Experts question Quebec teen’s Mayan theory

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William Gadoury
William Gadoury, 15, shown in this recent handout image, shot to fame this week with reports he had stumbled on what he believes could be a Mayan settlement in an uninhabited part of Mexico. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Space Agency

MONTREAL – An assistant professor of anthropology at McGill University is cautioning that the work of a Quebec teenager who has possibly discovered a “lost” Mayan city has not been peer-reviewed.

William Gadoury, 15, shot to fame this week with reports he had stumbled on what he believes could be a Mayan settlement in an uninhabited part of Mexico.

The Grade 10 student from Saint-Jean-De-Matha, northeast of Montreal, has been studying the correlation between Mayan sites and constellations for a few years.

Using a map, Gadoury was reportedly able to match 117 known Mayan cities with 22 constellations. But he found that a bright star in a 23rd constellation was missing a city.

Thanks to satellite images from the Canadian Space Agency and help from Dr. Armand LaRocque, a research associate at the University of New Brunswick’s sensing laboratory, Gadoury identified what he, the space agency and LaRocque believe could possibly be a Mayan city near the border of Honduras.

“We saw elements that weren’t natural, the potential bases of pyramids,” said Daniel De Lisle, a project officer with the space agency.

While some experts have expressed skepticism online about Gadoury’s theory and his findings, Dr. Lisa Overholtzer, a McGill University assistant professor in anthropology, believes it is important he be encouraged for his “creative thinking, his focus, for his drive.”

But she said the main issue is that his work has not yet been peer-reviewed.

“I think we can fault sensationalist journalists who, I think in this case, jumped the gun, so to speak,” said Overholtzer.

“What (Gadoury) presented was an idea. It was a hypothesis. It hadn’t yet gone through peer review.”

As for Gadoury’s theory, she said there are undoubtedly many reasons for why the cities were where they were and she doesn’t believe one single reason, like astronomy, can explain it.

According to the University of New Brunswick’s LaRocque, much more research is needed to confirm whether the area is, in fact, a lost Mayan city.

He said an expedition with archeologists could be planned down the line, if more concrete proof is found.

As for the image that’s been making the rounds online and which shows the possible pyramid base, Overholtzer agrees that although it appears human-made, it looks more like a plot of land that was cleared and later overgrown than it does a pyramid.

And she said she does not know if that image is the same one Gadoury used to state his case.

She said one issue with Gadoury’s work is that he doesn’t appear to have consulted archaeologists, who could have made recommendations.

Gadoury’s reported findings have also come in for criticism online.

David Stuart, an anthropologist with the Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas, wrote on Facebook “the whole thing is a mess” and that “the ancient Maya didn’t plot their ancient cities according to constellations.”

Tech Insider reported that Stuart said the square feature which was discovered is “an old fallow cornfield, or milpa.”

Ivan Sprajc, an archeologist and Mayan expert based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, said the rectangle seen on the image is “but an old milpa or cultivation plot, abandoned years ago, but definitely not centuries ago.”