Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Honduran Archaeologists Criticize US Claim of Archaeological "Discovery"

The US team that has been promoting the idea that eastern Honduras is an impenetrable jungle where no archaeologist has gone before has released a new report, based on arriving at one of the sites LiDAR imagery showed.

Unfortunately, they continue to promote the idea that there was no previous research in the area; they use outdated and long-rejected ideas of "discovery" (ignoring indigenous people who contemporary archaeologists would acknowledge have their own knowledge of the landscape and what lies there), "lost cities", and new "civilizations" supposedly previously unknown.

The continued insistence on the narrative of discovery is especially egregious since the group has been told, repeatedly, about the modern work in the area, and has neglected to even contact the very much available expert in the region. It is almost the 100 year anniversary of the work of the first modern archaeologist who identified archaeological traditions typical of eastern Honduras, Samuel Lothrop.

This may be a newly identified site, but with over 200 sites, including large sites with stone architecture and ballcourts documented in the existing archaeological literature, that cannot be verified without engagement with the broader, knowledgeable archaeological community.

And that is precisely what Honduran archaeologists also had to say about the report in an article just published in La Prensa. These are all people fluent in English and Spanish, so a less lazy US news organization might talk to them directly; meanwhile, let's make sure their voices are heard, shall we?

Ciudad Blanca is a myth for Honduran archaeologists

The publication by National Geographic that Ciudad Blanca has been discovered in the Honduran rainforest wakened unease and incredulity in experts in the country.
Since decades ago, scientific expeditions have explored the legend of the lost city in the Mosquitia, discovering that it is a region rich in archaeological building remains, and according to archaeologists that is what the new reporting by the magazine is showing....
It isn't a discovery...
Ricardo Agurcia, noted Honduran archaeologist, questions the possible discovery that would rise to a world-wide level because the investigation team that was formed, he says, is not well known, and nor does he know the institutions that participated and if there are Honduran experts involved. "What I have been able to see has very little scientific merit. What I find strange as well is that news of this type comes out first published outside Honduras".
He notes that what the magazine shows doesn't have the features of the legend mentioned, and it is not unknown that there are many archaeological settlements in the Mosquitia. "What they encountered is a city? A city is archaeologically defined as a site of human occupation with a population larger than 10,000 inhabitants."
"This is verified with field archaeology and registering of houses. Is it white? I don't see it that way in any of the photos."
 "In the legend of the White City (Ciudad Blanca) that I know there should be a monkey statue made of gold. If this is Ciudad Blanca, where is that monkey? I see a lot of tinges of adventure, of Hollywood fils, as it it were from an Indiana Jones movie. That is not science" pointed out Agurcia.
 The Honduran archaeologist Eva Martinez agrees with Agurcia that this does not constitute a discovery and that Ciudad Blanca continues to be a myth.
"The Honduran Mosquitia has been studied by archaeologists for decades. The place that the National Geographic mentions could be one of the sites already recorded in the National Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH)."
The faculty member in the Anthropology major of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras says that the international publication lacks credibility.
"Any archaeological site in the Mosquitia could be given that name. Ciudad Blanca is a myth, a legend. The publication is not an academic investigation and it gives us a mistaken idea of the work of archaeology" she affirmed.
Martinez recommended that the Government should follow the legal and normal process of the IHAH and solicit a proposal for archaeological investigation, since the goal of the fieldwork that [the US institution involved] has, or if this is a preliminary step, is unknown. Before spreading news of a supposed discovery she thinks that the government ought to shield the Mosquitia from the looting of archaeological objects, which has already been happening and could grow.

 Who are these Honduran skeptics? Eva Martinez was the former head of the division of the Institute of Anthropology that is supposed to be responsible for vetting new projects in order to ensure that Honduras' cultural patrimony is properly managed. Ricardo Agurcia is a former Director of the Institute.

Theirs are not the only Honduran archaeologist's voices being raised in protest of the misrepresentation both of the level of knowledge that already exists of their country's archaeological resources, and of the way that Honduran anthropological archaeology-- a discipline that only recently became a university-level major at the National University-- is being ignored. What they have to say is echoed by many others, nationally and internationally.

We have long known there were large cities in the eastern Honduran rainforest. We have long known that there were traditions of sculpture, closely related to those of Nicaragua and Costa Rica and therefore NOT "Mesoamerican" (contrary to what one US archaeologist quoted by La Prensa said). We have even known for decades that many of the larger sites in the Mosquitia include ballcourts-- which was a real discovery, when it was made in the 1990s by Chris Begley as part of his University of Chicago doctoral research, undertaken with the proper approval and support from Honduran archaeologists.

I was challenged for calling the current project "pseudoscience". It may not be pseudoscience as we normally think of it (aliens built the site! it represents the lost civilization of Atlantis! Lucifer fell to earth here!).

But it isn't science either. Science rests on the assumption that each new investigator acknowledges what previous researchers have done, engages with it, and contributes to a growing body of knowledge. In contemporary anthropological archaeology, that process has led us to reject notions of "lost civilizations" and mysterious cities as hype-- what I called the way this team promoted itself in 2012, and still a valid label today. And that process has made it indispensable to leave behind the colonial legacy of archaeology, to acknowledge the contributions of archaeologists from other countries and the knowledge of local people, including but not just limited to those who might be descendants of the indigenous people whose histories we are tracing.

This ain't science, so give me a better work than pseudoscience: adventurism?

see the complete article in Spanish here

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