Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Chris Fisher – Modern technology revealing ancient cities and their secrets

Chris Fisher – Modern technology revealing ancient cities and their secrets


– Hi, welcome to Colorado
State University’s President’s Lecture Series,
Community Lecture Series. I’m Rick Miranda. I’m the Provost, Executive Vice President here at Colorado State. And President Frank created this President’s Community Lecture
Series about five years ago, five, six years ago, to
offer an expanded opportunity for people in Fort Collins and
Northern Colorado communities to hear from some of CSU’s most engaged and engaging scholars. Now we’ve had some fantastic
conversations over the years. I’ve been to many of them
myself in the audience. Bill Ritter, former Governor,
now directs our energy at one of our energy centers. Diana Wall, just elected
to the National Academy, Temple Grandin you know, Steve Withrow, Lori Peak, Ajay Menon his lecture, Bryan Wilson who directs
the Energy Institute, Amy Prieto working on battery technology, Robin Reid, Joel Bacon our organist who’s on the other side of campus at a playing the organ right now tonight, and Wayne McIlwraith have all given one of these Presidential
Community Lecture Series. I’m just delighted to see
the room filled tonight. Unfortunately, President Frank
had an unexpected conflict which just arose very
suddenly earlier this week and so he couldn’t be here tonight. So, it– We’re gonna rename it the
Provost Community Lecture Series. (laughter) But anyway, it’s my honor
to be here and to host and to introduce this
evening’s special guest. Tonight’s speaker is Dr. Chris Fisher, Professor of Anthropology
here at Colorado State. And, you know, I, you know,
you take a look at his picture and I’ve been told that
anthropology’s a very exciting thing to do. Now, I’m a Mathematics Professor, so. (laughter) If you like, you know,
hacking through dense jungles infested with deadly snakes
and crocodiles and jaguars and finding lost civilizations, I mean if you like that kind of thing
that Chris has done, okay. That’s fine, but, you know. For me, going into my
office, shutting the door, and staring at the
equations on the white board for of couple hours, that’s
what’s really exciting, so. (laughter) You know, if, but you know,
whatever floats your boat so. (laughter) Chris has been, you know,
explores, his work explores the connections between human
societies and environments through a variety of archeological and earth science methodologies, including geoarcheology,
full-coverage surveys, excavation, remote-sensing techniques that we’ll hear more about tonight. He’s been featured in National Geographic and the New York Times best-selling “Lost City of of the Monkey God,” a book written where his
work’s been featured. Came out last year. Using a radar system called LIDAR, I’m sure we’ll hear more about it tonight, in his research in Mexico and Honduras, Chris was able to map
architectural structures that may never have been
discovered otherwise. It’s pioneering really a
fantastic new technique. He’s found large and
previously unknown cities and uncovered artifacts hidden
from sight for centuries. Truly amazing revelations. And moreover, what makes
Chris really a true CSU ram is his willingness to try a new approach to solve these old problems of
archeology and anthropology. Chris wasn’t content to
spend his career working just one site using old methods. He knew that taking an innovative idea could pay off when he used
LIDAR’s 3-D modeling abilities to map an area that yielded
just incredible findings. And he knew there was a better way and he looked, he took a calculated risk to go try it and it worked. And one last thing that makes
us incredibly proud of Chris, he’s a first generation college student, enrolled as a percussion
performance major originally and then discovered his
passion for archeology. (laughter) Now, why aren’t you on
the other side of campus playing with Joel Bacon? He’s held academic positions
at Arizona State University and Kent State University
before joining us here at Colorado State and we’re
very lucky to have him. Please welcome tonight’s speaker, the archeologist, Dr. Chris Fisher. (applause) – Thank you. Well, thanks everybody for, thank you Rick and to the President and
thanks everybody for coming out on this beautiful evening. I can’t believe anybody’s
here actually and not outside. For those of you that
have read Doug’s book, this is actually T3. City of the Jaguar’s located in T1. This is a picture from T3. We did get into T3. It took us about, I
don’t know, maybe an hour to go 300 meters in this vegetation. So T3 is the location of a city
that’s probably even bigger than the City of the Jaguar. But it’s so rugged and so
nasty and so impassable that I’m not convinced that anybody will ever investigate
it, certainly not me. And, I also wanna point
out that here at T3 walking in this very area, the
Honduran military went back several months after we
excavated in 2016 to T3 to try to investigate it a little further and right in this same
area where I’m walking now, a crocodile came charging
out of this grass and grabbed a soldier by his arm. And apparently, they,
what they told me was, it was a small crocodile. So they were able to
beat it off with their, the butts of their guns
and the soldier was okay and they continued on their way. (laughter) Now, I just wanna make it clear that I wouldn’t have
been walking through here had I knowing that, potentially, there were crocodiles in there. Nobody told me that. (laughter) I also wanna mention
that we’ve just started a new Center for Archeology
and Remote Sensing or we’re in the process of starting it. It’ll be housed in the
Anthropology Department in the College of Liberal Arts. And so if you’re
interested, please stop by and we’ll pull up some
really cool stuff for you on the computer. And of course, I also
wanna mention this book for some of you that– How many people have
actually read Doug’s book? Oh, wow. A lot of people, okay. (laughs) Well, as you know, I’m
mentioned in Doug’s book, “Lost City of the Monkey God,” (whispers) a true story. So if you haven’t picked
it up or haven’t seen it, I definitely encourage you to do that. I think it’s a pretty good read. Now in the 21st century, we’re
supposed to give these talks as if they’re TED talks. And that’s what I’m gonna do. In following the TED talk formula, you are supposed to begin your talk with a personal, captivating story that captures the audience. (laughter) And that’s what I’m gonna do. (laughter) So I normally work in Mexico. And I work in the Lake Patzcuaro Basin, which at the time of
European contact was the core of an Empire that was much
like the Aztec Empire. It’s a heavily, pretty
heavily trafficked area. It’s densely settled today. It’s a major tourist zone. Working in the Patzcuaro
Basin, you would expect to find lots of little sites that nobody
recorded or bothered with, but you wouldn’t expect
to find any big sites. Using World War I technology,
updated with GPS units and using ArcGIS and
other kinds of things, we were performing traditional
archeological survey in 2009, walking across the landscape,
transects of people, lines of people, recording
all of the sites that we saw. We encountered a very large settlement, much larger than we expected, much larger than was supposed to be there, using, based on current models. My graduate students convinced me that I needed to find
an edge of this place, which we now call Angamuco. So, one afternoon, I
grabbed a couple Power bars, some water, I turned off my
radio so the graduate students wouldn’t be able to
get in contact with me, (laughter) and I walked across the landform
that this city occupies. It occupies kind of a
geologically a recent lava flow known locally as a malpais or a badland. I walked for about an hour and
a half across this landform. I got to the other side
and I was like, “Oh.” There were building
foundations all the way across on my little walk across this malpais. “Huh, this is a city. Oh no, it’s a city.” (laughter) So I meandered back and I got back and talked to the graduate students and I’m like, “Well, it
covers the entire malpais.” We thought at that point it
was about 10 square kilometers. We now know it’s 26 square kilometers. And I was like, “Well, this is a city.” And they were like, “Oh
my god, it’s a city! Oh, that’s great!” And they’re like, “Why
aren’t you excited?” And I’m like, “You guys don’t understand.” (laughter) This ups the ante for everything. Before, we were just doing our thing. We’d go, spend our summers
in Mexico, and survey. Now, everybody’s watching because the city isn’t
supposed to be there. And that’s exactly what has happened. After surveying Angamuco for
a couple of field seasons, I realized that I could be doing this for the rest of my career. I’m impatient so I walked down the hall to a colleague of mine, Steve Leese, who’s somewhere in the audience here. Steve’s a geographer, but he’s in the Anthropology Department. We allow some geographers to exist in our Anthropology Department. (laughter) And he’s like, “Have you heard of this technique called LIDAR?” And I’m like, “No, what’s that?” And he’s like, “You should try it.” So I had a little bit of
money left in my NSF grant. We got LIDAR for Angamuco. We tried it. We got it back. It was just a cloud of points. I’m like, “Steve, what in the hell am I supposed to do with this stuff? What are we, what is this even? That’s it? We wasted our money. I’m never gonna get another NSF again. I’m gonna be drummed out of the business.” We worked with the data. We taught ourselves how to use the data. We got our first hill shade. We started making these
kinds of animations and I was blown away. And I realized that that first LIDAR scan, we now have two for Angamuco,
saved me well over a decade of traditional archeological fieldwork in 45 minutes of flying. 45 minutes of flying. Completely transformed my project, completely transformed
the arc of my career, and probably ruined my life. No, no, it probably improved my life. So this is actually what the, this is actually one of the
central areas from Angamuco. You can see that circle and square. That’s a very large pyramid. It’s about 30 meters on one side. All embedded within a completely
human modified landscape. I estimate that at Angamuco, there are about 50,000
building foundations that cover 26 square kilometers, the same number of building foundations on the island of Manhattan. Now, of course, on
Manhattan, they’re in excess of 1.6 million people. The maximum number of people
that occupy at Angamuco at any one time was something on the order of 100,000 people. So most of those building foundations represent single dwellings, normal houses. They’re not the skyscrapers
that you see in Manhattan. But none-the-less, it’s an
incredible number of buildings. So what is Light Detection? So what is LIDAR? What is Light Detection Arranging? It basically operates on
the principle of light. It is like SONAR for the ground. Using some kind of aircraft,
could be a helicopter, could be a fixed-wing aircraft, increasingly it’s becoming drones and it will be drones in the future, you have an instrument on that aircraft. It fires a dense grid of infrared beams down to the earth’s surface. That grid of beams is so dense that no matter what the canopy, and the canopy in Honduras
that we’re about to talk about here in one second is arguably
the densest vegetation that you get in the world. It’s as dense as the Amazon. 50 meter canopy. No matter how dense that vegetation is, some of those beams will penetrate down to the earth’s surface. When they strike an object on the earth, it could be the earth’s
surface, could be a bird, could be a leaf, could
be the top of a tree, could be the back of an archeologist walking through the
forest, returns to a sensor on the aircraft. It gives you a measure of distance. Put all of that together, it creates a cloud of points. It’s not a photograph. It’s a three-dimensional object. By digitally filtering
away that vegetation, we can see things on the earth’s surface with a really high resolution. In Angamuco, we can see
things that are about the size of an ordinary construction brick. In Honduras, because the
vegetation is more dense, the resolution is not quite that high. These LIDAR records are the
ultimate conservation records. They record the earth’s surface and everything on the the earth’s surface in a high resolution. All of that, those data
that I worked so hard to digitally remove, are the careers of many other scientists
that study tree composition, forest composition,
tree density, hydrology, topology, the geology, et cetera. And in that sense, so these LIDAR records, these conservation records are critical to help us understand the
impacts of global warming. And that’s where, that’s
really where this story starts. This is what I call the
conundrum of the 21st century. We have so much left to discover, but never before is our cultural, has our cultural and ecological patrimony been so threatened. We’re experiencing massive
earth system change due to urbanization,
global warming, mining, deforestation, migration, et cetera. We are losing a battle that
we’re ill-equipped to fight, especially archeologists. I mean, let’s face it,
archeologists are not fighters, we’re lovers. (laughter) LIDAR and the tools that
will follow are just one of many things that will allow us to document our disappearing
world for posterity. In this sense, archeology
has finally reached its age of discovery. Our work at Angamuco got a lot of press. And it came to the attention
of a couple of filmmakers, Steve Elkins and Bill
Benenson and Tom Weinberg. They had just flown LIDAR
for three river valleys in Northeastern Honduras. They were looking for
a legendary lost city that didn’t exist because it’s legendary. (laughter) But they did document some
significant archeology. Human features were visible on the data, but they were having
trouble interpreting it. They’d never interpreted
archeological LIDAR before, and frankly, there really
aren’t that many people that are still interpreting
archeological LIDAR. I talked to Steve Elkins
several times on the phone. Steve came to the CSU campus, showed Steve Leese and I the data. I said, “You know, obviously
you’ve got these features here, but it’s all embedded within
a human modified landscape.” There was a lot more things
that were visible to Steve and I because we had, you know, been
working with Angamuco data for so long. Steve Elkins said, “Well,
why don’t you guys, you know, join the project?” I’m like, I don’t know, I’m
really busy and I have a family. You know, I live in Colorado. There’s like lots of nice stuff going on. And okay, I’ll do it. (laughter) Honduras is a really dangerous place. It’s the original banana republic. It’s always been contested. It’s always been on the edge of collapse since the first Spaniards
arrived in the 1520’s. The country’s rugged,
much of it’s inaccessible. And it’s always been a haven for pirates, smugglers, malcontents. It’s possible why I did
so well there, I guess. It’s a center of narco-trafficking
in Central America. There’s significant political unrest. We just had a democratically
sanctioned coup. Don’t exactly know how to
phrase what just happened there in Honduras last year. It has the highest
murder rate in the world. High poverty, migration, et cetera. There are constant attempts on the lives of government officials. Is there anybody from Risk
Management in the room? (laughter) Oh no. (laughter) Well, I’m not gonna say what
the next thing I wanna say. (laughs) The most remote place in Central America is the Mosquitia Tropical Forest Zone of Northeastern Honduras and Nicaragua. Mosquitia refers to the
musketeers of the 19th century. There are plenty of mosquitoes there, but that’s not what it’s named after. And I should also point
out that having grown up in Northern Minnesota, I can tell you that the mosquitoes there are much worse than they were in the
Mosquitia Rainforest. (laughter) Which, well, okay. (laughs) Largest remaining contiguous zone of old-growth tropical forest
left in Central America. It’s often called the Little
Amazon, the Jewel of Honduras. Many unknown species
of plants and animals. It’s critically important ecologically. And it pains me to say it, but the ecology is
potentially more important than the archeology. And in that sense, we
used archeology as bait to help save a rainforest. The Mosquitia has many
international protections. It’s a UN Biosphere, et cetera. There’s zero resources
to be able to implement any of that sort of stuff. It is experiencing
incredible deforestation, most of it for cattle raising. They clear places. They run beef on them for a few years and then they just leave it. They just let it go. Most of that beef is
sold to the United States for fast food. There were buyers there from McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell. This image is not very
clear, but if you look up at the top of the screen,
you can see smoke. That is the nearest deforestation. We’ve just taken off in a helicopter from the City of the Jaguar. That is, that’s how close
the deforestation is to T1, to the T1 valley, to
the City of the Jaguar. This is deforestation from,
again, from the helicopter. This is very recent deforestation. You can see how steep the topography is, how devastating removing
that vegetation is. When you fly over these
things, it’s so sad. It really is like they
just took a giant slice out of the side of the forest. You can just look into that forest. You can’t reforest these areas. When you reforest them, they
turn into something else. Once you remove this tropical
forest, it’s gone forever. There’s no going back. Due to the ruggedness of the
area, we don’t really know about the, a lot about the
prehistory of the zone. It enters a debate generally
regarding how heavily occupied tropical regions such as
Amazonia actually were. We now know that there
were millions and millions and millions of people in these areas at the time of European contact. And I’m one of a handful
of people that believes that most of the tropical
forested areas of the Americas are really nothing more
than abandoned gardens. And there’s no reason
to assume the Mosquitia is any different. And we can actually demonstrate that. There is a long history of
adventuring in the area. It was supposed to be the
location of a legendary city called Ciudad Blanco or later conflated with the lost City of the Monkey God. Much of that is a complete
scam, as was demonstrated, a fraud, as was
demonstrated in Doug’s book. I, the adventuring stuff, I’m a scientist, I’m an archeologist. The adventuring stuff,
frankly, bores me to tears. But if people are interested,
I have a couple slides that I can show you at the,
in the discussion period. The LIDAR data for the Mosquitia
clearly shows two cities embedded within a completely
human modified landscape. One of those cities is
about six square kilometers. That’s T3. One of those cities is about
five square kilometers. That’s T1, the City of the Jaguar. The City of the Jaguar is oriented around 10 very large plazas
with earthen mounds around them and then hundreds of houses
and terraces and other features around those things. Our initial findings were
released to the media at the request of the Honduran government. Honduras is desperate for positive news. It went around the internet
I think about 20 times. We got incredible press
and attention for it. There was an article in the New Yorker. There were articles in the
New York Times, et cetera. There was also significant
backlash and criticism. People said that it wasn’t possible to see what we were seeing. That we were just making it up. LIDAR can’t penetrate a
canopy that is that dense. That what we were actually
seeing, were interpreting as human-generated features
were geological features. These sorts of occupations
weren’t possible in a tropical rainforest. That I was really just a treasure hunter, which is possibly the most heinous insult that you can level at an
academic archeologist. (laughter) And honestly, if I’m a treasure hunter, I’m like the worst treasure hunter ever. (laughter) Just come look at my yard sometime. (laughter) So it was decided that we needed to field verify the results. Sponsored by Bill Benenson
in 2015, we actually went to one of those places, T1, which we now call the City of the Jaguar. Was a logistical nightmare. It was accessible only by helicopter. We had to bring in a helicopter
from San Diego actually. We didn’t even know if
we were gonna be able to land the helicopter so I was trained to rappel out of a helicopter. Thank god, I didn’t have to do that. (laughter) Incredibly dangerous environment. We used an old CIA base, air
base called El Aguacate to, as a forward operating base
to get us into the jungle. And when we got there,
it was truly incredible. (suspenseful music) And I’m gonna turn some of this down now. There was absolutely no
evidence or sign of humans. It’s the only place
I’ve ever been globally where there was no plastic. Animals had no experience with humans. We saw red brocket deer,
monkeys, Baird’s tapirs, bellbirds, evidence of big cats, jaguars, tapirs, which I now and
peccaries, which I now know are white-lipped
peccaries, but at the time I wouldn’t have know the difference between a white-lipped, a red-lipped, a black-lipped peccary. But they’re white-lipped peccaries, which apparently are incredibly rare. And lots of incredible snakes. On the field, we saw exactly what we saw on the LIDAR and more. It was a one-to-one correlation between what we were interpreting
as human features and what we were actually seeing plus a lot of other things
that weren’t visible on the LIDAR data because
of the resolution. At the center of the city,
was a cache of objects, 42 objects that we could
see on the surface. We now know that there’re
a lot more objects there. And here I am yelling at
everybody not to touch anything. My one moment where I’m a
martyr for science, I guess. (laughter) There were 42 objects on the surface. They were ground stone
objects, probably left there as a offering to ritually close the city. They’d lain there for centuries,
possibly since the city was abandoned, we think
sometime in the 1530’s. They are seats of power arranged
around powerful objects. Again, kind of a ritual
closure or ritual ceremony when the city was abandoned. Our results, again, were
released to the media. It was kind of a– and it went around the
internet another 20 times. Along with the backlash,
there was a article in National Geographic Magazine
detailing the discovery. Many other articles,
video, an Explorer episode on National Geographic. Now, based on this work,
there’s a whole bunch of other crazy– There’s a boutique chocolate bar. There’s a video game, two
best-selling books, a documentary, an Explorer episode, and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff all
from this one expedition. As part of the National
Geographic article, we got the full treatment,
which included a reconstruction. And before this, I’d
never really thought about these reconstructions
or how they were done. I thought, oh they give the
artists a bottle of wine and he goes to his D.C.
loft for the evening and then he comes back with a hangover and he’s got the reconstruction. (laughter) That’s not how it works. We went back and forth with these folks for months and months. And this is the only
reconstruction I know of that is based entirely on LIDAR. And here it is. This is actually a
reconstruction of the center of the City of the Jaguar. And, in the process of
doing a reconstruction, you immediately see things that are wrong. That’s the power of these reconstructions is it allows you to
understand what you know and what you don’t know. And that’s exactly what this
exercise taught me at least. A bigger issue was what do
we do about the objects? They were in danger of being looted. And we knew that we had a moral
and ethical responsibility to go back and make
sure that those objects that were most in danger of being looted were shepherded to safety and
that the rest of the deposit was stabilized and protected
and that this was done in a scientific manner. The Hondurans wanted to
remove some of the objects for safe-keeping immediately. And there was a big debate
about that possibility and finally the other archeologists, the Honduran archeologists and myself said that you will not remove these objects, you know, they won’t be removed over sort of our dead bodies,
which was not unlikely given the, sorry, Risk Management. (laughter) So, over a six month period in 2015, I put together almost
half a million dollars in National Geographic,
in Honduran support, along with significant Honduran support from the Honduran military to go back and continue our work at
the City of the Jaguar, focused on protecting the
objects from the cache. In the meantime, the Honduran President, who was deeply involved in
the excavation and the work and he actually, the
President has visited the site I think five times now, six times, left a group of soldiers at
the site to guard the objects. So our goals for 2016 were very simple. Not to excavate all of the
materials from the cache, but just remove those
objects most in danger and stabilize the rest of the cache. Unfortunately, we were too late. In that six month period, some
of the objects were removed, they were brought back, and
the cache was disturbed, a lot of the cache was disturbed. This had to have been done
by the Honduran military, possibly to embarrass the President. We’re not entirely sure. We’re not entirely sure what happened. Possibly, I don’t wanna know because we did find, when
we excavated the cache, a lot of shell casings
and other recent stuff that indicated that there might have been actually some conflict
up at the cache location. But in 2016, we returned
to the cache location. We used Honduran helicopters,
which was done at the request of the Honduran government. They were from Vietnam. They were used in Vietnam. They were low, slow, and dangerous. And as is mentioned in Doug’s book, a door flew off one of
helicopters in flight on one of the flights back. Sorry, Sal, I probably shouldn’t tell you. (laughter) We brought along, I brought
along a team of ex-students and as they asked personnel
to help run the camp and protect everyone, it was a absolute logistical nightmare. The field laboratory was
separated from the excavation. All of the mater– Everybody and all the logistical equipment had to be brought in by helicopter. Everything had to come out by helicopter, including the artifacts. So it was really, really– I actually didn’t spend
much time excavating. Most of my time was spent
on the satellite phone arguing with the Hondurans
about various stuff and trying to make sure
we had water and food and the things that we needed. And then figuring out how
to get the artifacts back. So I’m about to show you just a snippet of a National Geographic did
film while we were in there. This is kind of the lost footage. I’ll show you just a snippet
from the 2016 excavation. So from the cache location, we
were actually able to remove about 400 stone, ceramic, and
other objects systematically. There all, or there’s a spatial
organization to the cache. They were all organized around
critical central objects. It was– Everything was documented
by the Presidents’ Office, by Honduran military, by ourselves. It was like doing archeology
in sort of a fishbowl. It was also a bit of a
logistical nightmare. As I mentioned before,
everything had to be hauled in and out, including tents, et cetera, all of our food and gear. And if you’re wondering how
many Honduran soldiers it takes to set up a giant REI
tent, it’s like eight, plus two pilots to tell them
what they’re doing wrong. (laughter) One of the big tasks that I faced was how to get the objects
down off of this big hill that they were on, down across the river and into the helicopter. And that fall I had just
prepared this lecture for my Archeology of Death, or (in serious voice)
Archeology of Death class which I taught that spring. And I’d done a lecture about Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb and
I’d remembered seeing these devices that he used, these
carriers that he had made. This is actually one of
the wheels from the chariot in Tutankhamen’s tomb. These bearer things that he had made. And so I had the soldiers
make a bunch of them and that’s actually how
we got the artifacts down off of the hill. We used these Rubbermaid action packers. I tried to get them to
spray paint them gold so they’d look like
the arc of the covenant from the first Indiana Jones movie, but that translation didn’t get there. And then everything
was actually flown out. I have one last little
video here that shows the lab and a lot of the artifacts. We curated everything,
washed it, prepped it, stabilized it, basically set it up as if it was a museum. And they’ve now turned
this area into a museum. Fully documented and conserved
everything from the cache. And then everything was
formally turned over to the Honduran government. And it’s all, right now,
it’s all under the protection of the President’s Office
and of the military in a special museum facility that they’ve actually constructed at at El Aguacate, the ex-CIA airbase. Is that a tornado? (laughter) And here you can actually see
one of the Presidential visits to come and actually see the objects. President visited the
site four or five times when I was there. Several other times, that’s
the President exiting the, his aircraft. The President’s very fond of
these Columbia fishing shirts. He wears them everywhere. And that means every
politician in Honduras also wears a Columbia fishing shirt. (laughter) So anytime you see somebody
with a Columbia fishing shirt, you know that they’re
some sort of Honduran emulating the President
and they’re some sort of Honduran person. Why was the city abandoned? Probably due to
European-introduced disease. We now know that nine
out of every ten people in the America’s, indigenous
folks in the Americas, perished from European-introduced disease in the first 50 years or so of conquest. This is an event that we don’t
even have an analogy for. It’s so much severe, say for example, the Black Death of Europe. So for to get it, you know,
to get the proper analogy for this event, you really, we have to, it’s a Steven King, “The Stand” event. You have to turn to science fiction. You know, I’m supposedly I’m an expert. I don’t consider myself to
be an expert in anything, but I can’t wrap my head
around the severity of this of this event. It was so fundamental to what
happened in the Americas. We also conserved the site,
covered it with gravel and stone to preserve it. The President implemented
all sorts of protections based on our work for
the Mosquitia Rainforest. He’s also set up a core of soldiers, they’re known as the Jaguar Soldiers, to protect the forest. They’ve implemented reforestation programs and they’ve also implemented programs that are aimed at halting deforestation. So in a very real sense, archeology actually
helped save a rainforest. We don’t know for how long. But at least it, you know,
worked for a little while. And here’s several times I
had to meet the President and go and to events
at the National Palace. One of these events was in conjunction with the October 2015
National Geographic article. I didn’t wanna go empty-handed so, you know, we figured
out what we could, so I got a ram statue. (laughter) Had the Anthropology
Department buy a ram statue. And I had the front of it engraved. And they’re like, what do, you know, usually we put stuff on here. And I’m like well put
the President’s name. And then well usually it’s
an award for something. Like okay, well it’s the annual
Colorado State University Latin American Conservation Award. (laughter) Which I just made up to
put on, to have something to put on the plaque. So, they put that on the plaque and I went and I picked it up down at
the trophy shop downtown and I looked at it. And I, everything was planned perfectly. I had just enough time to get
to DIA and get on my flight and go to Honduras and put this
thing in my luggage, right? My check. So, I look at the plaque
and they’ve misspelled the President’s name. (laughter) I’m like, oh my god. Luckily, they were able
to fix it right then. But you know, it’s screwed
up so I had to carry this on the flight. So TSA made me take the
bottom of the trophy apart because they wanted to make sure it wasn’t packed with explosives. (laughter) So, this photo up here is in source and that’s all great. And then somebody read the plaque on there and I got a couple people asking me about what the nomination process was (laughter) for the it’s for CSU cons, which (laughs) People, I continue to go to the, people have continued to
go to the T1 location. And this is just hot off the presses. This is just out in the New Yorker. Doug Preston wrote another article. Benenson actually sponsored, paid for Conservation
International to go in and do a rapid ecological
assessment at the location. And we were criticized
by a lot of ecologists for saying that we saw jaguars in there, that we saw tapirs, that
peccaries were running around under our hammocks, you know, that we saw all this amazing wildlife, that the monkeys were so fearless and they looked so different
from the other monkeys that I was kind of familiar with seeing. I mean I’m an anthropologist. I have had to look at monkeys
a few times in my career. Et cetera. They said that places like
that just don’t exist. They don’t exist in Honduras. We were making stuff up. We weren’t seeing what
we were actually seeing. Well, Conservation International called it the most pristine, untouched
place that they’d ever been in the Americas so far. Those are from game cameras. This is the area that we would walk across from our camp to go up to the site. Pumas, jaguars, other cats, huge herds of white-lipped peccaries. They said it was incredible. Species that they thought weren’t present in Central America anymore. The number of species, endangered
species that were there were incredible. The presence of all the
cats really indicates that it’s an untouched place. The spider monkeys have a different color. The spider monkeys and the howler monkeys have a different coloration
and patterning on them that may indicate that
they’re a new subspecies. Some of the Hunduran
ecologists think they might be a new species. And one unknown large species of mammal. We don’t know. It’s something about like a, like a, something like a raccoon. Not a monkey. That’d be awesome. But, so what’s next? Well, my work is continuing in Mexico, but we’re also promoting
big scans in the Americas in threatened areas. And one of the places, I
can’t tell you where it is, but we’re looking for
private money right now to do a big scan. We have permission to do
big scan in South America hopefully this summer. So we’re gonna continue our scanning work and scan, scan, scan as
much as we possibly can. Thank you very much for
sitting through all that. (applause) Do we retire to the chairs? – I think so, yeah. Well, we have some time for some questions from the audience. And there’s a couple of
folks with microphones to come around and anybody
have a question for Dr. Fisher? How ’bout here first? – I’m curious what kind of
temperatures were you in in those jungles? – So it’s, you know, it’s really strange when you’re kind of wet all the time. And it’s fairly hot but,
and I have to preface this by saying I’m cold all the time. Like today, I could have been
wearing a sweater outside. So, most of the time, and you’re
not in the direct sunlight. So, you know, like for
example, when it rains, you hear it raining in the top of the tree and then like 30 minutes
it actually comes down and hits you. I mean it’s really pretty amazing. And actually, in some
instances, it would rain, it would rain and we
would be able to move out, take our time and leisurely
move out into an open area and totally avoid the rain. So that’s how, that’s how much canopy is over the top of you. So I was cold all the time. I wore like a fleece
like most of the time. Unless you walk out into the sun and then you’re like, you know, very hot. So the temperature’s probably
in the high 80’s fahrenheit. But you’re wet and you’re
kinda cold all the time. At least I was.
– You had a question. – So I was actually in your spring 2016 Archeology of Death class. And I remember first two
weeks of class you’re like hey, we don’t have class
’cause I’m stuck in the jungle. Do you have any plans
to go back to Honduras like in the near future or? – So, thank you for
tolerating that.(laughs) So, not to Honduras. It’s just simply too dangerous. The logistical stuff was too dangerous. The risk of getting a tropical
disease is too dangerous. Politically, the country’s
not stable enough. But we’ll continue to work in Mexico and hopefully some other
places in the Americas. So the fieldwork continues. – If you come and the
landscape is almost entirely human modified, which implies
that the old-growth forest is really not old-growth
forest, it’s just 500 years old or something like that, is
there any data to indicate what’s the ecology looked
like before the Indians, if I can use that terms,
occupied the place and turned it into a megalopolis? – Well, I mean, we don’t know. So that’s a really interesting question. And I also wanna be very careful to– I mean, I think all of
these tropical areas are really abandoned gardens. But I don’t think that
devalues the, you know, these places, right? These are as old growth and
as pristine as any place that you have in the Americas, right? So what was the landscape like before people actually got there? I mean, we have some idea about that. Certainly, it’s semi-tropical,
but it was under a very different climatic,
and so, and of course, we don’t know when people got there. Right? Sometime before 10, probably sometime before 12,000 years ago. But that’s a, that date
is a moving target, as many of you know who follow archeology because that date for the
initial peopling of the Americas keeps getting pushed back. So, when people did arrive in the Amazon, and a lot of us think that it was, or Central America and the Amazon as well, and a lot of us believe
that that was fairly early. They were occupying a
landscape that existed in a different climatic regime. So it’s entirely possible in the modern, sort of the last 10,000
years or so, the Holocene, or some people now call
this the Anthropocene, that that, those landscapes
co-evolved with people. And that was the normal
condition for those landscapes. There’s a couple of questions over here. – Could you talk a little bit
about the issue with diseases, tropical diseases and parasites
that you were infected with and encountered down there? If that’s not too difficult, or … – No. So, I was fortunate, I was
unfortunate enough to con, as many of us did, contract a parasite called Leishmaniasis, which is, has a transmission vector
that’s very similar to malaria. So, it’s a protozoa that
spends most of its time in small mammals or the gut of a sandfly. Sandfly’s about half
the size of a mosquito. It’s like a no-see-um. The sandfly, the protozoa
usually, the normal reservoir for it is small mammals. It gets transferred to
the gut of the sandfly when the sandfly bites
the, takes a blood meal from the mammal. That’s where the protozoa has
the best time of its life, in the gut of a sandfly. It fornicates there. That’s where it mutates. It does all its stuff. And then it’s transferred
back into the mammal the next time that sandfly
bites the mammal or whatever. We happened to get in
the way of that process. So, Leishmaniasis
expresses itself in mammals as a skin-eating lesion. So it’s this flesh-eating parasite. So I contracted Leishmaniasis. I actually had a bug
bite that wouldn’t heal, basically, on the bottom of my foot probably from sleeping and
having getting sandflies in my hammock or whatever. The treatment is fairly heinous. You get, you have to
be treated at the NIH. It’s the only place where you can really get effectively treated. They’re the only ones, so far that really know a lot
about Leishmaniasis. And their interested in Leishmaniasis because with global warming,
it’s moving northward. So a less virulent
version of Leishmaniasis than the kind that we got is actually already in Texas, Oklahoma,
probably New Mexico, Arizona. And it’s moving north. So, the United (laughter) Yeah. Exactly. So the NIH is interested in
figuring out how to treat it. The treatment is fairly heinous. You get as many injections
as you can stand of a fat lipid bonded
with a anti-fungal drug, it’s not a fungus, but
it’s effective against it, until you get very sick. Usually when you get your first injection, your body kind of freaks
out because it doesn’t know what this is that you’re putting in it. And you usually get a pain somewhere. I experienced an incredibly
intense pain in my lower back. It slowly migrated up to
the middle of my back. It was the most intensive
muscle contraction thing that I’d ever felt. And it took ’em about 10 minutes before they could get a
little narcotic in my IV and then it kinda went away. I have it on the authority
of the NIH doctors that what I experienced was the equivalent of one quarter of a birth contraction. (laughter) So I can say with the
authority of the NIH doctors that I’m one of the only males
that knows what it’s like to give birth. (laughter) And it sucks. (laughter) – So I was curious, in the reconstruction, it looked like some terraced
areas for agriculture. So I’m wondering if
anyone’s doing any modeling and if you could like reconstruct
what the population was based on the amount of area
that was under agriculture like fields and things like that? – Yeah, so, and that’s a great question. And most of those terraces that were in the immediate reconstruction area were actually habitation terraces. Not that they didn’t have something that would be the
equivalent of like a pretty, archeologically we call them gardens. I think in modern terminology
we might call them like a farm-ette or something. I mean it’s a little more
extensive than a garden. I’ve been very careful. And it is possible, there is a methodology to reconstruct population. Archeologists do that. I’ve been very careful not to do that for the City of the Jaguar because we don’t, we know
so little about that area and we know so little about the prehistory that any number that I throw out is just gonna be fairly erroneous. But I think probably
a fair number would be something between 10
and 15 thousand people. I did just throw out a number. (laughter) – Curious as to your
exploration was very cursory, but were you able to ascertain in any way what the diet of these inhabitants was and possibly anything about the life of the people in general? – Yeah, so these people
probably were what we would, archeologically we would,
so they were eating probably some maize,
but not a lot of maize. It’s not a great maize-growing area. What it’s really, really good for growing is (audio cuts out) cacao or chocolate. And cacao, this is one of the
premiere cacao growing areas even today and I was, I did
mention the chocolate bars. It’s Casanova Chocolates in Florida. They actually are producing
a boutique chocolate bar made from sustainably-grown cacao made by indigenous producers
in that, from that region. And it’s called the
Lost City Chocolate Bar. (laughter) And they’re really good. (laughter) Like you should definitely get one. But probably, mostly what they were eating was probably mantioch and other kind of forest crops like that. Basically a tropical kind of diet. They, archeologically, we’d
characterize these folks as a middle-range society. Some people would say a chiefdom society. So they probably had a number of positions that were ranked. Power was potentially not inherited. But that’s just a guess
because we don’t really know a lot about that, about that region. – I have a couple questions. The first, you were saying
that land was being deforested for cattle and then you showed a picture of a very steep mountainside
that had been deforested. Why would a steep
mountainside be deforested? Second question would be
the ancient communities of Chaco Canyon are interconnected by a intricate trail system. Did you discover any trail
system and would LIDAR be able to discern a trail system? – Yeah, so those are both good, those are both great questions. I had that same question. This is so steeply forested, how could you run cattle up here? What, you know, Why would they do this? But that’s what they’re doing. They’re so, people are so
land-poor and a lot of the– Incidentally, and
something I didn’t mention, is that a lot of the cattle
raising is being financed by narco-trafficantes. So cattle are like a
really excellent way to, in case you’re wondering, cattle are a really excellent
way to launder money. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. And they hire folks that
have no other means of income to go out and deforest these
patches and bring, you know, give them cattle to raise and then they bring the cattle back. And then second question was, I’ve forgotten the second question. Trails, yeah. So there are roadways that
are noted for the area. And in T3, we do think
that we see roadways. They’re probably stone roadways. And there is a reflectance
that you get with the LIDAR. We can measure reflectance
a little bit, intensity. And they have a very different intensity. So we do think that there,
they were stone roadways. But we didn’t see any of
that sort of stuff around T1. But they’re definitely noted for the area and, you know, today you go to this place, you couldn’t be more disconnected
from the 21st century. It’s awesome. There’s no internet. There’s no cell phone. There’s no power. I mean nothing, right? But, you know, in 1500, these people were completely connected to everybody. And that would have been
through a road system. – Several times in the presentation you talked about the incidence
of disease down there and how dangerous it was. How did the indigenous people
survive that in a society and maintain a reasonable economy? – So most of, so they, so the
deadliest thing that we faced was Leishmaniasis. The variety of Leishmaniasis that we have is actually a hybrid
between a Mexican variety and a Panamanian variety. Prehistorically, Leishmaniasis
was present in the Americas. There are even ceramics from South America and from the Amazon that show– And the kind of Leishmaniasis
that we have is mucosal so it actually is, and I
somewhere I have a slide, probably took it out,
but it is a face-eating, flesh-eating, face-eating protozoa. So if it goes untreated,
it will eat the soft parts, like your nose. There are ceramics that show people without parts of their
face from Leishmaniasis. It’s generally not as severe though as the kind that we have. And the incidence of
infection is much lower, like maybe in the 10% kind of range. And it generally results
in some kind of scar. It heals itself after about a year or so. The kind that we got is a mutation between the Mexican variety
and the Panamanian variety. It’s actually a new species. It’s incredibly virulent,
has like a 50% infection rate based on the numbers of people
that went into that place. And it’s really, really aggressive, which is why the NIH kind
of strongly suggested that we get treated
like immediately, right? Since it is a new species, it’s unnamed. So I tried to convince the NIH folks that it should be called
Leishmaniasis fisherensis. (laughter) My reasoning was that if I
was ever at a dinner party or someplace and I was
stuck for conversation, I could just turn to the person next to me and say, “Well, I have
a flesh-eating protozoa named after me.” (laughter) But I don’t think they’re gonna go for it. If it gets a species name,
it’s gonna be hondurensis. But that variety of
Leishmaniasis was not present when prehistoric peoples were there. And it wasn’t, the kinds that were there weren’t as virulent. Also, the normal reservoir
for that Leishmaniasis is small mammals. We don’t know what the
environment was like or what species, what that
reservoir was actually like in the prehistoric period. I think it was much smaller. So I think the prevalence of
that, of the Leishmaniasis was much lower. – Yes. – LIDAR is a pretty good
productive tool to use with new technology. Where do you see LIDAR going? Do you see it evolving
into something different or what would you add to it
to make it more productive? – Well, LIDAR, what’s the trajectory of technological development for LIDAR now is smaller instrumentation, faster processing, and both of those things are resulting in many different kinds of LIDAR. So you can get LI– Eventually, you know, we’ll
be able to put LIDAR on drones and get the kind of resolution we need to do this kind of the work
that we’re needing to do. And the drones’ll have the
kind of range that we need. Once we get LIDAR with
a high enough resolution onto a satellite, that’s
gonna be a huge game changer. But of course, other kinds of LIDAR, terrestrial-based LIDAR and other things, are being used all the time. There’s apps you can
get for your phone now. And the new 10 operating
system has a kind of photogrammetry LIDAR-esque thing that allows you to measure. I haven’t actually seen it yet. I don’t know how it works. And, of course,
self-driving cars use LIDAR. That’s what they’re using to
map the area in front of them. So LIDAR is really, generally speaking, it is fairly transformative. I usually say LIDAR and the
technologies that follow, right, to kind of save myself from. – So I have a two-part
question for you actually. The first is, I was
recently in the Bacalar area of Southern Yucatan and was astounded because I would have
entire afternoons by myself in some of the cities there. And so the first question
is do you have any plans to return to that area? And secondly, do you ever
take, say artists or writers along with you to round out the process? Or not even round out, but to add to it? – So I can’t actually see where you are. If you could raise your hand. There, okay, thank you. Hi. It’s weird. I can see, I don’t where the. I don’t work in the, I
haven’t worked really in the Maya region and a lot
of people are using LIDAR in the Maya region. There are a lot of Maya archeologists. So I don’t wanna compete with them or, so I probably won’t work
in the lowlands at all. Sometimes we do. I took Doug Preston into the field. So Doug Preston’s a writer. So I’m told. But, I haven’t take– Some projects do take artists. We haven’t taken an artist
per se, but I’m not, I wouldn’t discount the fact. We would, the place that
would really be useful for us to have an artist
would be in Mexico when we do excavation. – Actually, I have two questions. Of all the artifacts that
you brought back to Honduras that you left there, what was
the most significant learning you received from
studying those artifacts? Second, both my questions now,
or do you want to just answer that one? And my second question was
does LIDAR work over the ocean? Are they using that in the oceans as well? – So I’ll answer the last one first. There is a shallow water kind
of LIDAR that can be used. And it should be being, for
archeologists, should be for– It has a lot of potential to be used for like shallow water
shipwrecks and stuff like that. And ecologists are actually
using it to study like underwater, shallow underwater
grasses and things like that. It’s kind of in a prototype sort of phase. The issue is any particulate
matter in the water will also send back a signal. So the water has to be
really, really clear, but, you know, as that instrument becomes more sophisticated it will. The main thing we learned
about the artifacts that we were able to excavate
was their spatial arrangement. They were all arranged around artifacts of three different kinds of motifs. There were vultures,
which are the largest kind of power raptor bird in this area, and they’re brilliantly colored. They’re amazing looking animals. And throughout South
America and Central America and even into the Maya region, there’s a lot of vulture iconography. Werejaguar which is like, you know, if you thought a werewolf
wasn’t terrifying enough, there’s the werejaguar. And werejaguar, again, is a common motif that occurs in that same sort of area. These are all big spirit shaman things. And then the third figure
is a little debated. Some people say that it’s
a trickster monkey figure. I actually think that it’s a,
it represents a dead ancestor or a dead person. So you’re tying yourself
to that sort of realm. And those objects were at
the center of the cache and then those seats of power, which some people call metates, they look like buntates, like mono metate from like say Mexico, but
they’re not actually metates. They’re actually seats. And one way that you show
your eliteness in the Americas is by not sitting on the ground. Common people sit on the ground. So elites sit on stools. And those stools are arranged
around those central objects as if that is, you know,
like the last council meeting or the last meeting at that place. And some of those objects
are ritually broken. So, they actually, it’s
like breaking the spirit, desanctifying the city
probably when it was abandoned. – Think we’re coming
to the end of our time. Maybe one more question. – You’ve mentioned a few times
that you’re in the minority in thinking that these
were abandoned gardens. What’s the prevailing thought? – I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand. – You’ve mentioned a few times
that you’re in the minority in thinking that these are
– Oh. – Abandoned gardens. So what is the prevailing thought? – There’s an old trope in anthropology. It goes back to like the 1920’s even that in a tropical environment,
you couldn’t support a true civilization because
all of the energy is held, all of the energy in that
system is held in the biomass. The soils are, tropical
soils are typically very thin so they can’t really support. The thinking was that they can’t support like a large population, right? Once you remove the vegetation,
once you remove the biomass, you’ve taken all the
energy out of the system. So there are a lot of people that believed until fairly recently actually
that you couldn’t have a true civilization. You couldn’t in tropical environments, which of course we now know
is completely absurd, right? Angkor Wat, the Maya, I mean, what’s happening in the Amazon, even the Mosquitia work. So if you have those large populations, how do you support ’em? And that has, there’s
a whole line of inquiry in archeology of people
that actually look for those ancient agricultural features and those managed engineered landscapes that those things are embedded in. And earlier in my career, the
pre-LIDAR phase of my career, which sounds silly, but
there is pre-LIDAR phase, when I did my dissertation. That was all focused on a lot of that human environment kind of connection. So there’s a school of
people that is growing that is suggesting that
all of the Americas was completely engineered like that. And increasingly, any place people look or any place that people, you know, when they pursue that line of inquiry, they find these incredible
engineered environments. – Amazing. Well, thank you very much, Chris. – Thanks. (applause) Thanks everybody.

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