Jan 10 - The curse of the Monkey God? Man finds lost city and gets face-eating illness

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Jan 10 - The curse of the Monkey God? Man finds lost city and gets face-eating illness

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Is this the 'curse of the Monkey God?' American author finds lost city deep in the Honduran rainforest - only to get mystery life-threatening illness that could have made his FACE fall off

-A team of explorers, including author Douglas Preston, went in search of the city in the Mosquitia rainforest
-City was abandoned in the 16th century after residents thought invading Europeans were a curse from a god
-The dense jungle and mountainous terrain of Honduras made it impossible to find the city for centuries
-But the team used laser tech in a plane to 'see through' the forest canopy and map out the ground below
-They then began a perilous hike through the forest, combating venomous snakes and harsh environments
-Eventually they found the city - attracting interest from the Honduran President and scorn from some locals
-Critics said the city was sacred and taking items of interest away was disrespectful to its former inhabitants
-After returning, half the team found they were infected with a flesh-eating illness, but were treated for it

Curses might not be a concern for scientists, but when you're exploring the rainforest ruins of a fabled city whose citizens fled because the 'gods' had cursed them with agonizing diseases it pays to be wary.

That's what a group of explorers and archaeologists discovered when they set off into the 20,000-square-mile-deep rainforests of Honduras and Nicaragua in search of the fabled 'Lost City of the Monkey God'.

The expedition fought off venom-spitting snakes and crawled through dense woodland to find the city - but the jungle had the last laugh, as they were forced to f!ght off a grisly, life-threatening illness, CBS reported.

Lost: Somewhere in the valley of T1 (pictured), on the Honduran side of the Mosquitia rainforest, lies the lost 'City of the Monkey God', which was abandoned in the 16th century - but the dense foliage and mountains make it hard to explore

Explorers: Author Douglas Preston (front) formed a team including archaeologist Chris Fisher (rear), to find the city, which was said to have been evacuated after disease and slavery brought by Europeans led residents to believe they were cursed

The story begins some time in the 16th century, when the inhabitants of the city - also known as 'The White City' - fled, believing it had been cursed.

In reality they were suffering from an invasion by European settlers, who brought with them the twin horrors of disease and slavery.

For hundreds of years, explorers had hoped to rediscover the crumbling former metropolis and the items that its citizens had left behind when they fled.

But it was lost somewhere in 20,000 miles of Mosquitia rainforest, which straddles the border of Honduras and Nicaragua, and the search defeated even the most valiant hearts.

In fact, it has remained one of the last scientifically unexplored places on Earth.

That is, until now.

Author Douglas Preston and explorer Steve Elkins - bankrolled by documentary filmmaker Bill Benenson - used high technology to locate the mysterious city.

They employed laser imaging equipment installed in an old Cessna Skymaster plane to scan hundreds of miles of jungle in just days, zapping 'through' the tree cover to map the ground below.

That information was then used to create 3D computer models that could point the intrepid heroes towards their goal - which is exactly what it did, uncovering rectangular structures, one with a perfect right angle.

'They were either man-made or the world's most intelligent gophers were out there, doing things they'd never done before,' Benenson said.

Foiled: Previous explorers including William Duncan Strong (his 1933 journal pictured) have been foiled by the dense foliage and proliferation of deadly creatures. This time, however, the team had technology on their side

Scanned: They flew a light aircraft over the jungle, using a laser to 'see through' the flora to the ground below. That's how they discovered evidence of a number of artificial buildings (pictured as red blocks), including what was once a pyramid

'Well, I knew we found a city, an ancient city,' confirmed Elkins, who had attempted to find it before, in 1994. 'That I knew. But what it was, beyond that, that was up to the archaeologists to figure out.'

They brought in Colorado State’s Chris Fisher, who noted the site was 'very, very important' for the region.

But to find out what it actually was, they would have to forget the planes and head there on foot - a risky prospect that took three whole years to plan.

Not only did they have to contest with the thick foliage and uneven terrain, the team also risked illness, injury or worse from the wildlife there - as they discovered when a deadly fer-de-lance snake squirmed into their camp.

Andrew Wood, an ex-SAS soldier and jungle warfare expert, nabbed the beast - but it still posed a deadly threat.

'He pinned the snake,' Elkins recalled, 'but the snake exploded at that point into an absolute fury of striking everywhere, squirting venom, streams of venom across the night air.'

It was behe@ded and strung up to a tree - a trophy for the team, and a warning to other snakes who might decide to drop by.

Danger: This deadly fer-de-lance snake snuck into the camp and began squirting venom once caught. Its head was strung up as a trophy - a symbol of the many dangers to be found in the rainforest

Discovery: The team were on the site of the city for a day before they discovered this carving, believed to be of a snarling jaguar, on the ground. The city's residents had left behind their homes and all their items when they fled

Eventually the team found the city, but the flora was so dense that it was impossible to see even the foundations of a massive pyramid that once stood there.

It was only when they found carvings the next day that they realized they had found the 'cursed' city.

'Someone said, "Hey, wait a minute, there’s some weird stones over here,"' Elkins recalled.

'And we all came back and the first thing I saw was a jaguar head coming out of the ground, carved in stone, snarling.'

The find was so exciting that the Honduran President removed the first artifact himself - causing complaints from some who said the area was sacred and should have remained untouched.

And perhaps the Monkey God agreed.

Carvings: On his first foray into the jungle to find the city in 2004, Elkins discovered these carvings on a rock, deep in the jungle. They showed a man planting seeds - a sign that a major farming civilization once existed in what is now thick foliage

Excavation: Archaeologist Anna Cohen excavates stone vessels, one of which has a figure of unknown origin. Theories include the possibility that is a corpse bound for burial, a captive waiting sacrifice, or a half-monkey-half-human deity

Important: The discovery of the city was such an important find that it attracted President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras (right, talking to Elkins), who took the first artifact from the site - attracting criticism from some

Because even after the team left the rainforest, they realized several of their number had taken something with them: Leishmaniasis, a ghastly parasite spread by sand flies that wreaks gruesome havoc on the human body.

'The parasite migrates to the mucous membranes of your mouth and your nose, and basically eats them away,' Preston explained.

'Your nose falls off, your lips fall off, and eventually your face becomes a gigantic, open sore.'

Elkins and Benenson managed to escape infection, but around half of the team were not so lucky, and had to undergo treatment.

Side-effects from some drugs used to treat the horrendous parasite can include vomiting, cramps and neurological effects.

And the threat of that disease - and the other manifold dangers of the rainforest - will be keeping the team away from the site for the foreseeable future.

'It's just too dangerous,' Preston said. 'And just getting in and out is dangerous.'

The Monkey God will keep its secrets for a little while longer, it seems.

Gruesome: Half the team came down with Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease from sand fly bites (pictured), that can cause faces to rot off. They were all treated, but the dangers of the jungle are keeping them from further archaeological work
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