Lost City of Gold: Did Lasers Help Discover Ciudad Blanca?
Scientists and filmmakers have used high-tech mapping technology to discover what they say may be Ciudad Blanca, the lost city of gold.
Archaeologists and filmmakers Steven Elkins and Bill Benenson made the discovery while taking images of the Mosquitia region of Honduras, a 32,000 square mile rainforest area that has only been partially explored. The method they used, light detection and ranging technology, or lidar, involves hovering over an area with slow-flying planes which constantly send lasers downward. The lasers, which are able to shoot through the forest canopy, provide scientists with data that is inputted into 3D imaging software, which then creates a topographical map of the area.
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The elevation maps that Elkins and Benenson created show a number of buildings and ruins that could be remnants of the legendary city of Ciudad Blanca, or the White City. They believe the objects they've mapped are canals, roads and foundations of buildings.
The legend of Ciudad Blanca has been around since at least the 1500s, when Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conquistador, told King Charles V tales of Xucutaco, a province that "must exceed Mexico in riches and equal it in the great size of the towns, the multitude of people and the government thereof." Explorers and gold-seekers have searched for the lost city ever since, but the hellish inaccessibility of the Honduran rain forest has made physical exploration of the terrain extraordinarily difficult.
None of that is an issue, of course, when you're high above the canopy in an airplane.
A year ago, when the team mapped about 60 square miles of the Mosquitia rain forest, they sent the data to Bill Carter, an engineer who works with the National Science Foundation's National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping. Carter was able to identify the ruins after just a few minutes.
"It was kind of surprising how easy it was to find them," Carter told The New Yorker.
Researchers then spent several more months mapping hundreds of ruins in the area, finally presenting their findings yesterday at a conference in Cancun, Mexico.
Steven Elkins, 62, one of the men behind the project, first travelled to the Honduran region in the 1990s in an effort to find the lost city of Ciudad Blanca.
"Some people believe it's a bunch of hooey," said Elkins. "Others believe that where there's smoke there's fire. I became captivated by it, and I decided to wait until technology advanced to produce a better way to find it than walking aimlessly through the jungle. Many years later, that opportunity presented itself."
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