Some of the most remote places in the world are covered by jungles. This thick and dense vegetation only makes extraordinary discoveries harder to find. Still, some brave explorers manage to venture into the undergrowth and have found some incredible things. From ancient structures to unusual creatures, here are the Top 10 Most Extraordinary Jungle Discoveries.
In the center of Sri Lanka, near the town of Dambulla, lies the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. This extraordinary jungle discovery stands 660 feet high- clearly visible above the jungle canopy.
It is a site of historical and archaeological significance to the area. The massive column of rock was apparently chosen by King Kasyapa, of the short-lived Kassapa Kingdom, as the site of his new capital city at some point between 477 and 495 CE, and his palace was built on top. The insides were decorated with colorful mural paintings.
And a gateway in the shape of a lion was built on a plateau about halfway up the side. This is where the place got its name- literally translating as Lions Rock.
The Palace was abandoned after the King’s death in 495. However, it continued to be used as a monastery until well into the 14th century. It was re-discovered in 1831 by Major Jonathan Forbes of the British army while he was traveling home. It soon became of interest to archaeologists. Today, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a popular tourist attraction for those brave enough to scale the steep stairs. It’s even featured in the music video “Save a Prayer” by Duran Duran in 1982.
9. World’s Largest Cave
The Vietnamese jungle is an unforgiving place. It is the site of some of the densest vegetation on earth. But for those that search deep enough, there’s some wonders to be found. In 2009 a British team of explorers went to a site that was originally discovered by a local in 1991. They managed to prove that it was the largest known cave in the world.
It’s called Hang Son Doong, which means Mountain River Cave. It’s an enormous structure within the PhongNha-Ke Bang National Park. The original man who found it said that no one had ever entered because of the extreme wind a noise that came out of it as a result of a large underground river. The team had the unenviable task of trekking through the jungle for 6 hours to get to it, and traversing two underground rivers before they could even get to the main passage.
But it was worth the effort. They spent 5 days there to explore. After which they determined that the cave was at least 4 miles long and, in some places, as tall as 650 feet high. It’s big enough that it has it’s own climate inside. Further expeditions have been planned to fully understand how vast the formation is. It just goes to show that virtually anything can be hidden under the cover of the jungle.
8. Rafflesia Arnoldii
This plant has the largest known individual flower of any species in the world. They are found across Southeast Asia but are quite rare because of their unusual way of growth. Rather than having roots or leaves of its own, this is actually a parasitic plant that lives inside a host- usually the Tetrastigma. For most of its life it lives completely unobserved, deep within the stems and roots of its host. When it’s time to pollinate, the flower buds burst through the host’s bark and begin to bloom.
They can grow to as big as 3.5 feet in diameter, weigh up to 10 pounds. Their flesh is a vibrant reddish-brown with white spots. As well as being the largest flower in the world, it’s also the most pungent. The foul odor attracts carrion flies and they get the pollen stuck on their backs before transporting it elsewhere. It’s thought that only damaged roots of a new host can serve as entry points for a Rafflesia Arnoldii to take hold. This lifecycle means that it takes all its nutrients from the host plant. So it has no need for leaves of its own- making it the only known land plant that doesn’t photosynthesize.
7. Two Lost Cities in Honduras
Deep within the jungle of Honduras, there are untold treasures waiting to be found of ancient civilizations. It’s such an unforgiving and dense place that people rarely have the chance to see what’s hidden within. But modern technology has opened up a whole new perspective. In 2012, an aerial survey spotted signs of ancient ruins beneath the canopy. So a team of archaeologists, guides, and local special-forces went to investigate this extraordinary jungle discovery.
What they found was evidence of two lost cities. Data gathered by infrared beams showed that the landscape had been modified by humans, with orchards, gardens, crop fields, roads, and paths
There were stone structures, very similar to those built by the Maya. However, these were remnants of an entirely different civilization. Very little is known of the people that once lived in Honduras. This discovery will go a long way to help uncover the truth. More than 52 different artifacts were found- including intricately carved bowls, and stone sculptures that combined human and animal features.
It’s thought the city was abandoned in the 16th century because the inhabitants thought it had become cursed by a disease. While this could have been the illnesses that Spanish explorers brought with them, the researchers working on the site in 2016 contracted a nasty tropical disease that eats away at the face.
One thing they noticed was how many monkeys there were around the site, and how they had had very little interaction with humans, practically treating them as they would other primates. This has led to speculation that the ruins were of the legendary lost city of the monkey god, where an expedition in the 60’s supposedly found a tribe that worshiped a Simian deity.
6. The Boiling River
In the Peruvian Amazon, there lies geological features unlike anything seen anywhere else. Simply known as the boiling river, the temperatures of the water are extreme for a four-mile stretch. It reaches up to 80 feet at its widest, and 16 feet at its deepest.
Now there are certainly other hot rivers on the planet, but this one is unusual. Normally such phenomena are seen around volcanic areas, but the nearest one is more than 430 miles away. Along with the boiling river, there are two other much smaller ones called the Salt River and the Hot river, which both have similar unexpected temperatures.
It gets its heat from nearby hot springs, which fill it with a constant supply of both boiling and near-boiling water. There are also a number of thermal waterfalls along it, one of which drops 20 feet into a thermal pool.
While this may all sound quite therapeutic, the river has proven to be a death trap for local wildlife. Animals that fall into it are boiled almost instantly- cooking from the inside out as they try to escape the waters.
According to the leader of a group of scientists who discovered the river, “The first thing to go are the eyes. Eyes, apparently, cook very quickly. They turn this milky-white color.” It seems like this is yet another river in the Amazon where you’d be best not going for a swim!
5. El Mirador
First discovered in 1926, El Mirador, which means “The Watcher”, was once the capital city of the Maya. In its prime, about 300 BCE, its population is thought to have been as much as 250,000 people who pooled their resources to construct massive buildings. It’s built around the La Danta Temple, which is one of the largest known pyramids in the world at 236 feet tall. It is an incredible site with numerous other pyramids, structures, and carved rocks.
It’s in the jungle of Guatemala, and was only fully explored in the 60s and 70s when detailed maps and surveys of the area took place. They found that the Maya had transformed the area to allow it to sustain such a large population. Normally the soil of jungles lacks any nutrients, because they’re all absorbed by the abundance of plant life. However, by digging up thousands of tonnes of mud from the surrounding swamps, they were able to create mud-covered terraces that were ideal for growing crops. When this ground had run out of nutrients, they simply needed to add an extra layer of mud and were ready to start again.
By the year 150 the site, as well as other similar settlements in the area, was abandoned. Just prior to this a large wall was constructed around the Northern, Eastern, and Southern parts of the city. This led historians to believe there was a big threat at the time which, ultimately, led to the Maya leaving.
Today, the remains of this once glorious settlement lie in ruins. It has been looted by people trying to sell objects on the black market. The Global Heritage Fund has named El Mirador as one of 12 sites worldwide that’s on the verge of irreparable loss.
4. Tallest Known Tropical Tree
Rainforests form because the areas they sit on provide the perfect environment for plantlife to grow. The perfect balance of humidity, rainfall, and consistent temperature create ideal growth conditions. The increased competition for sunlight, though, encourages the trees to reach up towards the sky, which creates absolute monster plants.
One country that’s home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna is Malaysia. Recently the largest known tropical tree was found there. It’s a species called Yellow Meranti, and it’s simply huge.
It was found as a result of a project that was using lasers to scan the rainforest in order to map the biodiversity of the area. The measurements show this particular tree to be just over 290 feet tall which is almost 4 feet taller than the previous record holder. This means it is as high as the Big Ben tower in London, and dwarfs the other trees in the region.
This doesn’t, however, mean this is the tallest tree in the world- a record held by a redwood in California.
For some reason, despite the constant competition in rainforests, trees that grow in tropical regions are, on average, 100 feet shorter than those that grow in temperate climates. It is something that is not fully understood and is yet to be explained by botanists.
3. Jungle Stonehenge
Stonehenge is one of the most famous ancient monuments in the world, but the people who built it weren’t the only ones to arrange large rocks in circular formations. After flying drones over the Amazon rainforest, researchers have found hundreds of earthworks that bear a striking similarity to the English landmark.
The discovery of these proves that ancient cultures would clear large swathes of forest to create these enclosures, and means that the rainforest that’s there today is actually relatively new. They have, though, remained hidden underneath the canopy, but with rampant deforestation in past decades more than 450 have begun to appear again.
Known as geoglyphs, the structures are thought to have been built around the year 0. Moreover, like Stonehenge which was built 2,500 years earlier, it’s not entirely clear what they were used for. It’s theorised that they were places for worship, rituals, and mass gatherings and were constructed in very similar ways to the early phases of other known henges.
Perhaps the most interesting and important thing about the extraordinary jungle discovery of them is that they show the area wasn’t untouched by large scale human development, like previously thought. With such concerns about the number of trees that are cut down every year, we at least know that if the rainforest is left to its own devices it is more than capable of growing back again.
2. The Klingon Newt
Amongst the wide range of plant life found in jungles is just as much animal life, and new species are constantly being discovered all around the world. SouthEast Asia is a region with a particular abundance of undiscovered creatures, and recently a rather extraordinary jungle discovery was made.
Its nickname is the Klingon Newt, and it’s quite clear to see why. The orange feet, legs, tail and head contrast with the brown body, and its head is hexagonal in shape. The most striking feature, though is the ridge of bones that line its back and skull, which look strangely similar to the cranial ridges of the Klingons in Star Trek. The newt’s proper name is Tylototriton Anguliceps.
A number of them have been found around the Mekong river. The region hasn’t been explored much in the past, as it was the site of bloody battles during the Vietnam war, so it’s only recently been accessible to researchers. Since discovering this unusual newt, as well as a number of other species in the area, the next step for scientists is to determine how large their populations are and understand if they are another in a long list of animals that are endangered.
1. Guatemalan Stone Head
In the 1950s a Guatemalan land owner made an extraordinary jungle discovery. Hidden within the undergrowth was a giant stone head looking skyward. It was from an ancient civilisation but, surprisingly, the carving seemed to have Caucasian features, which were unlike any of the native races who used to live in the region. He took a picture, which was published worldwide, but the story was soon forgotten about.
30 years later, the photo resurfaced, and Dr Padilla, a philosopher, went in search of the location where the picture had been taken. He tracked down the owners of the property, which was in the South of Guatemala, about 6 miles away from the small town of La Democracia. It was bad news when he arrived, though, because he wasn’t able to find the head- instead walking up on a disfigured rock. It had been used as target practise by anti government rebels, and they had completely destroyed it.
It’s not the only giant head to have been found in the region. There have been multiple discoveries of others that were also facing towards the sky.
All of these have been traced back to the Olmec civilisation who lived in the area around 2 to 3 thousand years ago.
But all of these figures have distinctly Olmec designs- very different to the mysterious one that had been photographed. We’ll maybe never know the full truth behind this discovery, unless a similar one is found elsewhere. Nonetheless, it shows that there’s still a lot to learn about how humans once lived.
Which extraordinary jungle discovery was your favourite? And do you know of any others I should have mentioned? Make sure to let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!