I usually post short science news pieces, but it’s a shame to miss the story behind science. The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story offers a fascinating tale of discovery.
Since the first Europeans set foot in the Americas, they chased rumors of “lost” cities of gold. The first third of his book, Douglas Preston recounts the adventures of an amazing group of, generally, con-artists claiming to have found the Monkey God City in an inaccessible jungle – and would rich donors just give them more money to prove it. These characters make for fun reading.
But there are real ruins in Honduras, and the Monkey God City legend is a conglomeration of real places. Space age technology and changing politics in Honduras enabled a scientific team to take up the search. Deadly snakes, deadly insects, drug cartels, dense jungle, and sucking mud all provide a thrilling backdrop to the expedition.
Scientists must be brave sometimes, and it helps to hire ex-military survival experts.
Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.
Read about the history of the Americas. Read about their discovery – as exciting as any tale spun by one of those early con-artists.
By the middle of the book I thought the story was done, but there’s more coming. Preston recounts what is known today of the first contacts between Americans and Europeans. I have read before that European diseases spread ahead of the Spanish, but had no grasp of the magnitude of the disaster. Current studies indicate that about 90% of the Native Americans were killed, most before they ever saw a European.
Those deaths tie into the aftermath of Preston’s Honduran trip. An horrid disease spread by sand flies infected many of his group.
This disease is worthy of a scifi horror movie – it can eat your face away, right into the bones. They required care by federal government infectious disease experts, and even the latest treatments can only put the disease into remission. There’s irony in comparing the modern and historical experiences.
Danger has not stopped the research in Honduras. The team has returned and expanded. Watch the news for more about this ancient Honduran civilization. And in the meantime, read this book.
What others are saying
With 4.4 stars and over 1400 reviews on Amazon, the book deserves its place as #1 in its Archeology category. Some reviewers didn’t want to read about the history, or modern Honduran politics, or other topics that surround the Lost City itself. Others thought the technologies used to discover the city were covered in too much detail.
If all you want is the archeology, the book may be too long for you. But if you enjoy the gem of a Lost City placed in a magnificent setting, this is for you.