HOW DO YOU SCAN A JUNGLE?
Documentary filmmaker Steve Elkins has spent a good chunk of his life trying to track down the legendary ‘White City’. For years he studied archaeological reports, read accounts from smugglers and prospectors and examined data from NASA satellites – all without success. It was only thanks to LIDAR technology that he got his breakthrough: helped by a research team from the University of Houston, Elkins flew over the region and directed hundreds of thousands of laser pulses through the tree canopy to the ground below. By digitally stripping away the blanket-like canopy cover, the team discovered two cities with pyramids, plazas and farm terraces.
from the helicopter. Using his machete, the former SAS officer clears a landing spot and sets up a base camp while the helicopter collects the rest of the team from Catacamas. A few hours later Elkins and co are also standing in the middle of the ruins of the lost city.
IS AN ENTIRE CIVILISATION HIDING UNDER THE WHITE CITY?
Today the excavations are in full flow. The Lidar technicians have already scanned all of the artefacts and produced 3D images of them. “We believe there are even more treasures hidden in the ground,” Fisher reveals. “Perhaps even the burial grounds of kings.” These could shed important light on the culture that once existed here, as well as providing clues as to why people eventually deserted the city. Further scans are needed to figure out why that may have happened – and also to get a clearer idea of the true size and scale of the city.
Aside from venomous snakes and disease-carrying insects, there’s another dangerous element that the team has to content with: the region where the excavation work is taking place is ruled by drug cartels. Some 88% of the cocaine smuggled from
“We believe that there are more artefacts lying hidden, potentially even the graves of kings.” Chris Fisher, Archaeologist
South America to the US travels through Honduras. Historically, the country’s jungle has been off-limits to the police and military. Drug traffickers have taken full advantage, clearing swathes of forest to build roads and landing strips or to create plantations to be used for money laundering. Keen to redress the balance, and ever mindful of the need for good publicity, Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández has now placed the valleys under military protection. But according to Honduran archaeologist Virgilio Paredes these measures haven’t stopped the smugglers, looters or loggers: “The president promised to protect this area, but he doesn’t have enough money. If we do nothing this jungle will disappear within eight years.”
The researchers face a race against time. The mapping of the valleys has only just begun, and a large number of ruins still lie undiscovered. Chris Fisher is convinced that they are a small part of a previously unknown culture and that many other lost cities lie hidden in the jungle. Perhaps the real White City has yet to be found. The fact is, they lie in the middle of one of the most dangerous and heavily fought over regions in the world, and the drugs trade will not stop for any ruins.
Unlike Elkins, the traffickers are not dreaming of a White City, but of ‘white gold’: cocaine. The war for the lost city of Honduras has only just begun.
REVEALING TRACES Experts then examine the 3D model. They’re looking for changes to the landscape and evidence of manmade structures.
3D MAP What’s left is a 3D topographic model of the ground, on which all geometric forms and shapes can be seen.
FREE VIEW Special computer software is used to digitally strip away obstacles like trees or shrubbery.