CSU professors play prominent role in discovery of ancient city


The most striking object emerging from the ground is the head of what Fisher speculated might be “a were-jaguar,” possibly depicting a shaman in a transformed, spirit state.  National Geographic story by Douglas Preston; photograph by Dave Yoder.

Chris Fisher and Stephen Leisz, professors in CSU’s Department of Anthropology, were part of a team spearheading the discovery of a previously unexplored city built by a lost civilization in Honduras.

The large city, which includes numerous structures and stone sculptures, has been rumored to be the legendary “White City” or “City of the Monkey God.” The site has been sought by archaeologists for more than a century but has been protected from discovery by a nearly impenetrable rain forest.

Chris_Fisher_300The finding was reported Monday in National Geographic after an international research team, backed by the Honduran government, emerged from the jungle last week after mapping the site and preparing it for excavation in the near future.

Successful CSU team

Fisher, the lead archaeologist on the project and a leading expert on pre-Columbian societies, has made numerous important discoveries in central Mexico, and Leisz, a professor of geography, analyzed LiDAR images in 2012 to first identify the area as a possible location of the long-sought city. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) was used to “see” man-made structures through the dense jungle canopy, allowing researchers to pinpoint the city’s location in one of the largest remaining areas of unexplored rain forest in Central America.

“Through this amazing project we were able to use LiDAR as a tool of discovery that resulted in the discovery of a lost world,” Fisher said. “We hope to continue this work in the future to more fully unravel this puzzle through archaeological excavation and ecological investigation.

“We’re very excited to bring to life this lost culture,” Fisher said, noting that the research “will significantly change our understanding of this critical archaeological region.”

Unknown culture

The site’s artifacts date from A.D. 1000 to 1400. While the Mayans thrived not far from the site, little is known of the yet-unnamed culture that built the city.

The project is being organized and directed by Under the LiDAR Productions (UTL), which is also producing a documentary film about the project.

Fisher and Leisz have used LiDAR to make significant pre-Columbian discoveries in Mexico over the past several years. Using LiDAR allows scientists to survey an area and locate man-made structures that previously had been revealed only through time-consuming and labor-intensive excavation.