The ruins of a 4,600-year-old Mayan city may have been found by a 15-year-old schoolboy.
Willam Gadoury, a Grade 10 student from Quebec, conjectured where the ruins might be found based on his knowledge of Mayan building practices and astronomy.
His interest was first piqued by the way Mayans developed their communities away from water bodies, unlike other ancient civilization such as the Egyptians.
"The Mayans were extremely good builders, but they often built in places that made little practical sense, far from rivers, far from fertile areas. It seemed strange for a civilization that was so intelligent," the 15-year-old teenager said in an interview with CBC News.
Gadoury also realized that the Mayans usually aligned their cities with the position of stars, and so he matched each of the 117 known Mayan cities with constellations using Google Earth satellite images.
He was surprised to find that one of the three stars in the Orion constellation—which holds a central place in Mayan religion and culture—did not align with any city. He then deduced that a city matching the star should be located somewhere in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.
After presenting his theory at a science school fair, Gadoury won a trip to an international conference by Canadian Space Agency, where he got the chance to request images captured by the agency’s RADARSAT-2 satellite.
For CSA project officer Daniel Delisle, the Gadoury’s efforts is something unusual.
“He was very persuasive...This is something we usually do with scientists that submit proposals to us, but since William's proposal was so extraordinary, we decided to support him as we do regular scientists," said Delisle.
The satellite image provided by the space agency would provide additional weight to Gadoury’s theory. However, it now needs ground search to confirm or deny the existence of ruins hidden within the dense vegetation in the area.
“The satellite image just gives us a horizon of information — we really need to go underneath [the forest canopy] to see if there's anything,” Delisle said.
“We are pretty sure that there are some features hidden there … I think there's a high potential of finding a city,” Delisle said.
However, some archeologists doubt Gadoury’s discovery.
"In archaeology, we have been using remote sensing for quite some time, and obviously have some experience in recognizing archaeological features in the Maya Lowlands," archeologist Ivan Sprajc said.
Sprajc, an expert on Mayan culture, claims that the supposed lost city may just be a recently-abandoned cultivation plot.
He also questioned Gadoury’s method of correlating stars with the locations of Maya cities.
"In general, since we know of several environmental facts that conditioned the location of Maya settlements, the idea correlating them with stars is utterly unlikely," he said.
Still, the archeologist praised the young archeoastromist’s efforts.
Gadoury has been invited to write an article for a scientific journal, as well as to attend a national science fair at McGill university and an international conference in Brazil. — Kiersnerr Gerwin Tacadena/TJD, GMA News