Atlantis was a Real Place
A Discussion by Dan Crisp
Part 1: Where to Look
For years, I well knew that the Greek island Santorini was a caldera, the remains of the volcano Thera after it exploded three and a half thousand years ago; that it had been the hub of a bustling Mediterranean trade network; and that Thera has been identified with the legendary Atlantis by many researchers for many years. What I learned only recently from a TV documentary was that before the famous eruption it was already a caldera, with a central, populated island surrounded by a natural, circular harbour. This made the equation with Atlantis all the more compelling, so I decided I would like to read Plato’s dialogues for myself, to see how easily they could be interpreted as referring to Thera.
In this short essay, my focus is on what Plato actually says about the location of Atlantis in his dialogues, Timaeus and Critias; on whether they paint a logically consistent picture and, if so, of what.
I have used the Benjamin Jowett translations of Timaeus [Tim.] and Critias [Crit.] which are freely available on the Internet. Extracts are in italics, my insertions are in [square brackets]. (I have quoted passages out of order and not attempted to introduce any line or paragraph numbering to refer back to their original locations: the dialogues are not so long that the quotes are hard to find.) Jowett’s commentary shows he is thoroughly sceptical about Atlantis and this view may well have coloured his translation – which suits me fine because the conclusions will be more valuable than those drawn from a “favourable” translation.
I’m with Koudriavtsev [visit www.imh.ru] in downplaying the importance of the word “island” in the dialogues. The terms “island”, “land” and “whole country” are used somewhat loosely and allowing for various translations, mistranslations and shifting perspectives through the ages, we should be prepared to relax our grip on the modern interpretations of these words. Let us assume Plato is talking about a “place”, a “land”, an “empire” – and see where this leads us.
The story of Atlantis occurs within an account of ancient Athens, given as part of a public address hosted by Socrates to a theatre audience celebrating a festival of Athena. There were three speakers: first Timaeus, who gives a discourse on the origins and constitution of the universe and mankind; next Critias, who recounts the noble deeds of the long-forgotten Athenian citizens (having given a taster before Timaeus gets going, to check that Socrates and the audience wish to hear the rest); and, finally, Hermocrates, who presumably picks up the theme of political history and social development from where Critias leaves off. Unfortunately, most of Critias and all of Hermocrates is lost.
The unit of measure most used is the stadium, whose definition was somewhat variable, but usually 600 Greek feet. If we assume 600 feet or 185 metres, we won’t be far wrong.
Critias tells how the story came to be passed down to him and why the illustrious Solon himself did not have the opportunity to publicise what he had learned form the Egyptians. Solon’s trip is estimated at 600 BCE and, hence, the war and the destruction of Atlantis was said to have been in 9600 BCE: a date we now understand to have been in the midst of the end of the last Ice Age.
This 9600 BCE date is given for both the foundation of the city of Athens (1000 years before Sais was founded in Egypt, whence the records come)
and the war with Atlantis. Some writers suggest this is a problem, that a fledgling state would not be in a position to combat a powerful aggressor. But to expect 9000 years to be a precise figure would be asking too much! It is reasonable to interpret 9000 years as “closer to 9000 than either 8000 or 10000”: anything from about 8500 to 9500 – a span of, perhaps, 1000 years. That is to say, there is ample slack in the date to allow for significant progress and economic development of the Athenian state between foundation and going to war. After all, they were not alone in the world, making up everything from scratch: Critias describes a world of city states and bustling international trade.
If earlier scholars were as ignorant of the Ice Age and the effects of its close as we think Plato must have been, then it is easy to understand why it was widely held that Plato made up this “history” as part of the exposition of his political philosophy. Certain parts of the dialogues do look contrived, but, since no doubt Plato drew together ideas from various sources and connected them with his own narrative, we should be allowed to ignore the suspect parts without devaluing the rest. In any case, we have only about a quarter of Critias’ story (if the length of Timaeus is anything to go by): it would be churlish to deride Plato when there is so little to go on. I will proceed on the assumption that Plato believed he was relating a true account.
It is worth noting that, contrary to popular belief, Atlantis was not destroyed by the gods because the people had become debased. It is clear that their defeat in the war was to be the Atlanteans’ punishment – they were to improve, not disappear:
Such was the vast power which the god settled in the lost island of Atlantis; and this he afterwards directed against our land for the following reasons… Zeus, the
god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict
punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation… And when he had called them together,
he spake as follows — [Critias breaks off here and the remainder of the dialogue is lost.]
Furthermore, the destruction and disappearance of Atlantis did not mark the end of the war. Rather, the terrible destruction took place at an unspecified time, “afterwards”. It could have been years later, but still in the region of eleven and a half thousand years ago.
The Location of Atlantis
In the following paragraphs, I have set out Plato’s clues to the location of Atlantis and the conclusions we can draw from them, working from the more general to the more specific.
Histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of
the Atlantic Ocean. [Tim.]
Europe, to its Ice Age inhabitants (eleven and a half thousand years ago), was not Europe as we know it, but we can assume this means the northern Mediterranean shores at the very least. Similarly, Asia refers, at the very least, to the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps all of the Middle East; but certainly not to the entire continent to the east that we are familiar with.
There is much discussion of the difference between what we know as the Atlantic Ocean and what it meant in the time of Plato. As we will see, Critias is clear about this.
This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country [Egypt] and yours
[Greece] and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon,
your country… generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. [Tim.]
Atlantis was evidently far from being the only civilisation at the time.
The region that Egypt and Greece occupy together – which is effectively a cul-de-sac, naturally delimited by a single point – is the Mediterranean. The “straits”, or “pillars”, therefore refers straightforwardly to what we know as the straits of Gibraltar or the pillars of Heracles.
It has been suggested that the pillars are at the Bosporus, also on the edge of the Mediterranean, on the way into the Black Sea; but Egypt and Greece being “inside” these straits, while the region around or beyond the Black Sea counts as the Atlantic Ocean, can not be reconciled even with the view of the world we credit to Plato and his contemporaries.
Those ancient people identified themselves as living on the Mediterranean, as opposed to living in Europe or Africa (“Libya”), or east of Iberia, or anything like that. Indeed, just as “inside this room” only refers to what is in the room or on the walls and not to any adjoining rooms or areas that can be reached by passing through, so “inside the pillars” refers to the islands and shores of the Mediterranean and not to the surrounding inland areas, etc. The sea was no doubt central to their existence and it is no surprise that the shores they inhabited were more important than the continents they fringed. (The Atlanteans, too, were only interested in the coastal regions: they did not go to war against continental Europe or Africa. Perhaps an “island” was anywhere reached by boat, because the land route was difficult, impossible or just ignored.)
Let me begin by observing first of all, that nine thousand was the sum of years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt
outside the pillars of Heracles and all who dwelt within them. [Crit.]
The pillars of Heracles are a critical landmark in distinguishing the two areas. For this to make sense, Atlantis must be
close to the pillars: coastal western Europe, coastal western Africa or mid-Atlantic Ocean. Nowhere else – continental Europe or Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Antarctica – matches the description here.
In referring to two complete hemispheres, we might say “above the Equator” and “below the Equator”. But we would not say “the people north of the Equator” and “the people south of the Equator” if we meant Colombians and Ecuadorians. Similarly, “north of the Thames” and “south of the Thames” might well refer straightforwardly to parts of London or the Home Counties; but, although technically correct, that would not be a suitable to way to refer to Scotland and France.
The scale of the distinction or boundary we are trying to draw matches the scale of the areas we are trying to identify.
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and,
furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia.
The scale and location of the empire are suggested here: Atlantis controlled
a number of coastal areas and/or islands;
some inland areas of the nearest continent, or the one it fringed – which must have been Europe or Africa; surely Europe being the one Critias would most naturally refer to as “the continent”;
Mediterranean shores from the pillars of Heracles eastwards, up to Italy (Tyrrhenia, Tuscony) on the European side side; and along to Egypt on the African side.
Again, the implication must be that Atlantis was not very far away on the other side of the pillars.
Can we really credit the idea that an Atlantis located in South America or Antarctica (as some theories hold) could sensibly occupy these regions inside the Mediterranean – about the identities of which, as far as I know, the scholars do not argue? If the enormous areas between South America or Antarctica and the Mediterranean were the provinces of Atlantis, surely they would merit a grander description than “several other islands and parts of the continent”.
Note that “Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles” might suggest that the parts of Libya outside the columns – Morocco, Western Sahara… – were not Atlantean territories. If so, Atlantis must have been to the north, or a genuine island in the ocean.
As has been already said [in Timaeus], they held sway in our direction
[towards Greece] over the country within the pillars as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia.
The pillars referred to are indeed those at the straits of Gibraltar. Egypt and Greece were in the eastern Mediterranean; so coming towards them but only reaching as far as the edge of Egypt and Tyrrhenia can only mean coming from the western end of the Sea. If the pillars were really to the north, south or east, or between Egypt and Greece, one or both would have been inside the Atlantean territory.
The reverse direction, back to where they can from, is from Greece past Tyrrhenia; and from within Egypt past its western border (the side that borders the rest of Libya): that is, decidedly, westwards. Atlantis was therefore generally to the west of the pillars, in or on the Atlantic Ocean.
The “Atlantic Ocean” Critias refers to is indeed the Atlantic Ocean as we know it.
End of Part I
All the clues so far make it clear that when Critias says “straits of Heracles” and “Atlantic Ocean”, he is referring to the features as we known them
(There is no extra dimension of mystery because the true locations of these places are not properly known).
Everything points to Atlantis being not far to the west of the straits, which means only the North Atlantic and the western European and African shores are still in the
frame. In Part II, we’ll examine further, more specific clues and get closer to our goal.
Part 2: Refining the Search
In Part I we saw how the potential locations of Atlantis are narrowed very quickly by the description Critias gives. In this part, we will refine our search still further.
The Location of Atlantis (continued)
[Atlantis] was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.
The “opposite continent” is clearly the Americas – which was taken to be a boundless land surrounding the whole ocean: very much a forgivable error.
Between the pillars of Heracles and the Americas fit Atlantis and a string of islands of unspecified size, again suggesting that Atlantis was fairly close to the pillars.
Atlantis being “the way” or “on the way” to these other islands and the Americas suggests it could be skirted without much of a detour. We are not told, for example,
be crossed to reach the other side of the ocean, as might have been the case with an island formed by the uplifted mid-Atlantic Ridge.
On the other hand, being “the way” to the other side suggests you
had to pass Atlantis, which would be the case if Atlantis were
immediately outside the pillars, on the European and/or African coast, or an island dominating the straits.
…the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together… [Tim.]
…Atlantis, which, as I was saying, was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia… [Crit.]
I gather that “Libya” refers to all of North Africa, except Egypt. However, “the parts of Libya as far as Egypt” suggest Egypt is included in Libya – otherwise, Atlantis would be said to have controlled all of Libya. “Asia”, meaning Asia Minor, is usually equated with modern Turkey. We do not need to know the exact limits of these ancient territories because they still tell us important things about the scale of Atlantis.
The usual interpretation is that Atlantis was a genuine island of continental proportions. Taking this passage in isolation, South America itself is a plausible candidate. However, if Critias were talking about areas of land, it would make no sense to define it as a large, somewhat indeterminate area (Libya) plus a much smaller, better defined area (Asia). One is something like ten times larger than the other (perhaps more, depending on how far south you think Libya stretched). Furthermore, Atlantis is said to be “larger” or “greater in extent”. Critias was clearly talking in approximations and “larger than Libya” would have been sufficient.
The Asia Critias refers to must be of significant size compared with Libya for it to be worth mentioning. Remembering the singular importance already placed on living by the sea, I suggest that Critias was not talking about the areas of Libya and Asia, but the lengths of their coastlines. That is to say, Atlantis was to be understood principally as a coastal region with a length on the order of the distance from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bosporus via north Africa. (We can use this approximation even if Critias meant to exclude Egypt and Palestine because he said Atlantis was larger than Libya and Asia.)
Taking the edges of the continental shelves as the Ice Age shore lines, this is equivalent to
the European coast from the straits to Scandinavia, passing around the British Isles and the North Sea; or
the coast of Africa from the straits to the Equator, or thereabouts.
All these and their descendants for many generations were the inhabitants and rulers of diverse islands in the open sea;
This phrase is so non-committal that we can not draw any firm conclusions from it. It may mean Atlantis was an archipelago proper. Or that Atlanteans colonised a variety of islands over a wide area, as well as their home territory, wherever that was. “In the open sea” may mean the islands were widely dispersed. Or it may simply mean “in the Atlantic Ocean”, as opposed to “in the Mediterranean, which is, by comparison, only a harbour”. In this case, the territories described may or may not be confined to the margins of the ocean.
…and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; [Tim.]
This might be highly significant, or highly misleading, depending on how firmly we grasp our first impression. As I have already mentioned, “island” need not be taken too literally. Certainly, the tradition of a continent-sized land mass proper that sank to the ocean floor is well and truly dismissed by our knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean floor and the manner of its formation. But if we find many other aspects of Critias’ story are perfectly sensible, should we discount the whole matter on the basis of this one word?
It has been pointed out that “in front of” is a rather specific translation and it should simply be read “before” [I have not heard that there is any dispute about this among Greek scholars.]: implying somewhere outside (west) of the straits. But we already knew that. This paragraph does not help us to draw any further conclusions.
“…which are by you called…” does not imply the pillars are some obscure landmark known only to them: only that the Greeks called the well known straits by the name of a Greek hero.
To his twin brother, who was born after him, and obtained as his lot the extremity of the island towards the pillars of Heracles, facing the country which is now called
the region of Gades in that part of the world, he gave the name which in the Hellenic language is Eumelus, in the language of the country which is named after him,
It is accepted that Gades is the region around Cadiz in southern Spain. That is to say, one “end” of Atlantis reached southern Spain, all or most of the way to the straits. We do not need to determine the exact edge of the kingdom, because Atlantean colonies stretched into the Mediterranean from the pillars, so the area close to Cadiz was occupied one way or another.
This is compatible with everything we already know. However, distinguishing Gades (Cadiz) from the pillars, as well as letting us know where the name came from, introduces the matter of scale again. The edge of the Atlantean kingdom must have been very close to Gades and the pillars: therefore, almost certainly on the continent. The pillars are mentioned first, an important geographical landmark, marking the end of the Mediterranean. From any substantial distance, this is as much as needs to be said; facing Gades is the same thing as facing the pillars. From even further afield, the Americas, say, nowhere can be said to face Gades or the pillars: New York and Miami can both be said to face Cadiz, but only in a sense so broad and artificial as to be meaningless.
Gades marks the extremity of Atlantis, which, being on the northern side of the straits, rather suggests that Atlantis stretched from there northwards. It is still possible that it was mostly to the south, on the African coast, with one kingdom across the straits.
The foregoing paragraphs are somewhat compatible with an island formed by an uplifted Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In this case, the island would be long and narrow, stretching from the North Atlantic to the Equator; as long as the Libyan-Asian coast, according to Critias, which would be about right.
However, to expose the areas that are now the continental shelves, we are only talking about hundreds of metres of relative sea level change; to expose the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, we would be talking about thousands of metres. Although we might be tempted to think the extreme geological conditions involved were the very ones that culminated in extraordinary seismism, volcanism and the end of the Ice Age – and the disappearance of Atlantis – there is much more work required to prove the plausibility of this idea, as against the sea level changes we have come to expect from the waxing and waning of the ice caps. I am not aware of any suggested mechanism for the Ridge to well up and become habitable.
Furthermore, such an island would have been so important a feature of the Atlantic Ocean that it would surely have warranted a more vivid description. Critias speaks of the Mediterranean as a harbour on the Atlantic, which is surrounded by a continent on the other side; which is as it we know it today, not as it would have been if such an enormous island divided the ocean in two.
Such an island would stretch far north of Gades and the pillars. Even if the island is at it widest at the appropriate latitude, the point opposite the straits could hardly be called “the extremity of the island”.
For these reasons, I suggest we can dismiss the suggestion that Atlantis was a true island formed by the Ridge, because it simply does not fit the clues we are given.
With the Mid-Atlantic Ridge eliminated from our enquiry, there are no possibilities left for a true island of Atlantean proportions. That means
“island” must be interpreted loosely, not literally;
the only places left that fit the clues so far are the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa, just outside the pillars of Heracles and extending for thousands of kilometres.
End of Part II
There are only two candidates left that match the details of Critias’ description of the location of Atlantis. In Part III we will see that only one of these matches the remaining clues.
Part 3: Atlantis Revealed
In this final part of the essay, we will see how Critias does indeed give an accurate description of a real location, that we can easily
discern today; and of the problem for ocean navigation caused when Atlantis was swallowed by the waves.
The Location of Atlantis (continued)
Looking towards the sea, but in the centre of the whole island, there was a plain which is said to have been the fairest of all plains and very fertile.
The country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea;
The surrounding mountains were celebrated for their number and size and beauty, far beyond any which still exist, having in them also many wealthy villages of country folk, and rivers, and lakes, and meadows supplying food enough for every animal, wild or tame, and much wood of various sorts, abundant for each and every kind of work.
That is, we are looking for a plain situated approximately half way along the coast between the straits and either Scandinavia or the Equator. Examining the continental shelves, now flooded but formerly dry land, you will see there are indeed plains in both locations: in Africa at Guinea; and in Europe at the Celtic Shelf.
The higher ground that is still dry land would have constituted mountains surrounding the plain, in both the African case (Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone) and the European case (Ireland, England, France).
“Celebrated for their number and size and beauty” might suggest the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains to us, but we should not assume we share all our aesthetic sensibilities with the ancients. Indeed, if there were productive fields and forests, they could not have too precipitate and rugged. That is, we can imagine the British Isles and northern France to fit this description.
[The plain] was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction three thousand stadia [555 km], but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia [370 km]. This part of the island looked towards the south, and was sheltered from the north
Three thousand stadia is a close match for the length of both of our candidates, the African and European shelves. Both plains are oriented approximately east-west – that is, facing south – with the mountains to the north.
However, the Celtic Shelf also fits the 3:2 proportions; whereas the African candidate is narrower, more like 3:1, or less than a thousand stadia across.
Neither the southern aspect nor being sheltered from the north would be noteworthy for a plain in the tropics; but they would have been redeeming features for the Celtic Shelf, in its northern clime.
Hence, the Celtic Shelf is the only place that fits the description we have so far.
The whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea,
And beginning from the sea they bored a canal of three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty stadia [9250 m] in length, which they carried through to the outermost zone [moat, encircling the city], making a passage from the sea up to this, which became a harbour, and leaving an opening sufficient to enable the largest vessels to find ingress.
It has been suggested that Antarctica best fits this description, being, on average, the highest of the continents; but Critias does not go that far. He only says it is steep at the sea front and about 10 storeys high (the canal was 100 feet deep); where there is no natural harbour, ships travelling the 9 km to the city via the canal. This is consistent with the level plain falling steeply into the sea at the edge of the Celtic Shelf.
…and dividing the island of Atlantis into ten portions, he gave to the first-born of the eldest pair his mother’s dwelling and the surrounding allotment, which was the largest and best, and made him king over the rest; the others he made princes, and gave them rule over many men, and a large territory. And he named them all; the eldest, who was the first king, he named Atlas, and after him the whole island and the ocean were called Atlantic.
The Celtic Shelf does indeed represent about one tenth or more of the former coastal area between the straits and Scandinavia; and, being bathed in the Gulf Stream, it would have enjoyed favourable conditions, uncharacteristic of other regions at the same latitude, as Britain and Ireland do today.
There was an abundance of wood for carpenter’s work, and sufficient maintenance for tame and wild animals. Moreover, there were a great number of elephants [mammoths?] in the island; for as there was provision for all other sorts of animals, both for those which live in lakes and marshes and rivers, and also for those which live in mountains and on plains, so there was for the animal which is the largest and most voracious of all. Also whatever fragrant things there now are in the earth, whether roots, or herbage, or woods, or essences which distil from fruit and flower, grew and thrived in that land; also the fruit which admits of cultivation, both the dry sort, which is given us for nourishment and any other which we use for food–we call them all by the common name of pulse, and the fruits having a hard rind, affording drinks and meats and ointments, and good store of chestnuts and the like, which furnish pleasure and amusement, and are fruits which spoil with keeping, and the pleasant kinds of dessert, with which we console ourselves after dinner, when we are tired of eating–all these that sacred island which then beheld the light of the sun, brought forth fair and wondrous and in infinite abundance. With such blessings the earth freely furnished them;
Stretching from southern Spain to Scandinavia, Atlantis would have encompassed a spectrum of environments, supporting a wide variety of produce; and many non-indigenous species brought by international trade will have found somewhere to thrive.
In the next place, they had fountains, one of cold and another of hot water, in gracious plenty flowing; and they were wonderfully adapted for use by reason of the pleasantness and excellence of their waters. They constructed buildings about them and planted suitable trees, also they made cisterns, some open to the heaven, others roofed over, to be used in winter as warm baths; there were the kings’ baths, and the baths of private persons, which were kept apart; and there were separate baths for women, and for horses and cattle, and to each of them they gave as much adornment as was suitable.
Twice in the year they gathered the fruits of the earth–in winter having the benefit of the rains of heaven, and in summer the water which the land supplied by introducing streams from the canals.
There was certainly no shortage of water, as would have been the case on the Celtic Shelf, in the midst of the Gulf Stream and surrounded by glacial melt water, managed by the system of canals and irrigation ditches Critias describes.
…for in those days the Atlantic was navigable…
Although the legend says there was sea-borne trade, we have no reason to believe these ancient ancestors had mastered sailing the open ocean, which was accomplished only in recent history. Even the Vikings are not credited with Atlantic-crossing so much as Atlantic-skirting. Long distances were covered by sailing close to the shore or making short hops from island to island. In this sense, for the Atlantic to be navigable means for it to be possible to sail a great distance into it, possibly to the other side: passing Atlantis, Iceland, Greenland and the larger, more numerous islands exposed by the fallen sea level. Perhaps the ice cap itself bridged the land and allowed a continuous passage across the North Atlantic.
This view is entirely compatible with the notion of travel to, or even settlement of, the Americas in very ancient times. In fact, they
must have been there to know the continents – whose Pacific reaches they never saw – were there, framing the Atlantic Ocean. But notice that the shores they would have visited are now submerged continental shelves. Whatever evidence there may have been of the presence of Atlanteans and their contemporaries in the Americas is likely very hard to find now.
But afterwards [after the war] there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your [Athenian] warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.
Critias has already described the warrior class living apart from other Athenians, on the Acropolis; and the natural springs that once flowed from within it, but were choked off by earthquakes; so this is probably where the Athenian “warlike men in a body sank into the earth”. That is to the say, the catastrophe that claimed Atlantis was also felt at the other end of the Mediterranean. This tells of the earthquakes and violent floods on a huge scale that are now becoming accepted.
For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
…and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, [Atlantis] became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean. [Crit.]
Atlantis was now covered by the sea, but not to any great depth: too shallow to sail over safely.
This would suggest a sudden relative change in sea level of about 100 feet, the depth of the canal running from the city to the sea. Indeed, Koudriavtsev references some sea level data including a rapid rise of 35 metres at about the right time.
Since the coast they used to follow, past Atlantis on their way to the rest of the ocean, had disappeared; and it was impossible to reach and follow the new coast line (now western France); the whole Atlantic Ocean had become, to them, innavigable.
My aim with this essay has been to see whether Critias, in the words of Plato (or Plato in the words of Critias) painted a consistent
picture and, if so, of what. Prior to its writing, for all I knew, several hypotheses, including Koudriavtsev’s, were readily compatible
with the account. I have found that, on the contrary, the account is unequivocal (based on Jowett’s translation at least):
Critias (or Plato) says the kingdoms of Atlantis stretched from southern Spain, at the Pillars of Heracles, northwards along the
continental shelf, skirting around the British Isles, as far as Scandinavia; with the great plain and capital city on the Celtic Shelf.
Now, we should like to prove whether what he says is true! Of course, this is easier said than done, because the English Channel must be one of the worst places to conduct marine archaeology; and that is where definitive evidence of the truth of Critias’ account, if indeed there is any, is to be found. If the Celtic Shelf yields a city on a hill, with concentric harbours, on a rectangular plain enclosed by an enormous ditch and criss-crossed by canals, I don’t think anyone could deny that Atlantis had been found.
In the meantime, those who have a mind to might like to…
- Find out what happened to Koudriavtsev’s planned expedition of 1998 to the Little Sole Bank on the edge of the Celtic Shelf;
- Study the geology of the Celtic Shelf and determine what the white and black building stones might have been and whether any red minerals matching the description of orichalcum are found there;
- Re-examine the evidence of Atlantis in Spain, France and Sweden;
- Investigate the connections between the “Celtic Shelf Hypothesis” and other legends of lost civilisations, King Arthur’s Lyonnesse, Thule, the Titans and so on;
- Work out the relationship between Atlantis and the Cro-Magnon people, who settled in western Europe and were perhaps distinct from the people ranging across the rest of Europe; and determine whether they (or their ancestors) got there by crossing the straits;
- Compare and contrast the spread of agriculture in Europe immediately after the era of Atlantis with the situation in India and the Middle East in the same period;
This conclusion actually has very little implication for the many researchers who thought they had identified – or found – Atlantis in other
locations around the world. If there are reasons to think advanced civilisations once thrived in South America, the Caribbean, the
Mediterranean, India, Indonesia, etc., they are unaffected by the realisation that none of them was the land known to us as Atlantis. All we
have done here is identify which of the fascinating and important researches into ancient mysteries refer to Atlantis and which refer to
other, no less important cultures.