The Lost City of Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?
Facts About Atlantis: Plato's Account
Atlantis in Greek means "island of Atlas". It is supposedly a legendary island which was first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias.
According to Plato, Atlantis was a naval island which was located "in front of the Pillars of Hercules", which is now the Straits of Gibraltar. The timeline given by Plato was 9,000 years before Solon, which would date Atlantis to 9600 BC.
Did Atlantis Exist, or Did Plato Invent It?
For decades, there have been scores of people who believe that the lost city of Atlantis is a fact and that the island mentioned in Plato's account truly existed. Others believe that the story is a mere fiction invented to complete Plato's dialogues.
Plato introduced Atlantis in Timaeus, and his account of Atlantis is quoted below:
"For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles', there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travelers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the other islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean."
The location of Atlantis is explained thusly:
" . . . that an island of such nature and size once existed is evident from what is said by certain authors. According to them, there were seven islands in that sea at that time, sacred to Persephone, and also three others of enormous size, one of which was sacred to Pluto, another to Ammon, and another one between them to Poseidon, the extent of which was a thousand stadia (200 km)."
A philosopher, Cantor, who was a student of Plato's student Xenocrates, believed Atlantis to be a real city. He considered Plato's account of it to be historical fact. Other historians and philosophers who believed in the existence of Atlantis include Strabo and Posidonius.
Modern Scholars View Plato's Account as Fiction
A Plato scholar, Dr. Julia Annas, who is a Regent Professor at the University of Arizona, said the following:
"The continuity of discovering Atlantis illustrates the dangers of reading Plato. For he is clearly using what has become a standard device of fiction—stressing the historicity of an event as an indication of what follows is fiction."
A.E. Taylor, a British philosopher, also thought that Plato made it clear that Atlantis was fictional:
"We could not be told much more plainly that the whole narrative of Solon's conversations with the priests and his intention of writing the poem about Atlantis are an invention of Plato's fancy."
City or Continent?
When the theory of continental drift became popular during the 1960s, the "lost city" became the "lost continent".
Hypothetical Locations of the Lost City of Atlantis
Over the years, there have been numerous hypotheses about the exact location of the lost city of Atlantis. Prominent hypotheses include the areas mentioned below:
- In or near the Mediterranean Sea: Some historians view the islands of Sardinia, Crete, Santorini, Sicily, Cyprus and Malta as possible locations for Atlantis.
- In the Atlantic Ocean: The Canary islands and Madeira islands have been identified as potential sites for the lost city. Several other islands, such as the Azores islands and the submerged island of Spartel, have been considered as well.
- Other possible locations: Several other possible locations include Batabano Bay (which is South of Cuba), the Bahamas, the Bermuda Triangle and Sundaland in Indonesia. The lost continent of "Kumari Kandam" has also been suggested to be the lost city.
Findings on Google Earth in 2009: An Incidental Hoax
In 2009, several groups of experts noted that they may have found the lost city of Atlantis located on the seabed off the African coast. They claimed that the apparent grid of streets represented the outlines of a big city.
This claim was eventually brushed off as an incidental hoax. The official statement released by Google explained the following:
"In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor. The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how little we really know about the world's oceans."
The Google Earth image also does not fit the description of the lost city of Atlantis given by Plato, no matter how you look at it.
Another Potential Finding in 2009
Professor Richard Freund and his team claimed to have found the lost city of Atlantis in 2009–2010 just off Cádiz, Spain, in a swampy marshland in the Dona Ana Park. What intrigued Freund about the park was the discovery of "memorial cities" which he claims were built by the survivors of Atlantis. Freund's team used satellite photographs, ground-penetrating radar and underwater technology to examine the area.
Was the Spartel Bank Once Atlantis?
The exact location is known as the Spartel Bank, which sank 11,600 years ago. (It seems that Plato may have messed up his timeline, as 9,000 years ago there was no known advanced civilization anywhere in the world.) The facts presented by researcher Marc-André Gutscher about the Spartel Bank seem to fit the geological time and place of Atlantis:
- 11,600 years ago,
- island about 15 kilometres across,
- a location in the sea beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and
- a muddy shoal left behind after the city sank.
Based on the four points listed above, it's possible that the marshland we see today used to be a larger land area on higher ground.
How Did Atlantis Sink?
The only account of Atlantis' destruction is found in Plato's writings, which describe Atlantis as sinking into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune". Recent findings have concluded that the lost city of Atlantis could have met its untimely end in an earthquake and tsunami which was similar to the one that hit Japan in 2011.
Was an Earthquake and Tsunami Possible?
Gutscher reported in Geology in 2002 that the Gulf of Cadiz, which is west of the Straits of Gibraltar (a plausible location for the lost city of Atlantis, based on Plato's description), showed a subduction zone and a wedge of sediment. Gutscher also wrote that it was "possible for a magnitude 8.5 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Lisbon in 1755".
However, in a contradiction to Gutscher's findings, it has been shown that no advanced civilization lived in that region 12,000 years ago. This is because the first city recorded in human history is Catalhoyuk from 6300 BC. Monumental architecture only came about in 5000 BC. From an archaeological perspective, collected evidence has clearly stated that humans at that time were hunter-gatherers.
Could the Minoans Actually Have Been Atlanteans?
The Minoans were a Bronze Age civilization which began in 2700 BC. It is believed that these people had trade relationships with Egypt and Crete, and the people were mostly merchants. In 1450 BC, the Thera volcano erupted, destroying the city and culture of the Minoans. Many have speculated that the Minoan civilization may have been the lost city of Atlantis—or at least inspired the tales about it and its destruction.
Atlantis Is an Enduring Mystery
We may never know what the lost city of Atlantis really was to Plato. We do not know if it was indeed a real city or if it was just a figment of his imagination. One thing is for sure: Plato left us with one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of mankind.