Received to review via Netgalley
The problem with books like this is that they can come across as way too sensational, and like they’re stirring up a story about a non-event. I was a little hesitant to read this because of that, plus a lot of issues which the book actually discusses, like colonialism and looting, etc. In the end, it’s a well-written and reasonably unsensational account of an admittedly fairly sensational discovery: a city in Mosquitia abandoned without visible signs of strife sometime after the Spanish invaded South America.
It’s a city hidden in thick jungle, and the book highlights the methods used to find it. Lidar, and boots on the ground. Despite the precautions they’re told to take, the team still struggle with the unique dangers of the jungle: extremely venomous snakes, biting ants, parasites… and even, perhaps, a hunting jaguar. About half of the team come down with leishmaniasis, a parasitical disease which, in the worst cases, can eat away at skin and even bone — this months after they all leave the jungle and escape, as they think, scot free. They have to be treated with cures that are almost as bad as the disease, and some of them may never quite be the same again.
But they find a city — two, in fact. They find a cache of buried objects which seem to be ritually destroyed, in a way seen in cultures across the world for items accompanying burials and rituals. And Preston suggests a theory for why the city was abandoned, which may someday find support from those very parasites half the team struggled with. He covers not just the archaeology, but also the skills the team utilise, the challenges of the site, and even a lot of detail on leishmaniasis. Warning: do not google pictures.
It’s an interesting narrative, and from my limited knowledge of archaeology, Preston describes a rigorous and careful expedition. I’d love to see the actual scientists, archaeologists and locals commenting on this, though, rather than a writer. Or as well as a writer! The more the merrier.