Latest Atlantis Silliness

One of the things which increasingly bothers me is when assorted otherwise-respectable media outlets try to hide hype for a television program in an article which otherwise is masquerading as news. In almost every situation where such hype needs to be so ‘hidden’, it’s for a program which would otherwise be dismissed as having a silly premise. Normally, I don’t give many of these the time of day, much less the time of rogueclassicism, but an item circulating around about Atlantis, ultimately emanating from the National Geographic, is giving me agito this morning. Following the ‘trail’ on this one might give you an idea why …

Back when rogueclassicism was still wet behind the ears in 2004, there was a flurry of folks (as there always seems to be) claiming to have found Atlantis. At that time, however, there happened to be two which came out at almost the same time … one claiming a site in Ireland and another in Spain. Interestingly, the National Geographic covered both theories in one article with a very nice title: Atlantis “Evidence” Found in Spain and Ireland … love the scare quotes around “evidence”. Anyhoo, here’s an excerpt from that bit:

Now new evidence claims that Atlantis was based on a real place—or places.

According to Rainer Kühne, a German physicist, satellite photos of southern Spain suggest that the “island” of Atlantis was in fact a region of the southern Spanish coast that was destroyed by a flood between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C.

“These satellite photos show rectangular structures and concentric circles that match very well with Plato’s description of the palaces and the city of Atlantis,” said Kühne, whose research was reported in the journal Antiquity.

But Ulf Erlingsson, a Swedish geographer, believes Plato combined elements from different times and places in the background description for his utopia. The distribution of the Atlantean empire seems to match that of the megaliths (large rough stone monuments) in Western Europe and North Africa. The geographic description of the island Atlantis, he suggests, is based on an island that is still standing today—Ireland. [etc.]

… the item from Antiquity is one of those Project Gallery things and very brief: A location for “Atlantis”?. Here’s the salient excerpt:

If an identification with the Sea Peoples is valid, then “Atlantis” should refer to their place of origin. There is some literary indication of where this might have been. Atlantis was divided under the ten sons of Poseidon (Crit. 113e). The first born, Atlas, obtained the largest and best territory, namely the region around the capital (Crit. 114a). The second born, Gadeiros, obtained the part at the most distant edge which reached from the pillars of Heracles (Gibraltar) to the Gadeirean country (the region around Cadiz) (Crit. 114b). The part of the country belonging to Gadeiros was a coastal region 100 kilometres long. The parts of the later born sons were probably even smaller. Thus, the part of the country belonging to Atlas cannot have been very far from Cadiz.

In fact, near Cadiz there is a rectangular, smooth and even plain which lies on the south coast at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. It is the plain south-west of Seville through which the Guadalquivir river flows, and where the town of Tartessos was thought to have been located. Hennig (1925, 1927), Jessen (1925), and Schulten (1927, 1939) have all supposed that this was a possible location for Plato’s Atlantis. In this respect, it is not without interest that large structures have been identified from recent satellite photos in this part of the lower Guadalquivir basin. One shows a rectangular structure with a length of 230 metres and a width of 140 metres. It could be a remnant of a temple of Poseidon, such as that whose length was one stade (185 metres) and whose width was three plethra (92 metres) (Crit. 116c – d). A further “quadratic” structure of size 280 metres times 240 metres could equate to the temple of Cleito and Poseidon (Crit. 116c ). The geographical co-ordinates of the rectangular structure are 36E°57’25” +/- 6” N and 6E°22’58” +/- 8” W. The centre of the “quadratic” structure is 500 metres in the south-west of the centre of the rectangular structure. These structures lie in a mud region named “Marisma de Hinojos”.within the Parque Nacional de Donana. of Andalusia

Now I’m not saying I’m buying into this hypothesis at all, and it seems from the ‘scare quotes’ that National Geographic wasn’t buying into it either. But now, with a documentary coming out, things seem to have changed with NG and we read things like this:

Spend a little time with Dr. Richard Freund of the University of Hartford, and you might be convinced that the lost city of Atlantis is buried deep within a swamp in southern Spain.

Freund, who directs the university’s Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, worked with a team of Spanish, American and Canadian scientists to examine a muddy swamp in Spain that was first noted as a possible location for Atlantis by a German scientist looking at satellite photos in 2003.

Freund’s 2009 expedition and his team’s findings are outlined in the new National Geographic Channel film called “Finding Atlantis,” which has its premiere on March 13 at 9 p.m. In advance of the premiere, the Greenberg Center will host a screening of the film at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 9, at the university’s Wilde Auditorium, and the public is invited.

Google Earth as a tool of archeology

So how did Freund, who is known for his excavations into historic sites in the Middle East as outlined in his book “Digging Through the Bible,” get involved in trying to find the famed lost city?

It began in 2003 with the report from the German scientist, who saw what looked like a circular structure with a straight line attached to it in a satellite photo that included the Parque National Coto de Donana, a vast swampy area south of Seville.

“Google Earth is one of the great archaeological tools today,” Freund said of the satellite image. Pointing to the circular impression, he said: “That doesn’t happen naturally.”

Over the next few years, others conjectured that the structures visible on the satellite images were similar to the island of three concentric circles with only one entrance in and out described by Plato in his accounts of Atlantis, written in about 360 B.C. Plato also placed Atlantis near the “Pillars of Hercules,” known today at the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

Through the swamp is now more than 100 miles from the Mediterranean, Freund postulated that the area once could have been situated on an open bay that was silted in by a tsunami or another natural disaster.

“I’ve become an expert in places that have become silted in,” Freund said.

Scientists were challenged, though, in doing any excavation inside the swampy national park. The ground was covered in water and mud for 11 months of the year, and even in August and September, the water table was very high, Freund said.


Since 1995, Freund has been using a technology more commonly used in oil and gas exploration to examine sites before excavation.

“We map the subsurface,” he said. “It’s like an MRI for the ground.”

Freund and his team brought their equipment to the site during the area’s driest months, August and September, in 2009.

“By shooting electricity into the ground, we’re able to distinguish between different types of material,” he said.”This type of technology can map the entire subsurface instead of digging. … It’s a form of non-invasive archaeology.”

What the team found in its subsurface mapping was a pattern at regular intervals — also something that doesn’t occur naturally. It made sense to Freund, based on Plato’s account, that the whole city could have been buried by a cataclysmic event and covered over in mud.

The National Geographic film also examines other sites around the world that claim to be the remnants of Atlantis, including one in Greece. But Freund believes that Atlantis would have to be near the Strait of Gibraltar because of Plato’s meticulous description.

“This quacks like a duck and looks like a duck,” he said, adding that National Geographic told him “you’ve got the best evidence.”

In addition to the advanced scientific mapping and carbon dating on cores of material that confirmed human activity at the site about 4400 years ago, colleagues on Freund’s team found two figurines on the first and second days of their trip that are “Astartes,” or images of a widely known Phoenician goddess.

“What if Atlantis was located in Spain and the origin of civilization didn’t happen in the Middle East but happened in Spain?” Freund said he asked himself. “I think that the Atlanteans are the parents of the Phoenicians.”

  • via: Has a University of Hartford Professor Found the Lost City of Atlantis? | West Hartford Patch
  • It does seem that they’re talking about the same thing (other than the structure shapes). I don’t think I need to comment on the ‘backwardsness’ of the Phoenician connection, but I think it is salutary to point out that Google Earth had nothing to do with this … clearly the folks are trying to cash in on recent stories of archaeological sites being found by ‘Google Earth’ (I won’t even bother to link to any stories on this; they’re well known enough) given that Google Earth didn’t exist before 2004 and if one peruses the Antiquity item, one sees it’s just “satellite photos” not connected to Google. If the ‘circular structures’ were later found on Google Earth, it’s interesting that such photos do not accompany the article (although there is a photo of an inscription on a standing stone which someone might mistake for such) nor are there any enlightening photos (or info) at the National Geographic page for the program. Such deception in ‘hype’ makes me gag.

    What I have never understood about all the attention Atlantis seems to get — especially in documentary form — is that there are SOOOOOOOOO many legitimately interesting archaeological finds being discovered every week that could merit documentary treatment. And yet the folks who probably ‘educate’ more people than all the schools and universities in the world would rather pander to the ‘controversial’/taking-on-the-establishment than try to give the legitimate scholars some exposure …


    4 thoughts on “Latest Atlantis Silliness

    1. It is is an extraordinary power that myths have of recreating themselves like a many headed hydra.
      The first book I read about the past was by Eric Von Daniken, at even at 16 I already knew enough to see through it,- but how much it contributed to me becoming an archaeologist I cannot say.
      On the plus side, it might encourage interest in the ‘Sea Peoples’ for example, an intriguing topic; the big downside is the blurring of boundaries between archaeology and making up stories about the past.

    2. Strangely enough Troy was supposed to be a legend that didn’t exist except in the mind of Homer until it was found by Schliemann using the descriptions found in the Iliad. So why is the possibility of Plato’s Atlantis so off the wall? I don’t subscribe to the weird new agey, crystals and space ships theories about it, but I would go along with it being an ancient civilisation that was destroyed by earthquake and Tsunami. The position if front of where “the pillars of Hercules” is a viable place so whats the problem? Is it just because Atlantis is such a big legend ? Troy was as well once 🙂

    3. Not a very good analogy;
      Troy is central to The Iliad & Odyssey – 27,000 lines of dactylic hexameter
      Atlantis appears in a political discourse, about ideal societies.

      IMO. The best fit, for this ‘story’ is the Thera eruption and tsunami, c.1623bc, this is well attested in the archaeological evidence, and has been extensively studied by a multitude archaeologists and scientists from many disciplines. The importance of Spain as a source of metals in this period cannot be overlooked.

      It is not really a ‘mystery’ – except in the sense that the past is inherently mysterious, because there is so much we can never know.

    4. Actually the analogy is fairly sound, especially as I spent two months of my life studying the Odyssey at Uni 🙂 so you could say I’m aware of the length of both of Homers works. You could just as easily say that Mordor is central to lord of the rings, after all its longer than Homer and both were just stories until Troy was physically found.

      I’m also aware that Atlantis appears in a political discourse about ideal societies and am of the opinion that an ancient civilisation that was wiped out by a natural disaster was a historical event used to illustrate a moral tale and that “Atlantis” was probably no more advanced or special than any other civilisation of its time.

      My main point is up until Schliemann dug it up, Troy was still just a story and he was derided for even looking for the place. Fact remains that he found it despite that 🙂

      Now I’m not completely buying into Atlantis being in Spain until there’s further proof, but I am keeping an open mind about it and fail to see the point of decrying Freund’s work until it’s proved one way or another, he is after all a reputable archaeologist, not just a treasure hunter.

      I’m also aware of Akrotiri and would concur that *up till now* it is the most probable site for Plato’s Atlantis. It even has the red, white and black stones which IIRC are mentioned in his tale which together with the eruption and subsequent tsunami mark it as the most *probable* place at this moment in time.

      However, as you have stated “there is so much we can never know”, so I for one will be sitting back and watching what Freund digs up and what his evidence is before nailing my colours to the “its all silliness mast” No offence intended 🙂

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