In a story that keeps on getting weirder, a scientist familiar with the Mexican region where a Canadian teen claims to have discovered a lost Maya settlement says at least one of these features is either an abandoned cornfield—or a marijuana operation.
Ever since we and other outlets published the story yesterday about a Canadian teen, William Gadoury, who used star maps to triangulate the position of a lost Maya city, a number of experts have claimed it’s anything but. Consensus is that these rectangular green features—which were observed in satellite images—are actually relic milpas, or abandoned corn fields. Trouble is, none of the experts we talked to actually visited the site, leaving the true identity of these objects a mystery.
We’ve now heard from an anthropologist from the University of California San Diego’s Mesoamerican Archaeology Laboratory who’s actually seen this area with his own eyes. “We’ve visited them, and my grad students know them quite well,” explained Geoffrey E. Braswell to Gizmodo. “They’re not Maya pyramids.”
Braswell and his colleagues are familiar with this remote part of Mexico because they’re collaborators on a German-Mexican archaeological project near the area, one led by Nikolai Grube from the University of Bonn and Antonio Benavides from Insitituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.
One of the images (above in the banner) shows two rectangular features on the southeast edge of a dried seasonal lagoon. Braswell says it’s the Laguna El Civalón in southeast Campeche, Mexico (located at 17o 56’ 42” N by 90o 10’ 0” N). He says the pair of features are not Maya pyramids, but rather small fields filled with weeds.
“They’re either abandoned cornfields, or active marijuana fields,” he told Gizmodo. Intriguingly, marijuana operations are common in the area.
The second image shows a small seasonally dried patch of swamp about 1,640 feet (500 m) north of the Laguna El Manguito, also known as San Felipe (located at 17o 53’ 44” N by 90o 6’ 35” W). Again, not an ancient pyramid, but there is an interesting colonial archaeological site nearby.
“I personally recognized it just by looking at the image, and then by confirming it on Google Earth,” said Braswell. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know that one.’”
The key issue with this kind of remote sensing, says Braswell, is what’s called “ground truthing.”
“You look at images from space and God knows what they are—you have to go there and see for yourself,” he said. “Nine times out of 10 it’s nothing, every once in a while it’s something. But by pure luck we’ve actually been there, and [so have] many members of the German-Mexican project that we’re a part of.”
Importantly, archaeologists have been exploring these areas since the 1930s. In fact, these vast stretches of jungle in the Yucatan have been photographed from the air for decades, including contributions from none other than Charles Lindbergh. “It’s been known for quite some time,” said Braswell.