the legend.

I’ll also venture further afield, taking in the sights of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital. If I can assemble the right team, I’ll lead an expedition to Maqdala, a mountaintop fortress deep in the Ethiopian wilderness where the mad Emperor Tewodros defied the British Empire. I might even return to Somaliland.

There’s another reason I want to see Harar again–to catch a feeling that comes only once every few trips. Sometimes you’ll come to a spot where everything falls into place. The person you need to see appears just at the right time, the bit of information you’re searching for comes from an unexpected source, the mood is serene and the hospitality never ends. I’ve had that a few times before, like at Kumbh Mela, a giant Hindu pilgrimage that attracted 20 million people, but this feeling of everyone getting along despite their differences, everyone striving forward despite their lack of material resources, that’s a rare thing to experience.

So I’m going back.

This is the first of a series titled Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s City of Saints. Join me as I discover more about this fascinating culture. A word of warning: the entire country is on dialup and there are frequent power cuts. I’ll try to post at least twice a week but please be patient! To be sure you don’t miss an installment, subscribe to my Gadling feed and in the meantime check out last year’s Ethiopia travel series.

For some views of my temporary home, see this video of a day in the life of Harar.