Atlantis: The Lost Civilization


Unlike many legendary stories the origins of which have been lost, we know when and where the story of the Lost City of Atlantis first appeared; in two of Plato’s dialogues, the Timaeus and the Critias written about 330 BCE.

According to Plato, Atlantis was located somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean; it was a great naval power that conquered most of the known world, only Athens remained. In a major battle, the Athenians beat the Atlantians and sent them back home. It is said that the very next day, Atlantis was struck by a massive catastrophic disaster, causing it to sink into the ocean and disappear.

Unfolding the mystery of Atlantis has inspired quite a big number of studies, explorations, books, fiction, and movies. The name “Atlantis” has become a byword for any and all supposed advanced prehistoric lost civilizations.

The Timaeus remained known in a Latin rendition through the Middle Ages, and an allegorical aspect of Atlantis was taken up by Humanists in utopian works of several Renaissance writers, such as Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516) and Sir Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1624). More describes an imaginary land set in the New World, establishing a connection between the Americas and utopian societies. This theme was further solidified by Sir Francis Bacon in The New Atlantis, where he describes a utopian society that he named "Bensalem", located off the West Coast of America.

In the 19th century, Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) included mappings of the topography of the Atlantic Ocean floor to propose 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.

For hundreds of years, it was believed that Atlantis did not exist. Many searched for the sunken city on the ocean floor but none found any evidence. Critics of the Atlantis story believe that it is simply a myth invented to put across the great philosopher’s views on war and corruption.

Believers in Atlantis, however, kept searching, pointing out that Troy was too once believed to be a figment of Homer’s imagination, until 19th-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann proved otherwise. The location of Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean has a certain appeal given the closely-related names. Popular culture often places Atlantis there, perpetuating the original Platonic setting. However, most of the historically proposed locations are in or near the Mediterranean Sea; Islands such as Sardinia, Crete, Santorini, Sicily, Cyprus, and Malta.

The catastrophic Thera volcanic eruption, dated to the 17th or 16th century BCE, led to a large tsunami that some experts hypothesize devastated the Minoan civilization on the nearby Island of Crete, further leading some to believe that this may have been the catastrophe that inspired the story.

In 2011, a team working on a documentary for the National Geographic Channel led by Professor Richard Freund from the University of Hartford claimed to have found evidence of Atlantis in South-Western Andalusia. The team used satellite photography, ground-penetrating radar and underwater technology to look for proof of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Freund’s team suggested that the city was located in the swampy region of Dona Ana Park, which in ancient times was a bay.

They reached this conclusion by finding regular circular patterns under the surface not normally found in nature. They also found over a hundred memorial sites near the area that seem to be memorials honoring the destroyed city. Moreover, Plato spoke of a rectangular temple on the center island dedicated to Poseidon; the team found an irregular rectangular shape in the center of the rings, the dimensions of which match with those mentioned by Plato.

Professor Freund and his team speculated that Atlantis had been destroyed by a tsunami, extrapolating results from a previous study by Spanish researchers, published four years earlier. However, the Spanish team who has been working on the site since 2005, dismissed the documentary claims as having no reliable basis in scientific fact and of misinterpreting partial results.

Juan Villarías-Robles, an anthropologist with the Spanish Government's scientific research bod said Dr. Freund was a newcomer to their project and that his hypothesis sensationalized their work.

To this very day, the mystery of Atlantis remains unfolded. No one knows for sure whether Plato’s legendary city existed or not. However, if you only googled it, you will surely find hundreds, if not thousands, of pages discussing Atlantis and narrating accounts of endless hypotheses and tries to find the lost city. The passion of humanity for knowledge never seizes, and with the restless pace of scientific advancement, the answer to this long-debated civilization will surface soon.


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