The Teenager and the Lost Maya City

This Canadian teen thinks a lost Maya city is hidden in the Mexican jungle. He’s heading on an expedition to find it.
Available on CBC Gem

The Teenager and the Lost Maya City

Nature of Things

William Gadoury was just shy of 14 when he came up with a wild hypothesis that made headlines around the world. His theory? That the Maya built their cities based on constellations, and according to his research, there should be a missing ruin hidden in the Mexican jungle.

The Teenager and the Lost Maya City, a documentary from The Nature of Things, follows Gadoury on the adventure of a lifetime: a journey to Mexico to find out if he’s right.

Gadoury first became obsessed with the Maya when his grandfather took him on a trip to the great site of Chichén Itzá in Mexico. He pored over books about the civilization, studying every element of its culture. He was especially interested in Mayan astronomy and their relationship with the skies.

One day, while looking at a map of ancient ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula, Gadoury realized the Maya had built some of their cities inland, far from water. This was unlike most other great civilizations of the ancient world. He wondered, what if the Maya mirrored their cities on the constellations they saw in the sky?

For a year, Gadoury painstakingly plotted 22 constellations onto a map of the Mayan empire. He was able to match 117 ancient Maya cities with the stars of the constellations, and even found that the most brilliant stars lined up with the largest sites. It was an amazing discovery.

But one constellation had him scratching his head: Gadoury couldn’t plot the triangle that represented Orion, which was important to the Maya, present even in their creation story. Two of the stars lined up perfectly with the major sites El Mirador and Calakmul. But where another city should have been, aligned with the third star, Gadoury saw only undisturbed jungle.

So he came up with another wild idea: there must be a city there — we just haven’t found it yet.

Gadoury presented his findings at a local science fair; then his project won gold at the Canada-Wide Science Fair at McGill University. He was invited to attend an international geoscience symposium, where he met Daniel DeLisle of the Canadian Space Agency. DeLisle offered to help Gadoury with his project and provided custom high-quality satellite images of the site where the teen thought the mystery city might be. Lo and behold, there was something there: geometric edges on the map that could be the ruins of a missing Mayan city!

Now, years after Gadoury first visited the country that ignited his curiosity and inspired an incredible theory, he heads back to Mexico. Under the guidance of archeologists Francisco Estrada-Belli and Kathryn Reese-Taylor and an expedition team, Gadoury encounters wildlife and soaring temperatures on a 10-day journey into the Yucatàn jungle to find out, once and for all, if his theory is right.