For nearly 100 years, Indiana Jones-like expeditions have trekked deep into the jungle to find the fabled site, which was rumored to contain a giant buried statue of a monkey. They never have.
More recently, search crews turned to the Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at the University of Houston to survey a spot where they thought ruins might be found. And they found … uh, well, they found something.
"Archaeologists surveyed and mapped extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid belonging to a culture that thrived a thousand years ago, and then vanished," National Geographic reported in 2015.
"The team," the article said, also found a "remarkable cache of stone sculptures that had lain untouched since the city was abandoned."
Was this la Ciudad Blanca? Well, look, like I said above, it was something, right? And isn't that enough?
"The expedition confirmed on the ground all the features seen in the lidar images, along with much more," National Geographic noted. "It was indeed an ancient city. Archaeologists, however, no longer believe in the existence of a single 'lost city,' or Ciudad Blanca, as described in the legends. They believe Mosquitia harbors many such 'lost cities,' which taken together represent something far more important — a lost civilization."
Colorado State University archaeologist Christopher Fisher, who was part of the expedition, told NPR that as much as people might want the White City legend to be true, it's not. But that doesn't mean that what the crew found in the Honduran jungle wasn't important.
"The White City myth is fascinating, but it is just that — it's a myth," Fisher said. "What we actually found was a lost city. It's not Ciudad Blanca. I don't think Ciudad Blanca actually exists."
That 2015 National Geographic article detailed some of the findings at the site:
The tops of 52 artifacts were peeking from the earth. Many more evidently lie below ground, with possible burials. They include stone ceremonial seats (called metates) and finely carved vessels decorated with snakes, zoomorphic figures, and vultures.The most striking object emerging from the ground is the head of what Fisher speculated might be “a were-jaguar,” possibly depicting a shaman in a transformed, spirit state. Alternatively, the artifact might be related to ritualized ball games that were a feature of pre-Columbian life in Mesoamerica.
But it's also important to note that same article also drew the attention — and ire — of other scholars, who in a letter accused the team featured in the piece of exaggerating what it had found and ignoring the knowledge of locals.
"Far from being unknown, the area has been the focus of many scholarly and popular works, including two Master’s theses, one doctoral dissertation, two popular books, two documentary films, numerous articles and presentations, and a series of booklets recently published by a Honduran newspaper," the letter stated.
It continued: "Furthermore, mentions of a 'vanished civilization' are especially offensive given the likelihood that the people responsible for the ancient remains were the ancestors of living indigenous people who have not 'vanished' despite genocide, disease, and ongoing injustices."
The Post's Peter Holley took a closer look at the "lost city" and the tensions surrounding the much-heralded discovery last year.
His headline: "Scientists find stunning ruins in the Honduran jungle — and anger other scientists in the process."
Fisher, the Colorado State University archaeologist, told Britain's Guardian newspaper at the time that he was baffled by the backlash and noted that his team never presented the site as the White City.
“We never said it’s Ciudad Blanca or the city of the lost monkey god,” he said. “The articles aren’t scientific papers though, and we don’t deny that local people might have knowledge of these sites. But the area was unoccupied and relatively undisturbed after all these centuries.”
All the coverage and attention apparently helped lead to the excavation project that was announced by Hernández.
"The rest of the world is talking about us and the White City in tourism terms and we want to put that in the context of the new infrastructure we are building — highways, airports, ports," he said in his speech, according to the BBC. "We need to be ready to take advantage of this great opportunity."