New Website for Chris Fisher

Posted on 02. Jan, 2017 by Christopher Fisher in Cuidad Blanca, Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, News

New Website for Chris Fisher

Chris Fisher has a new personal page with updated content regarding talks, career news, and other musings. Check it out here

Plos One article on the Mosquitia

Posted on 25. Aug, 2016 by Christopher Fisher in Cuidad Blanca, Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, Publications, archaeology

We just published much of the Mosquitia data in Plos One – check it out here

Media FAQ for the UTL Mosquitia, Honduras project 2015

Posted on 18. Mar, 2015 by Christopher Fisher in Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, archaeology

Media FAQ for the UTL Mosquitia, Honduras project 2015

(Image, David Yoder, National Geographic)

[first posted on 03/08/15]

Please note: an official letter from the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH) in support of the project appears at the end of this post.

Media FAQ: Under the LiDAR Expedition – February 2015

Over an 11 day period in February, 2015, an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and other scientists explored and documented a remote valley in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. Over the next few years, the team will be analyzing and publishing its findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

In addition to the upcoming scientific publications that will result from this expedition, the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH) and the Honduran President asked the team to announce its findings immediately. They did so through a short news article written by Douglas Preston, with photographs by David Yoder, and posted on the National Geographic website. The online post highlights the important history, ecological richness, and cultural importance of the Mosquitia region.  Honduran officials wanted especially to shine a global spotlight on this highly endangered area, with the goal of protecting it as a vital part of the country’s ecological and cultural patrimony. This is crucial because, at the present rate of deforestation and looting, this valley is estimated to be reached (and therefore plundered) within six to eight years. With over a million views in less than two weeks, the response to this news article has been overwhelmingly positive. The following section presents a FAQ about the project and initial results while appropriate academic materials are being prepared.

What was the purpose of the 2015 expedition?

The purpose of the expedition was to survey and record what appeared to be large, undocumented settlements (“cities” as defined anthropologically) in a remote valley in the Mosquitia. The settlements were first identified in a 2012 light detection and ranging (LiDAR) survey of the area conducted by the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM) and  the University of Houston for Under the LiDAR Productions (UTL) with the approval of IHAH. (The May, 2013 issue of the New Yorker Magazine carried a comprehensive article on this discovery, written by its archaeological correspondent, Douglas Preston). None of these settlements had been documented in academic publications, in unpublished project reports, or in any other documents present in the IHAH archaeological archive maintained in Tegucigalpa. Prior to the first airborne survey of 2012, IHAH’s then head of cultural patrimony was consulted in 2011 in order to avoid areas with already registered sites. The sites were not in the Honduran Government database of cultural patrimony.

Who sponsored the expedition?

The expedition was sponsored by UTL and the Honduran government with additional support from NCALM/University of Houston and Colorado State University. It included Honduran and American archaeologists, anthropologists, engineers, and other scientists. It was conducted under the auspices of IHAH, directed by Virgilio Paredes Trapero, with the assistance of the Honduran military and the President of Honduras. All relevant permits were acquired.

Who were the scientific personnel on the expedition?

The expedition included Honduran and American archaeologists from leading universities and organizations, an anthropologist (to analyze the broader cultural context of the site’s material culture and to continue ongoing ethnographic analysis among the indigenous groups of the Mosquitia), two ethnobotanists (to make observations of plants important to indigenous people, especially plants that might be a “legacy” from the time of human occupation), and a LiDAR engineer with a portable Terrestrial Laser Scanner (TLS) provided by Riegl USA to NCALM to document any finds in situ. A full list of expedition personnel appears below.

What did the team find?

Through the 2015 fieldwork the team was able to verify much of the initial 2012 LiDAR findings around one of the larger settlements, as well as document many features not visible in these data by verifying a sample of the overall LiDAR data.  Through this work the team demonstrated that these settlements were embedded within a human-modified landscape that includes roads and paths, water control features such as reservoirs and canals, possible river channel modification, and agricultural terraces.  This research adds a new chapter to an existing body of evidence demonstrating that the Mosquitia region was densely settled in the past. A pristine, undisturbed, and important cache of 52 ground-stone objects was located and documented both photographically and using the TLS scans to create a 3D image of the cache with a resolution of 1cm or better, without a single object being disturbed. No excavations were undertaken; everything was left in situ.

What does this say about LiDAR technology?

The multi-level tropical forest of la Mosquitia represents some of the densest vegetation cover in the world. The UTL project demonstrates that LiDAR can penetrate even this heavy vegetation cover to produce meaningful results.  In many respects this represents the ultimate demonstration of this technology, which was used for the first time to explore an unknown region for archaeological features.  It also means that many areas of the world for which little archaeological data exist due to heavy vegetation, rugged topography, or other limitations can now be mapped and explored to record global patrimony and develop preservation plans.

What are the ecological implications of this work?

Though the focus of the UTL team to date has primarily been on the archaeology of the study areas, the implications for the ecology of the region are just as important.  The LiDAR record generated by this project includes a comprehensive, three-dimensional, database containing extensive information about the vegetation hydrology, topography, and geology within the regions investigated.  This constitutes an extraordinary compendium of data that will prove invaluable for the eventual conservation of this region.

What permits and permissions were obtained?

All relevant Honduran legal regulations were strictly followed and the appropriate permits were obtained from IHAH.  No excavations were allowed, and all care and respect was taken to leave the sites as they were found with the goal of returning for long-term systematic investigation by an international research team that will include Honduran researchers and students.

Were Honduran researchers included on the team?

The 2015 field team consisted of seven scientists including two Honduran researchers in lead roles on the project.  Oscar Neil Cruz, who is the lead archaeologist for IHAH and who has worked in the Mosquitia region, collaborated with the team throughout the duration of the project and participated in the ground verification efforts and the archaeological interpretation of ancient settlements.  Juan Carlos Fernández-Díaz is a LiDAR researcher with NCALM and the University of Houston.  Dr. Fernandez has played an important role in the project from the initial LiDAR acquisition in 2012 to the ground verification efforts of 2015

Have these sites been documented before?

The settlements documented through LiDAR and verified by the 2015 fieldwork do not appear in academic publications and have not been mentioned in project reports and other documents present in the official IHAH archaeological archive maintained in the Honduran capital city Tegucigalpa.  Importantly the sites have not been previously registered with the Honduran Government in its database of cultural patrimony.  Neither the ruins nor the surrounding rainforest showed any evidence of recent human habitation or intrusion.

Were local people, or evidence of modern people, present at the locations investigated?

The specific area investigated is a pristine tropical wilderness with no evidence of modern human settlement, roads, agriculture, pathways, or other presence.  This doesn’t rule out the possibility that indigenous hunters have occasionally accessed the area, but no clear evidence of their presence was noted by the research team.  Botanists who were part of the team concur with these findings.  This is also consistent with the 2012 LiDAR results which clearly show no human-generated clearing, deforestation, or other intrusion.  To be able to tread lightly in this tropical wilderness was a privilege that has been acknowledged by every member of the team.  By contrast, the team’s ethnographer, Dr. Alicia M. González, met with members of local indigenous Miskito and Pech communities. The overwhelming concern voiced was about the impact of deforestation on their lives, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on the rivers:  “Se están secando los ríos porque cortan los arboles y se van los animales porque no tienen comida, y hay menos pescado.” (“The rivers are drying. They cut the trees and the animals leave because there is no food and there are less fish.)  Dr. González also worked with several Honduran special forces soldiers who are Pech, Miskito, Garifuna and Tawahka who were being trained to safeguard the Biosphere. The valley we investigated is approximately 75 kilometers from the nearest indigenous Pech village.

Are the settlements documented through LiDAR and ground verification the legendary la Ciudad Blanca?

At no time in any print or media venue has any member of the team declared that any of the settlements that we have been able to document correspond to the place known in Honduran oral tradition as “La Ciudad Blanca” or that has been popularized outside of Honduras as the “Lost City of the Monkey God”. The news article on the National Geographic magazine website made the point: there are many lost cities.  However, the importance of this place called ‘Casa Blanca’ as part of the intangible national heritage of Honduras, and particularly of the indigenous peoples of La Mosquitia, has never been negated.

How have team members recognized previous academic work within the Mosquitia?

In our scholarly work dealing with the Mosquitia region, we applaud and recognize the contributions of previous researchers, both local and foreign.  Since 2012, this includes two peer-reviewed academic publications and papers presented at four academic conferences in the United States, Honduras, and Europe.  All of this work includes extensive bibliographies with scholarly citations as vetted by the peer-review process.  It should be recognized that the short news announcement by Douglas Preston posted on the National Geographic magazine website on March 2nd is not an academic piece, and as such does not include citations.  In his longer 2013 New Yorker article on the project in May of 2012, to which the news piece visibly linked, Preston included significant sections on previous work, along with interviews with many scholars engaged in research within Honduras.

What is the current ecological status of the Mosquitia region?

The Mosquitia Biosphere is clearly endangered.  From 1990 to 2005  37.1% of Honduran forest cover was destroyed due to illegal logging and deforestation – largely for beef production.  In 2011 the reserve was placed on the UN danger list at the request of the Government of Honduras as a result of “Illegal settlement by squatters, illegal commercial fishing, illegal logging, poaching and a proposed dam construction”.  In the two years since our three areas of investigation were documented using LiDAR, illegal clearing and deforestation has approached within 12 miles of one valley, and has decimated the floor of a second.  Ancient settlements now visible in recently cleared areas of the biosphere are presently undergoing looting and damage.   Undoubtedly something must be done to stem the tide of this loss.

What has been the Honduran Governmental response to our work?

After the announcement of the initial LiDAR findings in 2012 former president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa created an archaeological preserve to help protect the cultural patrimony of the region.  On 03/10/15 President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado announced that the Honduran Military will set up a formal protection zone around critical areas of the Mosquitia preserve to initiate efforts to stop deforestation.  Additionally Honduran officials will begin a program to reclaim some areas lost to deforestation. This includes protections around the zone visited in 2015 along with other archaeological sites known to be in the region.  Virgilio Paredes Trapero, current director of IHAH has stated that international resources are necessary to further protect the extended Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in which the valley we investigated in 2015 is embedded.

Recognition of this official call for assistance is signaled by a formal statement from the United States Senate floor made by Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont that included the following:

“President Hernandez’s commitment to preserve these archeological sites from looters and other criminal activity, and to protect the broader forest area by replanting the jungle and countering deforestation, deserves our support.  I look forward to working with the Government of Honduras on how the United States may be able to assist its conservation efforts.”

These announcements signal official Honduran Governmental and International recognition that the Mosquitia is endangered and a new willingness to engage in efforts at preserving the important ecological and cultural patrimony of the region.

What do we envision as the preferred outcome of our work?

It must be emphasized that the ultimate goal of our work is to highlight the rich cultural and ecological patrimony of this endangered region so that international cooperation and resources can be brought to bear to help initiate effective conservation.  To lose the rich ecological and cultural patrimony of la Mosquitia to deforestation and associated land perturbation would be a global loss.  We are convinced that this sentiment is shared by the many current and past researchers who have worked in the region. The team urges those archaeologists and others concerned about Honduras and its unique cultural patrimony to please join us in this crucial effort, which will take the synergy of collaboration and goodwill among all involved.

We hope our colleagues will realize the enormous contribution and attention that this project has brought, not only to the academic community working in the area but to the people and government of Honduras, and we hope that together we will be able to foster and encourage greater academic research in the area.

To this end the UTL team members propose an academic workshop on the current status of ecological and archaeological work within la Mosquitia, along with future directions for conservation and action, to be held in 2015.  Colorado State University has generously offered to host this meeting on the Fort Collins, Colorado, USA campus.  Christopher Fisher ( will be the point person for this inclusive conference.

Project Personnel:

Mark Adams, Sound Mixer

Bill Benenson, UTL Scientific L.L.C. Filmmaker

Maritza Carbajal, TAFFS Local Fixer

Anna S. Cohen, M.A., ABD, Anthropology, University of Washington.

Steve Elkins, UTL Scientific, L.L.C. Filmmaker, Project Lead

William E. Carter Ph.D., Professor and Senior Research Engineer, National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, University of Houston

Oscar Neil Cruz Castillo, Lead Archaeologist, Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH)

Mr. Josh Feezer, AC/Media Manager

Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz Ph.D., National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, University of Houston

Christopher T. Fisher, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology, Colorado State University

Alicia M. González, Ph.D., Independent Anthropologist & Ethnographer, formerly, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian

Sparky Greene, UTL Scientific, L.L.C. Filmmaker

Stephen Leisz Ph.D., Associate Professor of Geography, Colorado State University.

Ian Matheson, TAFFS Expedition Coordinator

Mark Plotkin Ph.D., President, The Amazon Conservation Team.

Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Ph.D., Biologist, Professor, National University of Costa Rica

Douglas Preston, Writer, National Geographic Magazine

Lucian Read, Director of Photography

George Rossman, Ph.D. Professor of Mineralogy, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology

Michael Sartori M.Sc, National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, University of Houston

Ramesh L. Shrestha, Ph.D., Director National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, University of Houston

Abhinav Singhania M.Sc., National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, University of Houston

Stevie Sullivan, TAFFS Expedition Coordinator

Dan Thompson, Ph.D. Archaeologist, formerly Director of Global Projects at The Global Heritage Fund

Julie Trampush, Production Manager

Tom Weinberg, Adjunct Professor, Media Ecology, Columbia College, Chicago

Andrew Woods, TAFFS Expedition Coordinator

David Yoder, Photographer, National Geographic Magazine

Media Contact: Maggie Begley/MBC

Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont Advocates For The Mosquitia

Posted on 18. Mar, 2015 by Christopher Fisher in Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, News, archaeology

Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont Advocates For The Mosquitia

Today United States Senator Patrick Leahy advocated for the preservation of the ecological and cultural patrimony of the Mosquitia.  Reacting to President Hernandez’s recent announcement for increased protection in the area, Leahy stated in part

“President Hernandez’s commitment to preserve these archeological sites from looters and other criminal activity and to protect the broader forest area by replanting the jungle and countering deforestation deserves our support. I look forward to working with the Government of Honduras on how the United States may be able to assist its conservation efforts.”

Read the full statement in the Congressional Record.

Map from Global Forest Watch

New protections for the Mosquitia as a result of our project

Posted on 15. Mar, 2015 by Christopher Fisher in Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, archaeology

New protections for the Mosquitia as a result of our project

[Photograph by David Yoder, National Geographic]

The president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández will take steps to safeguard the ecological and cultural patrimony of the Mosquitia region. Read the full article on the National Geographic website.  A great example of how archaeology can take a lead role in preserving cultural and ecological patrimony.

Photograph by David Yoder, National Geographic

Colorado Public Radio interview with Chris Fisher on the Mosquitia Project

Posted on 10. Mar, 2015 by Christopher Fisher in Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, archaeology

Colorado Public Radio interview with Chris Fisher on the Mosquitia Project

Here is an interview that I did with Ryan Warner from Colorado Public Radio about our recent work in Honduras.

Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic

Chris Fisher discusses Mosquitia work on National Public Radio

Posted on 10. Mar, 2015 by Christopher Fisher in Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia

Chris Fisher discusses Mosquitia work on National Public Radio

Please listen to Chris Fisher interviewed by  Morning Edition‘s Renee Montagne on the recent UTL  visit to one of the sites documented using LiDAR in 2011.  More information can be found here on the UTL project media FAQ.

Photograph UTL productions.

New Honduras Work Reported in National Geographic

Posted on 02. Mar, 2015 by Christopher Fisher in Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, archaeology

New Honduras Work Reported in National Geographic

Please see the piece in National Geographic Magazine online by Douglas Preston on our  recent work in the Mosquitia

Photograph by David Yoder.

Ancient cemetery at Angamuco

Posted on 05. May, 2014 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, LiDAR, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, Uncategorized, archaeology

Ancient cemetery at Angamuco

From ‘Today’ published by Colorado State University

Link to the press release

FORT COLLINS – The sublime sounds of a jingling rattle silenced for more than 500 years helps tell the story of an ancient civilization in western Mexico and ties together more than seven years of discovery by a team of researchers led by a Colorado State University archaeologist.

University of Bordeaux Graduate Student Sandra Damas excavating a burial from Angamuco

The copper and bronze rattle was discovered in an ancient cemetery by Chris Fisher, associate professor of anthropology, and a team at Angamuco, a pre-Hispanic city in the Mexican state of Michoacán and associated with the ancient Purépecha culture of western Mexico. Fisher’s team also discovered the complete skeletal remains of 37 individuals and many partial burials of both genders ranging from infants to adults.

“The discovery of this mortuary complex provides a unique lens through which we can examine changes in health, status and well-being during a period of rapid social change that is associated with the formation of the Purépecha Empire,” Fisher said. “This is the key to putting all of this research together – like almost eight years of survey and excavation. It’s a representative sample of the population that can be dated and examined, so it really completes our view of this ancient civilization and the occupation of the site.”

Ceramic vessels, copper-arsenic alloy

rattles and other artifacts found with the burials indicate the cemetery dates primarily to the middle to late Postclassic period (A.D. 1000-1520).  Hear a soundfile of one of the rattles here.

Late Postclassic copper-arsenic rattles - probably for a 'rattle-stick' - from the cemetery at Angamuco

“This is a period of reorganization and social change on the cusp of the late Postclassic Purépecha Empire,” said Fisher, project director. “Individuals recovered represent an impressive cross-section of the ancient Purépecha population at the city during a period of dramatic social and environmental change.”

The discovery of the cemetery provides new insights into the funerary practices of the ancient Purépecha. The burials were discovered within a large plaza dominated by a traditional Purépecha keyhole-shaped pyramid and associated large altars. Most of the burials – numerous incomplete skeletons, along with evidence of cremations – were discovered in “flexed” positions either in formal small tombs or in pits.

“Many of the remains exhibit pathologies and stress indicators consistent with social stratification and possible environmental change,” said Cinthya Cardenas, lead bioarchaeologist and a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatán (UADY). “The minimum number of remains documented at the Angamuco cemetery this season – including complete and partial inhumations – represents 61.”

University of Washington graduate student Rodrigo Solinis-Casparius oversees excavation at Angamuco

Though the contents of the ceramic vessels discovered during excavation are in the process of being systematically tested at least one contains the remains of small fish. The excavations are part of “Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin Archaeological Project,” which is a long-term multidisciplinary effort to understand the development of complex societies in the region.

Angamuco was first documented in 2007 by the Legacies project and has undergone over three years of intensive ground survey that has documented over 7,000 ancient buildings and landscape features. In addition Fisher, with Colorado State University Geography Professor Stephen Leisz, used ground-breaking LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to help map the city from the air. The LiDAR survey revealed more than 20,000 architectural features and a highly organized city that is far more complex and included more people than previous research in the region has suggested.

Contemporaries, rivals of Aztecs
The Purépecha were contemporaries and rivals of the Aztecs in central Mexico. The Purépecha were considered the most advanced metalsmiths and created some of the finest crafts in Mexico. Like the Aztec, the Purépecha Empire was destroyed following European occupation in the early 1500s.

Excavation in front of an altar at Angamuco

The ancient city, which covers more than 12 square kilometers, is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, four hours northwest of Mexico City.

This work is part of “Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin Archaeology Project,” a long-term program of research by archaeologists, geologists and geographers from the United States and Mexico that is funded by a grant to Fisher and Leisz from the National Science Foundation, a grant to Fisher from the National Geographic Society, and private donors. The Legacies project is based at Colorado State University and the Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos (CEMCA) in Mexico City.

Chris Fisher Invited Speaker at the Tower of London for the CyArk 500

Posted on 30. Sep, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in Cuidad Blanca, Honduras, LiDAR, Mosquitia, News, Technology, archaeology

Chris Fisher Invited Speaker at the Tower of London for the CyArk 500

The CyArk 500 Conference

Chris Fisher, along with Steve Elkins – UTL, Juan Carlos Fernandez – NCALM,  and Virgilio Paredes Trapero – Director of IHAH, will be speaking on October 20-22 at the Tower of London on results and implications from the Mosquitia Honduras project.  At this event CyArk will formally launch the CyArk 500 Challenge to digitally preserve 500 cultural heritage sites within the next five years.  As part of their long-standing mission CyArk hopes to save these cultural heritage sites digitally before more are ravaged by war, terrorism, arson, urban sprawl, climate change, earthquakes, floods, and other threats. There isn’t enough money or enough time to physically save every site, but CyArk wants to use 3D technology to digitally save these sites to make them available for generations to come.

Should be a great venue to showcase our LiDAR efforts