The discovery of the long lost 'City of the Monkey God' has been confirmed by explorers in a remote part of the Honduran jungle.
A team including American and Honduran archaeologists, an anthropologist, ethnobotanist and documentary filmmakers set out to get official confirmation of the ancient city after aerial footage from a remote valley in La Mosquitia showed a set of ruins in 2012.
In an exclusive report by National Geographic, which sent a writer and photographer along for the expedition, the team were able to confirm the existence of the city after mapping plazas, earthworks, mounds and a pyramid that was home to a civilisation over 1,000 years ago.
They also found a cache of stone sculptures that have been untouched since the city was abandoned. At present, archaeologists do not have a name for the mysterious culture that lived in this remote region.
Christopher Fisher, a Mesoamerican archaeologist on the team, said the cache could have been some sort of offering: "The undisturbed context is unique. This is a powerful ritual display, to take wealth objects like this out of circulation."
The researchers returned with 52 artefacts and many more are expected to be found beneath the ground, including burials.
Legend of the City of the Monkey God
The City of the Monkey God has been searched for by explorers for over a century, with tales of a lost city glimpsed above the jungle. Indigenous people told of a "white house" – from where the city gets its alternative name. The stories tell how Indians took refuge there from Spanish, describing it as a paradise from which no one ever returned.
The Monkey God name comes from 1940s explorer Theodore Morde, who claimed to have found the city. Indigenous people told him it contained a huge buried statue of a monkey god, he said, but refuse to say where the city was out of fear it would be looted.
Explorers identified a crater-shaped valley surrounded by steep mountains that could be the location a few years ago. In 2012, they used aerial mapping to fly over the valley and identified a number of unnatural features stretching for more than a mile. Further analysis confirmed these features had been made by hand.
The expedition has now confirmed all of the features seen in the images. However, archaeologists now say this is not the legendary City of the Monkey God – rather this is a mythical place, and that many similar lost cities exist in the area, pointing to something much more exciting – a lost civilisation.
Mark Plotkin, the ethnobotanist for the expedition, said: "This is clearly the most undisturbed rain forest in Central America. The importance of this place can't be overestimated."