The Story of the Atlantis
One of the most interesting characteristics of the human mind is that it is not only fascinated by scientific advancement but also by fiction and myth. Hence it is in this spirit that men have over the centuries invested a lot of time, effort and money in studying fiction and myth by using scientific and unscientific methods. The lost city or continent of Atlantis has for more than 23 centuries been at the center of attention for philosophers, geographers, historians, and more recently, for geologists and other scientists who have not yet been able to come to an agreement on any of the numerous theories on this mystery.
Basically, every human civilization has its treasures of myths telling about the disappearance of cities or islands and peoples due to some divine or natural disaster. Even the bible and the Koran have mentioned almost similar stories of this kind, and the same applies to ancient transcripts as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh. What makes the story of Atlantis so different, however, is the fact that it was related to us by Plato, the great Greek philosopher who gave a very extensive geographic description of Atlantis, an account of its civilization, how its people organized their lives, and how this civilization finally ceased to exist all of a sudden. All these descriptive accounts were made by Plato in his books Critias and Timaeus, but these accounts were not innovations by Plato in as much as they were translations from ancient Egyptian works to which he was exposed. Numerous theories were based on the accounts made by Plato over the years, many of which were mere speculations by amateurs and some of which were hypothesized by scientists who applied the methods of modern science in an attempt to reveal the theories of Atlantis (Luce 13). Of course, this is not to mention the other numerous theories that argue that the civilization of Atlantis had its alien contacts in outer space, theories that I have chosen to discard because of the lack of any scientific evidence related to them.
The Atlantis/Bermuda Triangle Theory
Charles Berlitz, the author of Atlantis: The Eighth Continent (1984), argues that Atlantis is nowhere else but in the seabed in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle in Central America and that it was destroyed by some natural disaster, probably a huge volcanic eruption accompanied by severe earthquakes that brought this civilization to an end (95).
Berlitz based his theory on a number of findings that were made during the 19th and 20th centuries by numerous explorers who were interested in the subject. Facing the shores of Bimini in that area, Berlitz argues that there exist roads and walls underwater. Satellite photographs show that these walls and roads reflect patterns that could only be man-made and hence are very likely to be the ruins of a civilization that no longer exists (95). Berlitz argues that this hypothesis is in congruence with the story related by Plato in which he states that Atlantis was located to the west of the ancient lands of what we know today as the African and European tribes, and to the east of the ancient pre-Columbian tribes (14). The massive ruins, Berlitz argues, are very similar in structure and form to other ruins that were found underwater on both sides of the Atlantic, and hence, only denote that there existed some kind of territorial continuity between the two sides of the Atlantic (42).
Berlitz further argues that the continent of Atlantis was quite massive in area, perhaps covering vast areas of the Atlantic ocean and even connecting Africa and Europe with the Americas. Several evidences are used to support this theory. To start with, Berlitz points out that the fishermen of the Azores islands in the area navigate the Atlantic Ocean without water supplies because they know the locations of freshwater springs in the middle of the ocean. These freshwater springs, he debates are uniquely found in the Atlantic Ocean, and that they are not only evidence of previously existing land in those areas, but also evidence that the ancient Azorean populations were familiar with these locations and have maintained such knowledge for thousands of years as a need for survival (40).
Berlitz has gone as far as embracing the idea that the people who built the massive ruins underwater were the same people who built the big spheres in Central America, the Stonehenge in England, the stone heads of Tehuantepec and the platforms of Baalbek in Lebanon (97).
Berlitz’s theory is very interesting, but it certainly suffers a large number of flaws. To start with, the massive underwater ruins that he argues are man-made, have not proven to be so. The resemblance of patters that he based his theory on are very controversial and many geologists have refused to condone his point of view. In addition to this, if the size of Atlantis was as large as Berlitz argued, the sudden disappearance of Atlantis underwater would have created an unimaginable change in the geography of Europe and Africa. Nothing of this kind has been scientifically traced or suspected, at least not in the past ten to twenty thousand years. Moreover, if the Atlantis people had actually dominated almost the entire world from east to west, to the extent that they left such remnants in the ancient world as in England, Lebanon, and other parts, one can only wonder about the kind of civilization that has brought Atlantis to an end as mentioned in Plato’s writings. One has to use Plato as a reference when assessing Berlitz’s theory since this theory was in many ways based on the way in which Plato described the geography and civilization of Atlantis. By and large, the theory of Berlitz, regardless how popular is may be seen, is actually based on mere speculation rather than on scientific evidence.
The Andes Civilization Theory
- M. Allen presented another theory that was based on Plato’s writings, namely that Atlantis was nothing but a civilization in the middle of the Andes Plain in South America. Like many others who believed the South American location to be the homeland of Atlantis, vocabulary and semantics common to Greek and South American languages were used. For example, Allen points out that the word Atl means water while Antis means copper, a name that was given to the Andes mountains (10). Interestingly, Allen’s theory is based on Francis Bacon’s belief that Atlantis had existed in North or South America, also based on linguistic and semantic similarities. However, the difference between the two ideas is that Bacon had argued that Atlantis was not lost underwater (12).
Hence, according to Allen, Plato’s description of the vast rectangular plain can be nothing but the Bolivian Altiplain. At the same time, Allen argues that Plato must have made errors in his translation from the ancient Egyptian scripts. And thus, instead of an island continent, the scripts must have been mentioning the story of an island city. This, Allen argues, is in congruence with the Sea Lake of Poopo that due to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, flooded an ancient island city. Following the disaster, the lake became shallow and navigation became impossible, just as was mentioned in Plato’s works. According to Allen, this could by no means have been the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea, both which remained navigable at the time and continue to be so till this day (13).
To support his theory, Allen further brings common features between the civilization that existed in the Sea Lake of Poopo and Plato’s account. The gold and silver used on the walls is explained, for example, on the basis that these ores were abundant since close to the lake, existed a rich mining area that still stands today. The sophisticated irrigation systems are also similar to those depicted in Plato’s account, especially due to the rain shortage in that region most of the year.
Allen’s theory is also based on the fact that Plato made an error in translation from the Egyptian scripts. Hence, Plato was not accurate when he said that Atlantis had ceased to exist 9000 years before his time. Rather, it had ceased to exist 9000 lunar months before his time, and this would bring the time in which Atlantis existed to around 1100 BC. Between 1220 and 1186 BC, Egypt was suffering massive invasions by a confederation of civilizations that navigated the seas on ships that had no rows. These were eventually defeated by King Ramses III who took thousands of prisoners as slaves. Allen argues that these invaders were from the South American island city civilization, and that they had related the story of their homeland accurately to the priests of the Egyptian temples whose works Plato later on translated (13).
While other theories have been based on exaggeration or on overestimation of the Atlantis as a civilization, Allen’s theory is one based on more simplicity. Thus, instead of a vast continent, we have a small island city in a sea lake in South America, probably part of the ancient Incas civilization. However, Allen’s theory is not scientifically supported. Mere linguistic similarities between civilizations does not rise to the level of scientific evidence. Moreover, if Atlantis was a mere city in the middle of a sea lake, one is left to wonder about its strength and resources that enabled it to threaten and invade Egypt for decades. Even if such strength existed, one would still wonder how these invaders could travel such long distances and constitute a threat to the strong civilizations of the Mediterranean when they did not have any established central locations that would enable them to maintain such a long and continuous invasion for decades. This particularly threatens Allen’s theory since no such central locations had been discovered anywhere around Africa or Europe.
Atlantis on Thera Theory
Another simplistic theory based on and interpreting Plato’s account of Atlantis was that Atlantis was located on Thera, an island of the Greek Cyclades north of Crete in the Aegean Sea. This theory was advocated by Dr. Spiridou Marinatos and Dr. Angelos Galanopoulos, both who argued that the civilization of Atlantis disappeared due to a volcanic eruption around 1,500 BC (Galanopoulos & Bacon 16).
The two scientists argue that Plato made a mistake in translation or calculation and hence, Atlantis existed 950 years before his time, rather than 9500 years. Accordingly, the two theorists believe that Atlantis was part or a member of the ancient Minoan civilization that was of and on at war with the ancient Greeks (16).
This theory has been criticized to be too convenient to be believed. To start with, when this theory was first announced in the 1960s, it turned Crete and other Greek islands in the Aegean Sea into a tourist attraction, a fact sufficient to undermine the authenticity and intentions of the theory. Yet, more importantly, if the theory is true, then one must wonder why Plato had dedicated so much effort and time to translating or accounting for the story of this civilization. If Atlantis existed on Thera, it could not have constituted a continent as Plato wrote. And even if Plato was wrong, it still is not possible that this civilization could have had the massive armies that conquered the world east and west, let alone to threatened the Greek city states, Egypt and other ancient civilizations. The theory just does not add up since Thera’s area is relatively very small, even if one is to take for granted that a large sector of the island was drowned underwater due to the volcanic eruption.
The Antediluvian Theory
In 1882, Ignatius Donnelly published his book The Antediluvian World in which he offered a popular theory on the Atlantis civilization. In short, Donnelly argued that Atlantis existed on a vast stretch of land that covered massive areas between Africa and the Americas, a theory that is very close to that voiced by Charles Berlitz. However, Donnelly’s theory is based on what is known among sociologists and historians as the diffusionist theory of culture, that is, the diffusion of culture from one civilization to another due to communication or geographic proximity. Furthermore, Donnelly argued that Atlantis was the cradle of all civilizations on earth and that it was the mightiest of all, strong and powerful enough to threaten other civilizations of the ancient world (Castleden 182).
Donnelly’s theory was based on four pillars. First of all, Donnelly based his theory on the new discovery at the time of the mid-ocean ridge. Donnelly hence argued that even if Atlantis was not large enough to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean, there were connecting ridges similar to the mid-ocean ridge that enabled the people of Atlantis to communicate easily through naval paths with other civilizations (183). The second pillar of this theory is the parallel ecological development of species on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean which strongly suggests a physical geographic link, namely Atlantis. For example, Donnelly points out that it is a proven fact that different species of birds migrating across the Atlantic Ocean fly in circles over certain areas that must have been resting areas thousands of years ago before these areas vanished under the sea. The third pillar of Donnelly’s theory is parallel cultural development, that is, the similarity in cultural development among civilizations due to continuous communication between them. Finally, cultural diffusion, argued Donnelly resulted in similarities between Atlantis and other cultures as they copied from the Atlantis civilization (183-184).
Like other theories, Donnelly’s theory suffered many serious flaws. First of all, the theory of cultural diffusion has long proved to be unreliable, especially that scientists no longer consider civilizations to be homogeneous. Secondly, the connecting ridges whose existence was argued by Donnelly proved to be non-existed as they turned out to be movements in the crust of the earth at seabed. These movements occur so slowly that scientifically, they cannot result in a massive destruction the size described by Plato. Secondly, if such a destruction had taken place, perhaps as a result of a huge meteor hitting the earth as other theories argue, or due to whatever reason there may be, it is impossible that the geography of the ancient world did not change dramatically. Donnelly argues that the destruction of Atlantis was complete, together with its records. However, this does not explain for example why records or ruins of other civilizations that co-existed at the same time were never found. After all, Atlantis was at war with other civilizations at the time it was destroyed, and hence it is not understandable how the destruction of Atlantis could have been so devastating and yet no record of such an impact was left elsewhere except in Plato’s works.
So many theories have been formulated in an attempt to interpret the lost civilization of Atlantis. Many of these theories are nothing more than mere speculations. Only a few have enjoyed some credibility, but nonetheless, still remain far from reality in the absence of scientific evidence or support. The lost civilization of Atlantis has inspired the imagination of ancient and modern peoples, and perhaps every single civilization on earth relates to some lost ancient ancestral city or homeland. Many of these myths and legends have been related to Atlantis, a civilization that in some theories is as large as the ancient world itself, and according to some theories, is not larger than a small or medium-sized city in the middle of oblivion. Regardless what these theories show or prove, it is to be taken for granted that research will continue and that scientists and excitement seekers alike will continue to explore and speculate even if the potentials of real discovery are non-existent. After all, it is such a spirit that has carried humanity to the unknown worlds of scientific discovery and fantasy alike.
Allen, J. M. Atlantis: The Andes Solution. New York: St. Martin’s Press,
Berlitz, Charles. Atlantis: The Eighth Continent. New York: G. P.
Putnam’s Sons, 1984.
Castleden, Rodney. Atlantis Destroyed. London: Routledge, 1998.
Galanopoulos, A. G. & Bacon, Edward. Atlantis. New York: The Bobbs-
Merrill Company. 1969.
Luce, J. V. The End of Atlantis. London: Thames & Hudson, 1969.
Mavor, James W. Jr. Voyage to Atlantis. New York: G. P. Putnam’s