A Canadian teenager has discovered a lost Mayan city by comparing ancient Mayan star charts and modern satellite images in his bedroom, proving yet again that most scientific discoveries begin life as ‘kooky’ conspiracy theories dismissed by the mainstream.
15-year-old William Gadoury, from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec, had a theory that Mayan cities were laid out to mirror the constellations and there was still one major city left to be discovered – a theory he was told was nonsense by mainstream Mayan historians.
However the teenager wasn’t convinced by the received wisdom. Using ancient Mayan star charts and modern satellite images of the Yucatan Peninsula, he made the extraordinary discovery.
The new city, found deep in a Mexican jungle, is thought to be the fourth largest Mayan city and contains a pyramid and thirty large buildings. It has been named K’ÀAK ‘CHI’ which means Mouth of Fire.
The revelation went viral after news of the findings was posted on Reddit – with hundreds of commentators amazed by the teenager’s discovery.
His hobby eventually turned into serious research. The imaginative youngster theorised that the locations of Mayan cities might correspond to stars in Mayan constellations. He analysed 22 Mayan star maps from ancient books (known as the Madrid Codex), and overlaid the star positions onto Google Earth images of the Yucatan Peninsula. He was able to show that the 117 Mayan cities did indeed match the star positions, with the brightest stars representing more major cities.
William then overlaid a 23rd constellation, finding a discrepancy; three stars but only two known ancient cities. The location corresponding to the third star was on the Mexico-Belize border. But the as-yet undiscovered city was covered in thick vegetation, making his findings inconclusive.
Thankfully, the teenager had a close relationship with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) – he had won a science competition a year earlier for his theory – and they had already been providing him with images from their RADARSAT-2 satellite, which has cutting-edge terrain mapping abilities. They gave him images of the new location.
He also scoured the internet for other satellite images from 2005, when a fire had engulfed the area leaving it more exposed – and any remains more visible.
Armed with his images, he then collaborated with Remote Sensing expert Dr. Armand Larocque from the University of New Brunswick. By studying the satellite images and applying digital image processing a fascinating discovery was made; LaRocque concluded that the 15 year old had found a major city with 30 buildings and a large pyramid.
His findings have been met with widespread praise, with scientists from the Canadian Space Agency describing his work as ‘exceptional’. They also presented him with a medal of merit.
So what next for William? He plans to go to the International Science Fair in Brazil in 2017 to present his findings. He also hopes that archaeologists will visit the site very soon. On the possibility of an archaeological dig, Rocque is realistic, telling The Montreal Journal “It’s always about money. An expedition’s costs are horribly expensive”.
Regardless, William’s legacy will almost certainly be etched into history. According to reports, the findings are soon to be published in a scientific journal, and it is thought that methods similar to his could lead to the discovery of more lost Mayan Cities.