Teen Allegedly Discovered A Lost Mayan City On Google Maps But — Whoops — It’s Probably Just A Corn Field


Last week I went to see Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder had a little rant about the speed of how we process information. We humans, as modern mammals, are processing something like 2000x more information in our daily lives than a healthy human being a hundred years ago. That’s a lot of neural muscle flexing that our great grandparents didn’t have to do.

I don’t even know if Eddie’s rant has an ounce of fact, but it reinforces why it’s healthy to treat Internet headlines with a dose of skepticism. We are bombarded with information that we’ll rush to accept non-truths as facts simply because we want to believe the story is real.

Earlier today Gizmodo aggregated a great story from the French Canadian press. If you’re anything like me, it’s probably blowing up all over your Facebook newsfeed this afternoon.

Here’s the TL;DR: A 15-year-old Canadian student claims he discovered a lost Mayan city in the middle of a jungle on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, he made the discovery by charting constellations and how they line-up with the geographical locations of known Mayan cities. This is something no scientist had ever discovered, yet this kid was able to do it from his bedroom over the course of three years. Via The Telegraph:

“I was really surprised and excited when I realised that the most brilliant stars of the constellations matched the largest Maya cities,”he told the Journal de Montréal.

In hundreds of years of scholarship, no other scientist had ever found such a correlation.

Studying 22 different constellations, William found that they matched the location of 117 Mayan cities scattered throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

I was really surprised and excited when I realised that the most brilliant stars of the constellations matched the largest Maya cities.

When he applied his theory to a 23rd constellation, he found that two of the stars already had cities linked to them but that the third star was unmatched.

William took to Google Maps and projected that there must be another city hidden deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

The Canadian Space Agency agreed to train its satellite telescopes on the spot and returned with striking pictures: what appears to be an ancient Mayan pyramid and dozens of smaller structures around it.

If the satellite photographs are verified, the city would be among the largest Mayan population centers ever discovered.

Pretty damn cool story, huh? Sure, if there’s actually a lost city there. No one will know that until someone goes to the location. But the anthropological community is actually pretty skeptical that it’s actually the site of the next great Indiana Jones tale. Gizmodo posted this follow-up with David Stuart from The Mesoamerica Center-University of Texas at Austin:


Wait… So that’s just an old corn field and not some lost civilization? Damn. Gizmodo contacted another anthropologist, Thomas Garrison at USC, who also rained on the parade saying it’s a corn field that’s been fallow for 10-15 years:

I applaud the young kid’s effort and it’s exciting to see such interest in the ancient Maya and remote sensing technology in such a young person. However, ground-truthing is the key to remote sensing research. You have to be able to confirm what you are identifying in a satellite image or other type of scene. In this case, the rectilinear nature of the feature and the secondary vegetation growing back within it are clear signs of a relic milpa. I’d guess its been fallow for 10-15 years. This is obvious to anyone that has spent any time at all in the Maya lowlands. I hope that this young scholar will consider his pursuits at the university level so that his next discovery (and there are plenty to be made) will be a meaningful one.

It’s pretty cool to think that trill 15-year-olds are out there discovering ancient civilizations. But sometimes you just have to look beyond the headline and take it for what it really is.