Since the early twentieth century, fortune hunters have mounted expeditions deep into the rainforests of Honduras’s remote La Mosquitia region, searching for a fabled city called ‘La Ciudad Blanca’. This ‘White City’ was spoken of by indigenous groups there, from stories passed down from their ancestors, whom used the city as a refuge from invading conquistadors.
Many have tried to find the lost city over the centuries, but very few met with any success: In 1927, Charles Lindbergh reported seeing a "white city" while flying over the region. Later, in 1939 fortune seeker Theodore Morde returned from an expedition in La Mosquitia, reporting that he had discovered what he described as the "City of the Monkey God", presumed to be the legendary White City. Morde kept the city’s location a secret, but he died before he was able to return to Honduras, and so knowledge of the city’s location died with him.
Despite both prior and subsequent attempts to locate the city, it has remained hidden from study — that is, until now. In 2012, documentary filmmakers Steve Elkins and Bill Benenson mounted their own expedition to uncover La Ciudad Blanca, employing aircraft-borne ground-scanning lidar equipment, to see the forest floor through the dense foliage. The resulting 3D maps showed extensive artificial works, stretching for more than a mile along the valley floor, with extensive reshaping of the river’s terrain.
Elkins and Benenson later returned to the site, accompanying an archaeological team to verify and document the find. They were also accompanied by Honduran Special Forces soldiers, to provide security against potential looters at the otherwise undisturbed site. One member of the team remarked that it was incredibly rare that a site such as this could be found in such an untouched and unlooted state.
The team documented extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid in the city. They also studied a cache of partially-buried artifacts, that they suspect were part of a ritualistic offering, including a statue of a were-jaguar. While the region is not far from where the Mayan civilization existed, the people that comprised this group were of a different culture, a culture that of whom so little is known, researchers don’t even have a name for them.