Five mysterious ‘lost civilisations’, and how we unearthed them

Airborne laser scans find Mayan ‘megalopolis’ under the jungle in Guatemala

This year, archaeologists unveiled an incredible discovery – a lost city of up to 60,000 buildings, buried for centuries beneath the Guatemalan jungle.

The buildings, ranging from pyramids to fortresses, were spotted from aircraft, using billions of LIDAR pulses, and are set to rewrite the history of the Mayan civilisation.

But lost cities and ancient civilisations aren’t always unearthed by new technologies: sometimes it is sheer luck, or one dogged explorer obsessed with the idea.


Here’s five lost cities and civilisations which were unearthed around the world… and how we found them.

Turkey’s underground city


An ancient, multi-level city which housed 20,000 people was discovered by sheer chance in Turkey after a local man knocked down a wall in his basement while renovating.

Behind it was a mysterious secret room, part of a network of tunnels extending up to 200 feet beneath the city.

The underground city of Derinkuyu is thought to date from up to 800 years BC, carved into the soft rock.

Such refuges were big enough for horses, and were often used to shelter locals from invaders, or during the religious wars which ravaged the region.

Some of the cities in the area were connected to others by lengthy tunnels.

The Lost City of the Monkey God

The Lost City of the Monkey God

It might not be filled with half-human, half-monkey creatures, as legend suggested, but the story of this Honduran lost city is like something out of Indiana Jones.

The so-called ‘City of the Monkey God’ was supposedly sighted by explorer Theodor Morde in 1940 – but he never revealed its precise location, and later committed suicide.

Morde was told by Honduran Indians that the city’s Monkey God had fathered half-human children in the jungle.

A 2015 expedition into the area found ancient ruins, and a scientific study in 2017 used LIDAR to identify what appears to be an ancient city.

Explorers used a Cessna Skymaster plane and laser imaging equipment to pinpoint the city, before beginning their dig.

Researchers have found 52 sculptures at the sites, including what is described as a ‘were-jaguar’, a half-human, half-animal figure.

The 11,000-year-old statue with an ‘encrypted’ message

An incredibly ancient wooden idol found preserved in a Russian peat bog in 1894 carries what experts describe as an ‘encrypted message’ from a lost civilisation.

The Shigir Idol, found in a Russian peat bog, has been dated to 11,000 years ago, and contains a code no one can decipher.

The Shigir Idol is twice as old as the Pyramids and Stonehenge and is by far the oldest wooden structure in the world.

Professor Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archeology said: ‘The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.’

Britain’s Atlantis


Dogger – beneath the North Sea – is described as ‘Britain’s Atlantis’ – and was swamped by rising sea levels when ice melted seven millennia ago.

But now hi-tech sonar mapping is revealing its secrets, and scientists, working with oil companies, have tested samples from the sea floor.

The area was covered by water, erasing the lives of the Stone Age Britons who lived there, but scientists are now piecing together details of their lives.

Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Bradford said in 2015, ‘As conditions got warmer, there was a period of just a few thousand years when large areas of Europe’s continental shelf were recolonised by Stone Age humans.

‘Warmer temperatures melted vast quantities of ice which caused very substantial sea level rise which in turn gradually drowned the most populated parts of the newly recolonised land.

‘Because these areas of continental shelf became sea, they have been inaccessible to archaeologists until now.’

The castle beneath the lake

Lake Van

Researchers in Turkey were searching a lake for a mythical monster in 2017, when they found something much bigger – an ancient castle half a mile long.

The castle lies under the waters of Lake Van, and was uncovered by Tahsin Ceylan, from Van Yüzüncü Yıl University.

Ceylan said, ‘There was a rumour that there might be something under the water but most archaeologists and museum officials told us that we won’t find anything.


It’s thought to be from the Iron Age Urartu civilisation, which dates from between 90

Huge Underwater Castle With Ancient ‘Fairy Chimneys’ Discovered at the Bottom of Turkey’s Lake Van

0BC and 600BC.

Ceylan said, ‘Many civilisations and people had settled around Lake Van

‘They named the lake the ‘upper sea’ and believed it had many mysterious things. With this belief in mind, we are working to reveal the lake’s ‘secrets’.

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