The Teenager and the Lost Maya City

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1 x 60 mins

“Quebec teen might have found lost Maya city.”

William Gadoury was 15 years old 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 they saw in the sky — so based on his research, there should be a missing Maya city hidden in the undisturbed 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 after his grandfather took him on a trip to the great site of Chichén Itzá in Mexico. He pored over books about the Maya civilization, studying every element of their culture. He was especially interested in Maya astronomy and their relationship with the skies.

One day, while looking at a map of the ancient Maya cities on the Yucatán Peninsula, Gadoury realized that the Maya built their major cities inland, far from the coast and away from rivers. This was unlike most other great civilizations of the ancient world.

He looked up and wondered, “What if the Maya mirrored their cities on the constellations they saw in the sky?”

Over a year, Gadoury painstakingly plotted 22 constellations onto a map of the Maya empire. He was able to match 142 stars to ancient Maya cities, and even found that the most brilliant stars in the constellations matched the largest Maya cities. It was an amazing discovery.

But one constellation had him scratching his head.

Gadoury couldn’t plot the triangle that made the base in the constellation of Orion, an important constellation to the Maya, present even in their creation story. Two of the stars lined up perfectly with the major sites of El Mirador and Calakmul. But where the third star indicated where another city should have been, Gadoury only saw 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 science fairs across Canada. His project won gold at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. He was also invited to attend an international geoscience symposium, where he met Daniel DeLisle, an agent with the Canadian Space Agency. DeLisle offered to help Gadoury with his project. He provided custom, high quality satellite images of the location of the mystery city. Lo and behold, there was something there: geometric edges on the map that could be the ruins of a missing Maya city!

Now, years after Gadoury first visited the country that ignited his curiosity and inspired an amazing theory, he’s heading back to Mexico. Under the guidance of archeologists Francisco Estrada-Belli and Kathryn Reese-Taylor andan expert expedition team, Gadoury will journey deep into the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula. They’ll encounter wildlife, illegal loggers and soaring temperatures on a 10-day journey into the jungle to find out, once and for all, if his theory was right.