Ancient Civilization in Honduras Focus of New Documentary: ‘It’s Like Something Out of Folklore’

Filmmakers Bill Benenson and Steve Elkins descend into the rainforest on a journey of discovery to find a Lost City

A documentary about the recent discovery of an ancient civilization in the jungles of Central America is in the works.

Filmmakers, producers and co-directors Bill Benenson and Steve Elkins descended into the rainforest after using LiDAR technology to map out coordinates which indicated the remnants of a long-rumored Lost City.

On the ground, the filmmakers and their expedition group discovered not only structures but artifacts, including the head of a statue that resembled a were-jaguar “possibly depicting a shaman in a transformed, spirit state” (pictured below, as first reported by National Geographic).

“It looked like we came across something out of folklore of archeologists discovering Troy or something,” Benenson told TheWrap of his journey and discovery. “It felt like this couldn’t be. How could this be? And we found it!”

Utilizing the latest GPS and LiDAR (which stands for Light Detection and Ranging) technologies and guided by coordinates from the original airborne data, the Under the LiDAR (UTL) crew went into the jungle for an 11-day ground-truthing expedition in February.

The team consisted of American and Honduran archaeologists, an anthropologist, an ethnobotanist, a Central American forest expert, a LiDAR specialist and the documentary filmmakers.

Writer Doug Preston and photographer David Yoder also accompanied the group to chronicle the expedition for National Geographic magazine.

“The site represents an incredibly well preserved example of a long-term occupation in a tropical environment,” Christopher Fisher, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeologist at Colorado State University, said.

“As such, the site itself is embedded in a human-modified landscape that was sustainable for several centuries — or possibly more. It is one of many examples that show this area was densely occupied and largely human-managed during the Pre-Columbian period. The untouched nature of the site is unique and if preserved and properly studied can tell us much about these past people and provide critical base-line data for modern conservation.”

Benenson promised the forthcoming documentary will include not only footage shot on the ground, but also 3D renderings of computer-generated data which more closely and precisely show the landscape and artifacts found on site.

Based on the original LiDAR data from 2012, the government of Honduras immediately created the Mosquitia Patrimonial Heritage Preserve to protect the discoveries. The exact location of the find has not been released as to prevent attempted lootings.

The Honduras government is seeking international cooperation and assistance to study and conserve both the cultural sites and natural heritage, especially in light of the increasing encroachment of deforestation.

“As of this afternoon, we will have taken as much as footage as we have,” Benenson said. “We have at least 30 hours of footage. We’ll start working on it, but when or where anyone will see the doc — it’s in the works, let’s just say that.”

Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic
Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic