Finding Atlantis

A recently-aired documentary on the National Geographic Channel, Finding Atlantis detailed Hartford University professor Richard Freund’s claim that the lost city was located in what is now a national park north of Cadiz, Spain. This garnered news headlines around the world and caused a major spike in seaches for “lost+city+Atlantis” on the Web, as this Google Insights chart reveals.

But Freund’s theory, developed through the use of high-tech tools such as digital mapping, deep-ground radar and satellite imagery, is only the latest installment in a brouhaha that began back in 360 BC. That’s when the Greek philosopher Plato wrote a Socratic dialogue–basically, a Q&A in which characters tell stories and discuss moral and existential issues–entitled Timaeus, which contained an acount of an ancient, lost civilization named Atlantis. As Plato tells it, Atlantis was a gigantic island–bigger than Asia and the northern coast of Africa put together–located in the Atlantic Ocean past the Straits of Heracles (i.e., Gibraltar). It was the home of a “great and wonderful empire” that, at its peak, ruled much of Europe and Africa as well. The Atlantean military was so powerful that only the ancient Athenians were able to resist it. But ultimately, a series of natural disasters proved to be Atlantis’ undoing.

there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island. 
The concensus among Platonic scholars is that Plato made up Atlantis as either an allegory, or as scholar Bernard Suzanne suggests, a sort of honey pot for the gullible, designed to filter out the readers who would spend the rest of their lives looking for the lost empire to those who were interested in Plato’s larger purpose. 

If that was Plato’s intention, he may have been too clever by half. Over the past two millenia, everyone from sleeping prophet Edgar Cayce and paranormal author Charles Berlitz to the fictional Indiana Jones has contemplated Atlantis’ whereabouts. Believers in Atlantis point out that the ancient city of Troy was once believed to be a figment of the poet Homer’s imagination, too, until iconoclastic 19th-Century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann proved otherwise.

If Freund turns out to be the next Schliemann, it’s only fair that we give a shout-out to a few of the also-rans and their ingenious theories. It’s a shame, in a way, that they can’t all be right, but so it goes. 

The Mid-Atlantic theory: In his 1882 book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, Ignatius Donnelly cited mappings of the topography of the Atlantic Ocean’s floor to propose a that a giant land mass, bordered to the east by what is now the Azores, existed in the North Atlantic. Donnelly also argued that a land bridge had connected Atlantis to the east coast of South America, and that the Aztecs and other pre-Columbian civilizations in the New World were the descendents of Atlantan colonists. More recently, according to this 1979 New York Times article, a Greek author named Vasilios Paschos proposed that Atlantis was a mid-Atlantic continent bigger than modern Asia, with a population of 60 million and colonies from Latin America to the Middle East.

The Arctic Theory: Late 18th-Century French scientist J.S. Bailly proposed that Atlantis had existed in about 3101 BC (about 7,000 years later than Plato) near what are now Norway’s Svalbard Islands. As Phyllis Young Forsyth details in her book Atlantis: The Making of Myth, Bailly believed that the region had once been temperate, but that as it cooled, the Atlanteans had been forced to flee, and eventually resettled in the Caucasus area of western Asia.

The Atlanteans-to-Germans theory: In 1953, the Rev. Jurgen Spanuth, a German Lutheran pastor and amateur archaeologist, fnanced a series of marine diving expeditions in the North Sea in an effort to prove his theory that Atlantis once existed near the island of Heligoland, about 30 miles off the German North Sea coast. According to this 1953 Associated Press article, Spanuth’s divers found large, irregular piles of sand, which Spanuth argued where the ruins of the palace and temples of the Atlantean kings. He believed that the lost people were the ancestors of the modern Germans.

The Atlantis-in-the-Andes theory: In his 1999 book, Atlantis: The Andes Solution, former British Royal Air Force photo interpreter J.M. Allen argued that Atlantis was located on a submerged volcanic island in Lake Poopo in the Bolivian Altiplano, a series of high plains.

The Exploded Planet theory:  This one may be my personal favorite. In his 2003 book The Atlantis Secret, British accountant-turned-mythologist 

Alan F. Alford proposed that Plato’s Atlantis wasn’t an island or continent at all, but rather a metaphor for a planet that once circed our Sun. Alford interprets Egyptian legends to support the notion of a neighboring planet in our solar system, inhabited by a technologically advanced civilization, which was destroyed by an ancient cataclysm.

All that said, see why some archeologists and experts believe Atlantis hidden under a river delta in southern spain… as seen on Finding Atlantis.