Nat Geo presented a not “new” finding and forgot they had done this before! Why? They did it for
the Nookie, I mean, the hype, the clicks, the attention.
In search for legendary “City of the Monkey God,” explorers find the untouched ruins of a vanished culture.
An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture’s lost city, never before explored. The team was led to the remote, uninhabited region by long-standing rumors that it was the site of a storied “White City,” also referred to in legend as the “City of the Monkey God.”
Archaeologists surveyed and mapped extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid belonging to a culture that thrived a thousand years ago, and then vanished. The team, which returned from the site last Wednesday, also discovered a remarkable cache of stone sculptures that had lain untouched since the city was abandoned.
In contrast to the nearby Maya, this vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown. Archaeologists don’t even have a name for it.
Not so fast. Nat Geo is getting hit with claims this story is seriously flawed.
Buried in the piece, they note that these ruins were first identified in May 2012, during an aerial survey of a remote valley in La Mosquitia, which is a vast region of swamps, rivers, and mountains. National Geographic funded Chris Begley to explore this site already. (Does this sound familiar? We’ve talked about it before. Ciudad Blanca folktale used to hype LiDAR discovery in Honduras.) But he’s not mentioned in this piece and he’s justifiably miffed about it.
These guys ‘confirmed’ the presence of externsive pre-Columbian ruins in the Mosquitia? I guess that wasn’t accomplished when I recorded 200 sites all over the Mosquitia. Or when Hasemann, Strong, Stone, or Healy reported on the sites there. Or when archaeological sites were included on the topo maps of this region you buy in from the Honduran Geographical Institute. Or when this area was examined in a doctoral dissertation, 2 master’s theses, 2 books, or 2 documentaries about the region? Perhaps this is what happens when no archaeologist with experience in the region is included in this ‘expedition.’
It’s sad that this is discourse surrounding all of this – finally, somebody else takes an interest in the region in which I worked for 20 years, but the focus appears to be to recreate B-movie language and position the participants as heroic discoverers.
Are we surprised? Discovery Channel/News and History Channel have chosen hype over reliable science and solid content. Why not Nat Geo? For shame. Begley notes that the researchers involved should have known better. Why is this written as it is?
I know Oscar from way back and reached out to this whole team – not to be a part of it (I don’t want to contribute to the sensationalization of all this) but to offer advice, etc – nobody got back to me – partly, I think, because they know I am critical of this approach. Plus, we were all in the New Yorker article together!
Rosemary Joyce makes a pertinent point that archaeology is not about discovery but about knowledge. Discovery is shallow, knowledge is deep and lasting. She has worked in Honduras and is not at all surprised at new discoveries.
In mid-May (2012), Spanish-language news sources in Honduras reported an announcement by the president of the country that LiDAR images had possibly revealed a “lost city”, Ciudad Blanca. One government official went so far as to say it “might be the biggest archaeological discovery in the world of the twenty-first century”.
Hurray! except that isn’t good archaeology — it’s hype.
There was a press release – it was about “the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca.” But those with knowledge knew that Ciudad Blanca is a legend. Chris Begley had already looked into this but the hype machine did not mention this. Why? For clicks? That’s a shame. Joyce notes all the errors and exaggerations, which is unfair to those who have done such good and careful work. Those researchers are not mentioned. The silly headlines and hype about monkey gods and legends continue, as if science is lifting up a rock or folding back the leaves to reveal something stunning and shocking. It doesn’t work like that. It’s slow, it’s careful, it’s cumulative. By being so callous and sensational, Nat Geo misses the point of archaeology and the true value of discovery – knowledge and understanding, not attention.
Serious archaeologists are wondering what they can do about this disappointing coverage and ignorance of past work. More to come…
Tip: Jeb Card