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INAH rejects teen’s discovery of Mayan city

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William Gadoury may or may not have broken new ground in archaeology.
William Gadoury may or may not have broken new ground in archaeology.

The news that a Canadian teen had discovered an ancient Mayan city hidden in the Yucatán jungle without ever leaving home has INAH throwing cold water on the claim.

William Gadoury, 15, used his own theory about the stars and found online what appeared to be the outlines of man-made structures in Belize.

Gadoury found that the shape of 22 constellations corresponds with the position of 117 Mayan cities. Then he eyed a 23rd constellation which connected three stars, but aligned with only two known abandoned cities. As it happened, the third star lined up with a 118th large city, hidden in Belize jungle.

But an official with Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute told the EFE news wire service that they cannot “endorse the existence of this city or the information presented by this boy.”

INAH said that it is not even “considering” the find, since “there is no scientific basis for it,” despite kudos from NASA and space agencies of Canada and Japan.

Gadoury’s theory lacks credibility because it is not known what scale he was using to match the stars in constellations with the locations of Mayan settlements and temples, said INAH.

The boy, who for years has held a fascination for the Maya culture, said he had noticed that the relative positions of various constellations corresponded to the location of 117 known Maya cities. The constellation-city correlation theory is his own, and he used the alignment of one bright star to point toward a large city that has been hidden under brush for centuries.

Not so fast

Astronomical Society of Mexico president Alejandro Farah told EFE that the link between star positions and Mayan city locations is not “so easy to see,” adding that although media outlets attributed the discovery of the constellation-city link to the Canadian teen, “that’s like saying that (he) discovered hot water,” since archaeoastronomy is a field in which extensive studies have been performed.

INAH is not alone in tempering enthusiasm over the teen’s findings.

“This is an amazing accomplishment which should in no way be under-emphasized, but let’s try to avoid jumping on the hype train for now,” wrote Mihai Andrei at ZME Science.

But the findings lack academic rigor, he asserts, agreeing with INAH.

“First of all, the method isn’t the most scientific one. If you pick a constellation and try to see cities aligned on its pattern, you first need to establish a scale, something which the Mayans would have had trouble with,” said Andrei. “Secondly, Mayans had many cities, and for every city that follows the pattern, there are several others which don’t, even bigger and more important cities. If the density of settlements is large enough, you can find many patterns in it.”

But Andrei praised the youth for his accomplishment.

“The bottom line is, this teenager did something spectacular,”  he said. “He demonstrated remarkable creativity, work ethic and intelligence and may have discovered a Maya site. We should praise him for his discovery and we should attempt to verify the validity of his claims, let’s just not blow everything out of proportions and present the science as it is, OK?”

Anthropologist Charles Golden urged caution in claiming a discovery before verifying it with fieldwork.

“It’s an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence to back it up,” Dr. Golden told The Christian Science Monitor. “It requires a belief that over a period of hundreds of years, people across various areas communicated with one another, and there’s just no evidence to date that this is the case.”

The discovered city consists of 30 buildings and appears to be one Maya civilization’s largest cities. Gadoury named it K’àak’ Chi’, or “Mouth of Fire” in the Maya language.

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