Cinematographer Steve Elkins announced last week that by using LiDAR (light detection and ranging), he discovered "what appears to be evidence of archaeological ruins in an area long rumored to contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca." The phrasing "lost city" is problematic, however: it's hard to lose a city when the city itself is a myth.
The mapping project, conducted over 40 hours split between seven flights during April and May, was led by Elkins' group, UTL Scientific. Participants include the thriller writer Douglas Preston, who is the former editor at the American Museum of Natural History. The project took place in conjunction with the government of Honduras with the help of technicians from the National Science Foundation's National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping and professors from the University of Houston.
The LiDAR survey covered the history-rich northeastern Mosquitia region of Honduras. They overflew the area, sending "25 to 50 laser pulses per square meter—a total of more than four billion laser shots" to the ground, according to the University of Houston, and capturing differences in elevation of as little as four inches. This process can look underneath forest canopies, producing a 3D map of areas in hours or days that an overland, machete-hacking expedition might take years to do.
The UTL survey employed an Optech Gemini Airborne Laser Scanner aboard a Cessna 337 Skymaster plane overflying 923 square kilometers at a height of 600 to 1,000 meters above the ground. According to UTL, 4 billion LiDAR "shots" were fired at a pulse rate of 125KHz.
Modern, high-intensity LiDAR is a recent innovation. The first archaeologists to use it to startling effect were Arlen and Diane Chase at Caracol in Belize, mapping more ground in four days, they said, than they had in their previous 25 years of exploration of the area.
Chris Fisher, as we detailed in a previous article, used it to extend the breadth and establish the importance of the Purepechan city of Sacapu Angamuco in western Mexico.