The Lost City of the Monkey God public lecture and book signing

Friday, October 20, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:30pm

Behavioral Sciences A101

THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD is narrative nonfiction at its most compelling: a story of adventure, danger, ancient curses, modern technology, a stunning medical mystery, and a riveting eye-witness account of one of the greatest discoveries of the twenty-first century. Douglas Preston not only guides readers through the story of the actual discovery of a lost civilization, he also provides an incredibly rich tapestry of historical, economic, social, political, and environmental context for the discovery, adding immensely to ongoing discussions about:

  • The tense relationship between technology and the archeological community: This discovery launched a heated debate within the archeological community about whether or not finding something using advanced technology – as this expedition did using lidar to scan the dense jungle in 2012 – devalues the discovery. The argument is based on the importance of ground-truthing, but even though there was a second expedition in 2015 to verify the site, some archeologists suggest that the involvement of lidar diminishes what could easily be considered one of the greatest discoveries of modern times.
  • What is the acceptable level of danger in the pursuit of discovery? Two thirds of the ground-truthing team contracted an incurable and life-threatening illness on this expedition. Due to the incredible dangers involved in this discovery, the US team will not be returning to the site, despite several members having spent the last 20 years working towards the discovery, and having finally found a previously unstudied civilization. There is an ethical line when putting people in danger, but how much risk is acceptable when a truly remarkable opportunity to learn and study is at stake?
  • Why do certain diseases get research funding? The complex issues surrounding medical research funding, its relationship to poverty, and the new ways diseases can spread in the modern world, which greatly increases the risk of massive epidemics. If an illness, like Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis, is primarily found in impoverished areas, where pharmaceutical companies do not stand to make much profit on a treatment, the funding to study the disease is basically nonexistent. But in the modern age, when an uncommon disease is only a plane ride away from finding a new population and starting an epidemic, it’s hard to argue that any life-threatening illness is unworthy of study.
  • Living with an incurable illness and what journalists sacrifice for a story: Douglas Preston was one of the members of the team that contracted Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis or 'white leprosy,' and was promptly entered into a National Institutes of Health medical study for this incurable illness. The 7-day treatment to manage the illness is more aggressive than chemotherapy and left him feeling more ill than he ever had in his life for several weeks afterwards. But Preston maintains it was the greatest adventure of his life. To tell a truly amazing story, journalists often take incredible risks with their own safety that are often unrecognized by their readers – is it worth it? 

Ownership of vs. responsibility for cultural heritage: Honduras is one of the poorest economies in the Americas, struggling to protect their national resources against deforestation, clear-cutting and drug trafficking. This discovery is in the heart of the Honduran jungle, but if the Honduran government can’t protect the site from looting, does the international community have a responsibility to try to preserve this important discovery for study and posterity?

Douglas worked as a writer and editor for the American Museum of Natural History and taught writing at Princeton University. He has written for The New Yorker, Natural History, National Geographic, Harper's, Smithsonian, and The Atlantic. This is Douglas’ only Colorado appearance with Christopher T. Fisher.

Christopher is an archeologist, National Geographic Explorer, and Professor of Anthropology at Colorado State University. Chris has performed fieldwork throughout Latin America, Europe, and North America. Recent work has focused on the use of remote sensing technologies to better understand the causes and consequences of urbanism and environmental change in both Mexico and Honduras.

Anthropology Graduate Student Society Department of Anthropology School of Global Environmental Sustainability The Africa Center
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