The Lost World of Mauritia?

Professor Aronnax and Captain Nemo visit the ruins of the lost world of Atlantis

Professor Aronnax and Captain Nemo visit the ruins of the lost world of Atlantis
Illustration by Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou
Source: Wikimedia Commons

We still don’t know much about what Earth looked like millions of years ago. But underwater lost worlds are popping up with increased frequency these days. The latest example is Mauritia. Unfortunately, I’m skeptical…very skeptical.

The Lost World of Mauritia?

Millions of years ago, Mauritia supposedly split off from Madagascar and made its way east, thanks to plate tectonics and sea-floor spreading. Eventually, this lost world sank to the bottom of the ocean. Now, a group of scientists claim to have found evidence for it. Unfortunately, the evidence is incredibly skimpy, consisting of twenty grains of zircons found in the sand on the island of Mauritius as well as an unusually thick sea-floor crust in the Indian Ocean.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Twenty grains of zircons? That’s it? Good lord. Supposedly, these zircons were gathered from remote beaches, which reduces the possibility they were carried there by tourists. Plus, the odds of them being blown over from Madagascar are considered unlikely. But let’s be honest…what’s the more likely scenario? That the zircons originated from a sunken lost world? Or that they were inadvertently brought to Mauritius by folks from Madagascar or elsewhere?

Here’s more from Sid Perkins at Nature:

The drowned remnants of an ancient microcontinent may lie scattered beneath the waters between Madagascar and India, a new study suggests.

Evidence for the long-lost land comes from Mauritius, a volcanic island about 900 kilometres east of Madagascar. The oldest basalts on the island date to about 8.9 million years ago, says Bjørn Jamtveit, a geologist at the University of Oslo. Yet grain-by-grain analyses of beach sand that Jamtveit and his colleagues collected at two sites on the Mauritian coast revealed around 20 zircons — tiny crystals of zirconium silicate that are exceedingly resistant to erosion or chemical change — that were far older…

(See the rest at Nature)

Remnants of Lost City located in Peru?

"Finding the Lost City"

“Finding the Lost City” (1898)
Attribution: Illustration by L.J. Bridgman
Source: The Lost City by Joseph E. Badger, Jr. (Digitized by Google Books)

Peru, like much of Central and South America, is a veritable treasure trove of lost history. This latest discovery is a lost temple located within the ruins at El Paraiso. However, it’s estimated to be 5,000 years old, making it 1,000 years older than the rest of the ruins. So, it appears to be from a lost city. Here’s more from BBC News:

Archaeologists in Peru say they have discovered a temple at the ancient site of El Paraiso, near the capital, Lima. Entry to the rectangular structure, estimated to be up to 5,000 years old, was via a narrow passageway, they say. At its centre, the archaeologists from Peru’s Ministry of Culture found a hearth which they believe was used to burn ceremonial offerings.

With 10 ruins, El Paraiso is one of the biggest archaeological sites in central Peru. The archaeologists found the structure, measuring 6.82m by 8.04m (22ft by 26ft), in the right wing of the main pyramid…

(See the rest at BBC News)

The Legendary Lost City of Honduras?

In 1526, Hernán Cortés wrote about a fabled lost city. Generations of scholars have considered it a myth. But now, a new expedition may be on the verge of proving otherwise. Did the lost city of Ciudad Blanca really exist?

Did Hernan Cortez find the Lost City of Ciudad Blanca?

Did Hernan Cortez find the Lost City of Ciudad Blanca?
Description: Cortez and his army fight back into Tenochtitlan
Attribution: Emanuel Leutze (1848)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Mysterious Lost City of Ciudad Blanca?

In 1526, Cortés wrote his fifth letter to Charles V. In it, he mentions a mysterious province named Xucutaco which “will exceed Mexico in riches.”

“…I have trustworthy reports of very extensive and rich provinces, and of powerful chiefs ruling over them, and of one in particular, called Hueitapalan, and in another dialect Xucutaco, about which I possessed information six years since, having all this time made inquiries about it, and ascertained that it lies eight or ten days’ march from that town of Trujillo, or rather between fifty and sixty leagues. So wonderful are the reports about this particular province, that even allowing largely for exaggeration, it will exceed Mexico in riches, and equal it in the largeness of its towns and villages, the density of its population, and the policy of its inhabitants.” ~ Hernán Cortés, 1926,  Fifth Letter to Charles V

Based on the letter, it appears he first heard of this strange place around 1520. It was probably located in the impenetrable jungle of Honduras’ Mosquito Coast. In 1544, Bishop Cristobol de Pedraza wrote a letter to the King of Spain, describing a mysterious city in the jungle. It was located in a valley and his guides informed him that its people ate on gold plates.

Ciudad Blanca & the Lost City of the Monkey God?

Centuries later, in 1939, explorer Theodore Morde claimed to have found a lost city in the jungle.

“Explorer Theodore Morde Finds in Honduras Jungles a Vanished Civilization’s Prehistoric Metropolis where Sacrifices were made to the Gigantic Idol of an Ape – and Describes the Weird “Dance of the Dead Monkeys” still Practiced by Natives in Whom Runs the Old Blood” ~ Milwaukee Sentinel Headline, Sept. 22, 1940

Morde supposedly went on to write a book entitled, The Lost City of the Monkey God, although I have yet to locate a copy of it. Unfortunately, he was run over by a car before he could return to his city.

Over the years, all these ruins have generally been attributed to one city, the legendary Ciudad Blanca. According to Christopher Begley’s and Ellen Cox’s article, “Reading and Writing the White City Legend: Allegories Past and Future,” the roots of Ciudad Blanca lie deep in Honduran mythology. The Pech and Tawahka peoples tell stories about Wahai Patatahua (Place of the Ancestors) and Kao Kamasa (The White House). According to the Pech, the Honduran gods fled to these places after the arrival of the conquistadors. While the exact location remains unknown, it is generally believed to be in the remote areas of the Mosquito Coast.

The Lost City of Ciudad Blanca – Discovered at Last?

On May 15, 2012, Pepe Lobo, the President of Honduras, announced the completion of “the first-ever airborne light detection and ranging (“LiDAR”) imaging survey of previously-uncharted areas of the Mosquitia region of Honduras.” The work was aided by famous author, Douglas Preston, whose novel The Codex describes a search for Ciudad Blanca. The initial analyses of the data seem to show archaeological ruins in the area.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, is this the famous Ciudad Blanca? Well, it’s time for a reality check. The press release doesn’t claim to have found the White City. As you can see below, it’s couched in far more careful terms.

“Initial analysis of the LiDAR data indicates what appears to be evidence of archaeological ruins in an area long rumored to contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca.” ~ The Government of Honduras & UTL Scientific Press Release, May 15, 2012

This press release was jointly issued by the government of Honduras and UTL Scientific. UTL is a media company and is making a documentary of the search. Both parties have ample reasons to hype up this venture. Also, this is hardly the first modern search of its kind. In the late 1990s, Francis Yakam-Simen, Edmond Nezry, and James Ewing claimed to have discovered Ciudad Blanca using Synthetic Aperture Radar technology. They wrote a paper about it, entitled A Legendary Lost City found in the Honduran Tropical Forest. I have no idea whether they ever actually visited these supposed ruins.

In the end, it’s unlikely these new ruins were that of Ciudad Blanca. It’s even questionable whether Ciudad Blanca ever existed in the first place. Its roots lie in mythology. And neither Cortés nor Bishop Cristobol de Pedraza described their supposed cities in that fashion. The name appears to be a later addition. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ruins in the area. Indeed, Dr. Chris Begley has discovered over 200 archaeological sites in the region, which he chronicles on his website. So, ruins are out there. But do they belong to a massive, undiscovered city? That remains to be seen.

What happened to the Lost Colony?

In 1590, John White led an expedition to the New World to resupply the English colony on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. But to his surprise, he found the area deserted. What happened to the Lost Colony?

The Lost Colony of Roanoke

The Lost Colony of Roanoke
Description: Map of Chesapeake Bay to Cape Lookout
Attribution: John White (1584)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Lost Colony of Roanoke?

The disappearance of the 119 colonists (including Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World) is one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Under John White’s helm, they arrived in 1587 in order to establish the “Cittie of Raleigh” but landed on Roanoke Island instead. White sailed back to England for more supplies but his return was delayed by the Anglo-Spanish War. He finally returned in 1590 only to find the site completely deserted. Only two clues remained. The word “CROATOAN” was carved into a fort post. Also, the word “CRO” was carved into a tree.

White didn’t expect foul play. The houses and other structures had been readily dismantled, indicating the settlers had taken their time leaving the colony. Also, he’d instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese cross into a tree if they were forced to leave the colony. There was no cross.

Based on the carvings, White assumed the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island). However, a storm kept him from conducting a proper search. White would never again return to the New World. It would be another 12 years before Sir Walter Raleigh would mount another expedition to determine the fate of the Lost Colony. However, he was forced to turn back due to bad weather and was subsequently arrested. And thus, the fate of the Lost Colony became a thing of mystery.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Many theories exist purporting to explain the Lost Colony. Some scholars believe the settlers abandoned the colony and assimilated into one of the local native tribes. Others blame warfare with a tribe or perhaps, the Spanish. Still others think the colonists perished during a drought or turned on each other.

Now, experts at the British Museum have shed some new light on the mystery behind the Lost Colony. Using advanced-imaging techniques, they discovered markings hidden under patches on a watercolor map prepared by none other than John White himself (you can also see the map above). The purpose of one patch was to improve the accuracy of the coastline. The second patch is more intriguing. It appears to hide the presence of an inland fort as well as an Indian town near Roanoke Island. Interestingly enough, the original markings may have been made in invisible ink as well.

The outpost was apparently located at the point where the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers emptied into Albemarle Sound. This is in an area explored by the colonists in 1585 and 1586. Thus, its possible the Lost Colony abandoned Roanoke Island at some point and took refuge at the outpost.

“Documentary evidence suggests an early and sustained interest by the English in the Chowan and Roanoke River systems. The discovery of a symbol seemingly representing a fort where the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers meet provides dramatic confirmation of the colonists’ interest in exploring the interior (where riches were to be found) and connecting the two Virginias, Roanoke and Jamestown.” ~ James Horn, A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Of course, this remains speculation, at least until archaeologists can conduct a proper excavation in the area. However, if it turns out to be true, it begs a whole slew of new questions. Namely, who marked the map? Did that person know the true fate of the Lost Colony? And if so, why did they keep its continued existence a secret?

The Lost City of Calakmul

Deep in the jungles of the Petén Basin lies Calakmul, one of the great lost cities of the Mayas.

A Pyramid in the Lost City of Calakmul

Becán, Campeche: A Pyramid in the Lost City of Calakmul
Attribution: Joaquín Martínez Rosado
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Lost City of Calakmul?

The lost city of Calakmul remained undiscovered by outsiders until 1931. Since that time, it’s become more accessible but just barely. It’s an archaeological paradise and contains the second-largest Maya structure known to exist…the 184-foot tall Structure II. Here’s more on the fabulous lost city of Calakmul from Air Tran Magazine:

Around here, the signs of ancient Maya civilization are everywhere, rising like ghosts from the ground. In the state of Campeche (which borders Cancun’s Quintana Roo on the west), Mexico’s archeological authority, INAH, has catalogued more than 1,500 Maya sites. These sprawling, longago cities and towns covered so much of the area that when the government sought to widen Highway 180, it had to choose which ruins were small enough to plow under and which were worthy of preservation.

Even amid such archeological bounty, though, an ancient city called Calakmul stands out…

(See Lost in the Jungle for more on the lost city of Calakmul)

Lost Ancient Megalithic Architecture?

Lost cities are a fascinating subject. But have we found them all? Or is there ancient megalithic architecture still out there, waiting to be discovered?

Do Lost Cities Still Exist?

Do Lost Cities still exist?
David Meyer (aka the Guerrilla Explorer) ventures into ancient Maya ruins
Source: Guerrilla Explorer

Do Lost Cities Still Exist?

A few weeks back, I was trekking through the Yucatán Peninsula, in search of ancient Maya lost cities. Much of the upper part of this region is flat land. So, when you spot a hill, the chances are good you’re looking at an unexcavated ruin, which has given way to nature over the course of many centuries. The sheer number of such sites in the Yucatán is truly remarkable.

Here’s a good article from Katie Crenshaw at Technorati on the possibility of finding far more ancient “monumental architecture” (aka lost cities) in today’s modern world:

…It is widely accepted that anatomically modern humans, humans who look and think like humans today, emerged around 200,000 years ago. Linguists argue that language emerged sometime between 150,000 – 50,000 years ago. Assuming that the creation of complex sites such as Gobekli Tepe required the use of a complete language, not a proto-language, we can assume that humans had the capacity and ability to produce monumental architecture since at least 50,000 years ago, if not before…

Your next question should rightfully be “If we have had the ability to produce such impressive sites as Gobekli Tepe, the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, and Stonehenge, since 50,000 years ago, conservatively, why haven’t we found evidence of these early sites?”

(See more on ancient monumental architecture and lost cities at Technorati)

The Lost City of Cahokia?

When European settlers first ventured through Illinois, they encountered an astonishing sight – 120 colossal mounds of earth that marked the high points of an ancient city. What was the lost city of Cahokia?

Monks Mound at Cahokia (1887)

Monks Mound, Cahokia
Attribution: Records of Ancient Races in the Mississippi Valley by William McAdams (1887)
Source: Wikipedia

The Lost City of Cahokia?

This lost city was constructed by the Mississippian culture around AD 600 – 1400. It is not particularly well-known today. However, recent salvage work might change that fact. It now appears that Cahokia was far more significant than early settlers could’ve ever imagined. Here’s more on the lost city from the Daily Mail:

A sprawling Native American metropolis which lay hidden beneath a modern city for a millennium has been uncovered.

Archaeologists digging in preparation for the Mississippi River spanning bridge – which will connect Missouri and Illinois – discovered the lost city of Cahokia beneath modern St Louis.

Their findings pointed to a ‘sophisticated, sprawling metropolis stretching across both sides of the Mississippi’, Andrew Lawler told the journal Science.

Cahokia, which is near Collinsville in Illinois, was initially believed to be just a ‘seasonal encampment’. But experts now think it was a location of much more significance…

(For the rest, see The lost city of Cahokia: Archaeologists uncover Native Americans’ sprawling metropolis under St Louis at the Daily Mail)

A Lost Mayan City…in Georgia?

Between AD 800 and 900, the Classic Maya civilization suddenly collapsed. The abrupt decline of this fascinating and highly sophisticated population has baffled archaeologists for decades. Nearly 100 theories purport to account for the collapse, including drought, revolution, and diseases. Now, Creek Indian architect and city planner Richard Thornton has added a new theory to the mix. Thornton believes that Maya commoners left the southern lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula…traveled thousands of miles…and ended up in Georgia.

Why did the Classic Maya civilization collapse? Did Maya commoners resettle in Georgia?

The Maya Temple of Tohil at the former K’iche’ capital of Q’umarkaj
Drawn by Frederick Catherwood (published in 1841)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Did the Classic Maya Resettle in Georgia?

His evidence is limited yet intriguing. The site in question – Brasstown Bald mountain – contains 300 to 500 rock terraces and mounds that date back ~1,100 years, roughly the time of the Classic Maya Collapse. The natives of that area apparently created pottery similar to Maya common folk. Their stone structures were “identical in form to numerous agricultural terrace sites in Chiapas, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.” And then there’s the linguistic evidence:

“A Cherokee village near the mountain was named Itsa-ye, when Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1820s. The missionaries mistranslated ‘Itsaye’ to mean ‘brass.’ They added ‘town’ and soon the village was known as Brasstown. Itsa-ye, when translated into English, means ‘Place of the Itza (Maya).'” ~ Richard Thornton

Thornton’s theory is that commoners, rather than the elite, escaped Mexico when the Classic Maya collapsed. Some of them made their way to Georgia and became elites themselves. These people soon blended in with the existing indigenous peoples, wiping out any traces of their original heritage.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Professional archaeologists have rained scorn upon the theory, including several referenced by Thornton in his article. I can’t vouch for Thornton’s work and his evidence is far from conclusive. Still, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that some disgruntled Mayas left Mexico and ventured into what is now the United States. As to whether they made it all the way to Georgia, well, the jury is still out.

Did Ancient Egyptians Conquer the Seas?

Around 1477 BC, Queen Hatshepsut funded a mysterious overseas expedition to the Land of Punt, or “the Land of God.” For over a century, archaeologists have questioned the ability of Egypt to conduct such an oceanic voyage, with many believing that the Land of Punt was inland or even fictional. Now, new evidence indicates that the ancient Egyptians weren’t just masters of the land…they were masters of the seas as well.

Sailing Boat of Queen Hatshepsut
Source: Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903) via Wikimedia Commons

The Mysterious Land of Punt?

The famous expedition is depicted in relief at Deir el-Bahri. It consisted of five ships. Each ship measured about seventy feet long and carried 210 men. After reaching Punt, the expedition returned with plants, animals, incense, ebony, and even people native to the Land of Punt.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first nor the last recorded visit to Punt. Pharaoh Sahure led a similar expedition almost one thousand years earlier. And after Hatshepsut’s expedition, trade flourished between Egypt and Punt for another four hundred years until Egypt’s New Kingdom came to an end. Then trade ceased and Punt became known as a mythical, lost land.

Where was the Land of Punt?

The exact location of the Land of Punt has baffled scholars for decades. Many researchers doubted the ability of ancient Egyptians to master the deep seas. They tended to think that stories of long voyages were false and that Punt was accessible by land or perhaps, a mythical place from the beginning. However, a recent article by Discovery Magazine indicates that the Egyptians “
mastered oceangoing technology and 
launched a series of 
ambitious expeditions 
to far-off lands.”

Since 2003, a team of archaeologists led by Kathryn Bard have been excavating the dried-up ancient Red Sea port of Mersa Gawasis. Their most recent discovery, an ancient sophisticated harbor, provides substantial proof that the Egyptians traveled far beyond the Nile. Over the years, the team has also located supporting evidence in a series of nearby, hand-hewn caves. These caves, which may have once served as ancient boat houses, were found to contain timbers, rigging, limestone anchors, steering oars, cedar planks, and reed mats, amongst other things. The evidence points to the existence of numerous Egyptian ships, powered by rowers and sails, and capable of surviving deepwater excursions.

“These new finds remove all doubt that you reach Punt by sea. The Egyptians must have had considerable seagoing experience.” ~ John Baines, Egyptologist

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The ancient Egyptians were clearly incredible builders on land. And now, thanks to these new discoveries, it appears that their expertise extended to the sea as well. While the exact location of the Land of Punt remains a mystery, the evidence continues to mount that the Egyptians traveled throughout the Red Sea and perhaps into the Arabian Sea. Someday soon, we might even learn that ancient Egyptian vessels traveled far out into the Indian Ocean, voyaging to faraway points such as India…and perhaps, even beyond.

Who Discovered Machu Picchu?

Although constructed around 1450, the spectacular city of Machu Picchu remained unknown to the outside world until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. But did he really discover Machu Picchu? Or did someone else beat him to it?

Hiram Bingham III standing on ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru
Photographed by Harry Ward Foote (1911-1923)
Source: Wikimedia Commons via Yale Peruvian Expedition papers, 1908-1948 (inclusive): Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University

Hiram Bingham’s Expedition to Machu Picchu

Situated almost 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu towers over Peru’s Urubamba Valley. Its exact purpose remains unknown although modern researchers believe it was a royal estate for Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca, or king, of the Kingdom of Cusco.

In 1911, historian/treasure hunter Hiram Bingham led the Yale Peruvian Expedition into the Andes. A few days later, on July 24, he “discovered” Machu Picchu thanks to a young local boy named Pablito Alvarez. At the time, other locals resided in the ruins. Bingham is rightly recognized as the explorer that brought world attention to Machu Picchu. But was he the first outsider to lay eyes on the ruins?

Other Claims to Machu Picchu’s “Discovery”?

As soon as Bingham’s discovery went public, other people came forward to dispute his claim. A missionary named Thomas Payne claimed to have found the ruins in 1906 with the help of Stuart McNairn. He even said that he told Bingham about Machu Picchu in the first place. Another early claimant was a German engineer named J.M. von Hassel.

More recently, Peruvian historians have gathered evidence pointing to a German adventurer named Augusto Berns. In the 1860’s, Berns purchased land near Machu Picchu and secured permission from Peru’s government to prospect it for gold and silver. In the process, he supposedly plundered a series of old Incan sites.

The question of who reached the site first is not just an academic one. The stakes are high and future revelations may impact the destination of 40,000 artifacts that currently reside at Yale University.

Who owns Yale’s Machu Picchu Artifacts?

An 1887 prospecting authorization given to Berns indicates that Peru held national sovereignty over the area prior to Bingham’s arrival. They are using this to help lay claim to Yale’s artifacts. Yale’s lawyers counter that if Berns reached the site first, it stands to reason that he removed the most important artifacts. Thus, they don’t feel that the artifacts in their possession are unique or important enough to require their return to Peru. Adding to the drama, property records show that local families owned Machu Picchu before Bingham arrived. Their descendants are seeking compensation for loss of property.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

I’d be surprised if Bingham was the first outsider to ever set eyes upon Machu Picchu. But as far as I can tell, there is no solid evidence to support any of the other claims. New evidence will continue to emerge however, so anything is possible. But regardless, Hiram Bingham will always be remembered as the man who shone public light on the fabulous ruins known as Machu Picchu.

“In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle.” ~ Hiram Bingham, 1922