Shamelessly trying to exploit the fervor from Japan’s tragedy, online news outlets are trying to link the discovery of sunken ruins off of the Spanish coast to tsunamis.
First, the story:
University of Hartford Professor Richard Freund is the head of an international team of researchers searching for Atlantis. In 2009 and 2010, they used digital mapping and underwater surveys to explore stone ruins off the coast of Cadiz, Spain. This investigation, just the latest installment of the search for the fabled lost continent, was bolstered (in Freund’s opinion) by the nearby discovery in southern Spain of what he refers to as “memorial cities.”
From the news report:
Freund’s discovery in central Spain of a strange series of “memorial cities,” built in Atlantis’ image by its refugees after the city’s likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said. Atlantean residents who did not die in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.
The discovery of the so-called “memorial cities” in Spain is truly fascinating, highlighting how useful satellites can be to archaeology. Under their powerful electronic vision, the ruins were revealed from their resting place deep in marshlands, in Doña Ana Park to be specific, and had been forgotten to history.
So how was the leap made from “ruins in a Spanish swamp” to “proof that Atlantis is real?”
Personally, I’m wild about history and archaeology. It is precisely because of my interest in the subjects that I know how difficult it is for archaeologists to get the attention their work deserves. Excavations don’t generally bleed, and so they don’t generally lead in the headlines. As a result, press releases and overzealous researchers are often tempted to spruce up their findings to get some attention. Add in popular culture’s fascination with the mystique and allure of Plato’s Atlantis, and now consider the timing of Japan’s tsunami; it isn’t so surprising that the lost continent is in the headlines once again.
We are faced, however, with a few incontrovertible truths:
1. This excavation site in Spain has been suggested before. In 2004, in fact, a team led by Dr. Rainer Kuehne identified possible ring-like structures in the very same area.
2. The world is filled with ruins, and to hastily label any one of them as “proof of Atlantis” is bad form. Mainstream history focuses on the highlights — Babylon, Giza, Xianyang, Mohenjo-Daro, Athens, Persepolis, Roma, Tenochtitlan, Tikal — and ignores ruins which aren’t so easily identifiable. There have been strange cities found in central Asia, hinting at a mighty unknown civilization there. There are burial mounds in northern Europe and South America belonging to kings and cultures that have yet to be named. To call any of these “remnants from Atlantis” is just fiction and the worst kind of sensationalism. It calls to mind the tales of Noah’s Ark (or as I like to point out, Utnapishtim’s boat) on Mount Ararat; a piece of wood found on a mountain doesn’t justify saying, “See? This shard of a plank is proof that a divine being flooded the world and commanded a guy to gather up all the animals onto a vessel! Don’t you feel silly now!”
Having said that, the concentric rings of the Cadiz site are provocative. Then again, the caldera at Thera and reconstructions at Knossos can also be construed to have concentric rings. The point is that further investigation is required before we can start partying in the Temple of Poseidon.
3. Atlantis has been claimed to be in virtually every place on the planet. From Crete to Egypt to South America to Antarctica (I’m not kidding.) Everyone has an idea where Atlantis could be, and none of those locations have ever coughed up the infamous multi-ringed city. The original source on the subject, Plato, said it lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the modern-day Straits of Gibraltar, which of course would include Spain, depending on how you are facing the Straits.)
4. There exists no firm corroboration for Atlantis in antiquity outside of Plato’s account. There’s just no way around this one. This doesn’t automatically negate the whole thing, but it certainly is a red-flag. When Rome collapsed there were still references to it as far away as China; how is it that no records exist to talk about Plato’s maritime empire?
One possibility is that it was utterly wiped from the records of all civilizations (including, somehow, Egypt, which is where Plato claims Solon first came across the narrative of Atlantis.) But it could just as easily mean that Atlantis is a myth conjured by Plato. And there’s even a third possibility — the one I personally favor — that Plato used known tidbits of earlier civilizations (the Minoans, for example) as basis for a morality tale about wickedness and the fall of tyranny.
5. Let us consider the true story of the Mask of Agamemnon. In 1876, Heinrich Schliemann smashed his way through layers of archaeological wonder, found a golden mask, and declared it was the funerary mask of the ancient king Agamemnon. That’s like encountering a pearl in the ocean north of Egypt, and saying that it was one of the fabled pearls she showed Mark Antony as an example of her wealth. Schliemann was wrong, by the way; in fact, his aggressive digging had led him straight past the real ruins of Troy to a far earlier culture, so even ignoring the statistical absurdity that the first mask he found belonged to a legendary king, Schliemann was looking for that mask in the wrong historical period. Agamemnon was haughty, but not immortal. The mask ain’t his.
6. In an interview, which you can view here, Freund says this:
“I think we’ve just found the best candidate for what was the beginnings of civilization.” This is an exquisitely bad thing for an archaeologist to say, because it’s flatly wrong. Let’s suppose for a moment that Freund is correct and what he’s found is actually the city that inspired Plato’s tale. That does not, in any way, justify saying that he’s found the beginnings of civilization, not when you have Mesopotamian sites and Chinese agricultural communities predating the ruins near Cadiz by thousands of years. The comment is sensationalist in the extreme, and casts a pall of doubt over an already controversial claim.
7. Plato said Atlantis sank 9,000 years before his time. The Cadiz ruins are only a couple thousand years old. Maybe Plato exaggerated the dates. Maybe the Cadiz ruins are older than the current estimates.
Maybe the Earth is actually a giant egg out of which will hatch the Cosmic Wombat of Death.
So where does that leave us? The team has evidently found something of great worth — this press release from the University of Hartford contains further details that archaeology fanboys are encouraged to read. But it seems somewhat premature to declare that Atlantis has been found.
I’m interested in seeing what develops.