‘Lost City of the Monkey God’: Questions and Answers from a Skeptic | Mark Bonta
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Is this really a true story? I have no reason to believe that Preston is not being entirely truthful, to the extent of his knowledge, in his depiction of the events surrounding the T1 project. Though he purposely as well as apparently unknowingly omits important facts, misinterprets other data, and does not have a scientific grasp of several subjects he writes about, it is not my judgment that he is anywhere passing off fiction as fact.
Is there an accompanying or related scientific study? Please refer to Fisher, Christopher T. I have sustained extensive conversations regarding my critique of the article with one of the authors and discussed my opinions with that person. This, however, was the wrong question—it was clear to everyone by this point that the White City was a conflation of stories and probably did not exist in its described form.
Preston does not contradict him. This may be lost on some readers and on the lay public and media in general, though, as Preston, like all writers about this myth, is somewhat coy: Does the author get his geography and regional background right?
Not really — only the very broad strokes. Post-Classic ruins closely related to T1 occur throughout this region. Giving the lie to his repeated assertion that the area is unknown archaeologically, extensive and systematic work has already been done, for example by Paul Healy: To give him credit, the term, which originally was applied to the swamps and pine savannas of far eastern Honduras, dominated by the Miskito Mosquito, earlier Zambo-Mosquito people and now located wholly within Gracias a Dios dept, has been extended westward in very recent times to include the deep rainforests of Gracias a Dios, Olancho, and Colon depts—where T1 is ensconced— that separate the true Moskitia from the tropical dry forests and cloud forests of the Honduran interior.
‘Lost City of the Monkey God’: Questions and Answers from a Skeptic
No road connects the two areas. Plenty of T1-like sites are located on the outskirts of major towns, on cattle ranches hundreds of years old, and so forth. T1 and related sites are important solely because they have not been looted this is, of course, of considerable importance! One name the Moskitia was never known by was this: The Portal del Infierno is a narrow, rocky chute along the upper Patuca River, sometimes imagined as a deep and forbidding canyon by ill-informed outsiders like E.
Squier who had not done the easy trip through it and believed the yarns spun by the local tellers of tall tales, who seem to have their laughs at the expense of many a travel writer and would-be treasure hunter in the region. And neither Crucitas nor other sites in the region have been mapped with Lidar—if they were, more features would probably be revealed than have appeared on the ground surveys that have done! Thus there is really no way to tell which site is larger without Lidar mapping of all known large sites, and further archaeological research that could perhaps give a more accurate idea of total habitation areas which, of course, would have fluctuated over time, until complete abandonment.
My documented response is lengthy, because the question bears on a range of misconceptions and misperceptions about who lived in the region at what time. This is important for various reasons, not least because of potential claims to the area as heritage see below. Aerial images are not adequate for determining more than widespread human influence such as clearings for roads, pastures, or agriculture.
This is followed by the oft-repeated revelation of the presence of spider monkeys, which Preston insists, based on his sources including a biologist hired by Conservation International are somehow evidence that the site had not been visited by humans in modern times.
What should we make of all this? Now that the Fisher et al. These clearcuts are visible on Google Earth and mark either cattle pastures or subsistence plots for corn or beans; they are outliers of the commuity of Pao Pau. But have these ranchers and farmers ever been to T1? Does the impression the book gives that they had not, at least prior tohold water?
I would say, based on the following, that given the data I have examined, it is still impossible to tell. What we DO know is that modern humans have at least been in the valley, if not T1 itself: These implements are easily found throughout the region, but are extremely heavy, and only a dedicated trafficking expedition in its own right would care; local people might be too busy surviving off their subsistence activities or engaging in much more lucrative narcotrafficking, as Preston points out.Dios castiga: Papa Francisco (Card. Bergoglio)
In terms of human habitations, these are invariably located on terraces above flood zones and are made of sticks and palm thatch or sometimes more durable materials such as wattle-and-daub. What of the huge trees?
But how far back can we assume the area has been uninhabited? The question is addressed below as a response to perhaps the most significant lacuna in the book. Otherwise, does Preston get the biological data about the area correct? In most cases, his extremely evocative if sometimes sensational descriptions are spot on — what he describes is exactly the way these forests look and feel.
Few species are identified to name e.
Most likely, the thick vegetation encountered was in part a result of the tangled growth that results after the destruction of the forest, which in this area and across eastern Honduras is a product of frequent hurricanes and other storms causing massive flood events, such as the one that occurred in the T1 valley in The larger meadows may even have been a result of Hurricane Mitch or one of the more recent hurricanes to pummel the area.
How is it known that the site of T1 was abandoned as late as the early s? I confess that I am mystified by this claim, based on the fact that: In the broader context, does Preston get his pre-Columbian archaeology of Honduras right? First, the Maya region is oriented on a west-east axis from Chiapas to Honduras, not north-south.
T1 itself never had Maya neighbors—it had Lenca neighbors and possibly Tolupan neighbors, but Preston only vaguely mentions the Nahua, who derived from Mexico and were present in some form or another dates and influence are not agreed upon by scholars—see notes in my dissertation excerpts, below.
It is essentially impossible to talk about relationships between eastern Honduras and Mesoamerica, including the Maya, without talking about the Lenca. More critically, a strong case can be made for the identity of Yumbe, the trader on the large log vessel Columbus captured plying the Gulf of Honduras near the Bay Islands, who famously told Columbus that the mainland consisted of two lands, Maya Maiam and Taia.
The importance of all this will become apparent below. Two accounts are used by modern treasure hunters to claim great age for the White City myth. It was called Villa de la Frontera de Caceres, and its founding document is extant. These conquistadors were incredibly brutal toward the local people, enslaving them in huge numbers; they banded together in a conspiracy, rose up, and destroyed Villa Hermosa in late January, The main route used by the conquistadors back and forth between the two oceans went directly through an important part of the White City culture area, the Tayaco zone, now known as the Botaderos mountains; the city or large town of Peizacura is mentioned in this context and is very likely one and the same with the Tayaco ruins much more on this below.
Even after the destruction of these two interior Spanish settlements, in the s the Tayaco region was worked for its placer gold, but the Indians there later known as the Taycones, the direct ancestors of the modern-day Pech, and they apparently called themselves by that name even then were quite rebellious and eventually drove the Spaniards in Trujillo out of the mountains.
What did Pedraza have to say about the White City? This is in a way the most important precedent used to suggest that the White City was talked about as early as the s even though supposedly no mention was made again until the 20th century.
Quoting from my dissertation Bonta He sent down Indians to the nearest settlement, and they brought back three men and two women: Though placer gold is abundant in eastern Honduras not just in the Guayapegold plates seem unlikely, since no indigenous gold ornaments have ever been discovered in the region see Begley The reference was probably to copper, which was used and seems to have confused the Spanish on several occasions.
Pedraza decided not to continue to Tagiusgualpa.
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Furthermore, it took Pedraza four [sic] days with hundreds of Indians chopping to get to the top, a feat only necessary if one is scaling high peaks. This area had dense Precolumbian populations, as Begley describes, but their ruins were sacked during banana company occupation in the early s, and what is left has barely been excavated. The landscape sounds very much like the description Fisher gives to Preston: Preston does not mention whether any of these were found in the T1 area.
The toponym was little used but apparently known in Trujillo, returning to widespread usage to refer to a much vaster region, stretching from northern Honduras across to the Coco River and signifying all land outside Spanish control, from the s onward. After Pedraza got a brief glimpse of perhaps an area similar in culture to T1, prior to its collapse from disease, is it true that the Spanish never again entered the Mosquitia?
He ascribes the entry of the diseases that wiped out T1 and the entire culture to indigenous traders plying the rivers as well as refugees fleeing Spanish enslavement, and in this he is likely correct But the Spanish not only entered the Mosquitia, they also did so repeatedly from the s until the s, even though they only established political control over it in its entirety—and then, only very tenuously—during a brief span between the early s and the s.
Also, because the Spanish brought thousands of African slaves to work the mines in Olancho afterand these frequently rose up and escaped, these also would also have been potential vectors for disease.
The Spanish could not stay away from interior eastern Honduras for long, even after the destruction of their first settlements by Indian revolts by The lure of gold was too great. Thanks to establishment of political control over the greater Honduras region exerted by Guatemalan conqueror Alvarado, the administrative locus shifted from Trujillo in the north to Gracias a Dios in the west by the s, and it was not long before the new political leader, Montejo, sent out a conquering expedition from there modern town of Gracias, Lempira to recapture Olancho, done in spectacular form in the early s with the establishment of San Jorge de Olancho, the ruins of which continue to lure treasure hunters to the present day.
Most rivers in eastern Honduras contain gold, but the Guayape Region contained some of the best gold known in the Americas, thus the Spanish and their African slaves worked the region extensively, while the small Villa has been exaggerated in size and importance by centuries of local tradition, as has just about everything else about Olancho and eastern Honduras in general.
The site of San Jorge was indefensible due to attacks by Tawahkas, and the Spanish receded northward to other, more defensible sites, while lapsing into careers as cattle ranchers when the most accessible gold was played out.
The story continues in my dissertation Bonta, A poblado una Villa que se dize la Nueva Salamanca; tienese noticia que es tierra rrica. He has populated a Villa called the Nueva Salamanca; word is that it is a rich land] [Footnote The land referred to was the east coast and tropical wet interior of eastern Honduras and eastern Nicaragua. Nueva Salamanca was plunged in the sort of landscape of which Spaniards were little fond, as an account by Pedraza demonstrates. In AugustCristobal Pedraza, now Bishop of Honduras, set out from his seat in Trujillo heading west counterclockwise to visit his obispado; he did not return until mid-December .
Twenty years of plagues, slavery, and flight had done the job. Pedraza likened this part of his journey to a visit to purgatory and hell. He shows us several reasons why tropical wet eastern Honduras, east of the tropical dry Valle de Olancho, was physically hard to conquer and virtually impossible to hold: Geographically, lands east of Olancho and Trujillo were difficult for anyone who did not use canoes as their main mode of transport.
In the s, then, … the future Taguzgalpa [included]: T1 is well to the east of the Rio Paulaya, and also distant from the Rio Patuca. The story of the attempted Spanish subjugation of eastern Honduras is very lengthy and very complicated—Nueva Salamanca is just the beginning. The short answer to the above is that after failed attempts to set up Spanish administrative centers east of Olancho in the mids see notes below on yet other attemptsthe Spanish turned to Franciscan missionaries, who continued with spectacular failures of their in the early s—five missionaries in two expeditions spent several years living and working throughout the region, conversing with somewhat more hospitable Pech, Lenca, and Mexican subjects, only to be killed and supposedly eaten by Tawahka and by the presumed ancestors of the Miskitos, the Albaguinas.
They were certainly on the neighboring Wampu, Patuca, and Platano rivers and their tributaries, however, as well as on overland paths known to Spanish living in Olancho.
This colonization episode was quite brutal, more so because the Pech, who inhabited homesteads and villages stretching across most of the region, regularly fled back to the Taguzgalpa; but they were also victimized there by the Zambos Mosquitoes from the other side, who, in the pay of the English who had a settlement on the lower Rio Sico, Black River, in the swere merciless in their attacks on the Olancho Indians, Spanish, and mestizos.
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