Prominent Mayan academics were quick to dismiss news reports that Canadian teenager William Gadoury had discovered a lost Mayan city the experts had somehow overlooked. These academics claimed satellite photos accompanying the article showed an abandoned corn field not a city. Yet geologist Armand LaRocque who is working with Gadoury says the critics are barking up the wrong tree. LaRoque says the satellite image the critics call a corn field is not, in fact, the location of the lost city and is unsure where this image originated or how it became associated with their claims.
The controversy erupted soon after media outlets around the world announced Gadoury’s discovery of the lost Mayan city by using star maps. One of the most prominent Mayan researchers to criticize the claims was Dr. David Stuart. Ironically, Stuart was himself something of a teenage wunderkind when he helped decipher the Mayan glyphs used to write their language. His work led to a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984 when Stuart was only 18 becoming the youngest person ever to receive the award. He was featured prominently in the documentary Breaking the Maya Code along with his mentor, Linda Schele, another outsider who made important contributions to Mayan scholarship.
Stuart responded to press reports of the teen’s discovery by roundly criticizing it as “junk science.” He stated on his Facebook page:
“This current news story of an ancient Maya city being discovered is false. The whole thing is a mess – a terrible example of junk science hitting the internet in free-fall. The ancient Maya didn’t plot their ancient cities according to constellations. Seeing such patterns is a rorschach process, since sites are everywhere, and so are stars. The square feature that was found on Google Earth is indeed man-made, but it’s an old fallow cornfield, or milpa.”
LaRocque responded to Stuart’s and others’ criticisms by noting the satellite image that accompanied the original news stories was not the site they claimed was the lost city. LaRocque told TechInsider.com, “We do not know where this image is coming from but surely not from us.” LaRocque noted their site is located in Mexico not Belize as the faulty satellite image showed.
Stuart noted that he was not trying to criticize the teenager but instead the “irresponsibility of ‘experts’ who sought the media exposure.” It now seems this same critique could be used against Stuart himself. Instead of waiting for the research to be properly published in a scientific journal before commenting, as is proper protocol within Academia, Stuart and other academic critics used their status as “experts” to attempt to debunk the claim as reported in popular press accounts and publicly embarrass the researchers associated with it. It is well known that press accounts are not always the most reliable sources, as this case proves, thus the rush to judgment by Mayan “experts” seemed unwarranted and ill-conceived.
All that is known for sure is that a 15-year-old Canadian boy has presented a hypothesis that the Maya located their cities according to star maps. This same teen then tried to test his hypothesis by working with space scientists and geologists to help locate the site of a suspected lost Mayan city using satellite imagery. This is not “junk science” but is, in fact, the very essence of the scientific method. The only unscientific part of this story is the attempted public smack down of a 15-year-old kid by supposed “experts” who should have shown more restraint and professionalism.
Ultimately this controversy will only be resolved once scientists either validate or invalidate Gadoury’s claims by on-the-ground investigations.