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Platons Atlantis

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You are in: Sci/Tech Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK

Atlantis 'obviously near Gibraltar'

A French scientist has pinpointed a possible location for Atlantis, the ancient and idyllic realm described by the Greek philosopher Plato and others. Jacques Collina-Girard, from the University of the Mediterranean in Aix-en-Provence, says it could have been sited on an island close to the Strait of Gibraltar, and would have vanished below the waves about 11,000 years ago - just as Plato said it did.

Nobody seems to have to have thought of the clearest indication given by Plato - that of an island at the mouth of the Pillars of Hercules

Jacques Collina-Girard

Collina-Girard's evidence is based on a study of sea levels that prevailed as the last Ice Age was ending.

His assessment of the coral reef data shows the coastline off the southernmost tip of Spain and around Gibraltar 19,000 years ago to have been 130 metres (422 feet) below what it is today. This would have exposed an archipelago, with an island at the spot where Plato reported Atlantis to be in his work Timaeus.

"There was an island in front of the 'Pillars of Hercules'," what we would now call the Strait of Gibraltar, Collina-Girard told New Scientist magazine. Named Spartel, this island lay to the west of the Strait just as the Greek philosopher described. The Strait was longer and narrower than today, and enclosed a harbour-like inland sea.

Volcanic eruptions

The search for Atlantis has led archaeologists and thrillseekers to the Caribbean, the Azores, Canaries, Iceland, Crete, Tunisia, Sweden, the coast of Western Africa and even the Sahara. But, Collina-Girard says, nobody ever looked in the most obvious place. "Nobody seems to have to have thought of the clearest indication given by Plato - that of an island at the mouth of the Pillars of Hercules."

The researcher says he made the discovery accidentally while investigating the possible migration patterns of Palaeolithic people.

He says, however, that in a number of respects, Plato's reporting simply does not square with the geological evidence. For example, Plato said Atlantis was larger than Libya and Asia combined, whereas Spartel was only 14 kilometers (8.75 miles) long by five km wide (three miles) at the time.

Plato also reports that volcanic activity sank Atlantis, but this may have been a case of embellishment, says Collina-Girard. "The Greeks were familiar with volcanic eruptions," he notes. To them, such a fate might have been more dramatic and plausible than the change in sea level that would have accompanied the melting and gradual retreat glacial icesheets.

The idea that Atlantis was also an advanced, utopian society may also be an embellishment.

Collina-Girard has published his work in a prestigious French journal, Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Sciences.

See also:

19 Oct 00 | Europe :Archaeologists probe legendary city

26 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech :Disaster that struck the ancients

04 Jun 00 | Americas :Explorer finds lost city

Internet links:New Scientist :Jacques Collina-Girard :Atlantis (BBC Horizon)



Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 15:49 GMT

Hunt for Lost City of Atlantis

By Verity Murphy

BBC News Online

A team of experts believes it could be close to unravelling the millennia-old myth of the Lost City of Atlantis and is launching an expedition

to the seas west of Gibraltar

to test its theory. Myth or reality? It is said to be a place of beauty and wealth

The team is led by eminent pre-historian Professor Jacques Collina-Girard, aided by the two men who led the expeditions to the Titanic.

They believe that using a combination of literary pointers and geological evidence they have pinned the lost city's location to just west of the Straits of Gibraltar, on a submerged mud shoal now known as Spartel Island.

The story of Atlantis, a fabled utopia destroyed in ancient times, has captured the imagination of scholars ever since it was first described by the philosopher Plato more than 2,000 years ago.

As soon as I saw it I thought 'Oh my God this is it!' In fact I couldn't believe no-one had drawn this conclusion before

Paul-Henri Nargeolet

His depiction of a land of fabulous wealth, advanced civilisation and natural beauty has spurred many adventurers to seek out its location.

Debate rages over where it may lie, with it being placed variously near Cuba, off the coast of Devon, near The Azores or slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic.

"The area looks just like Plato described it - sitting right outside the Pillars of Hercules. As soon as I saw it I thought 'Oh my God this is it!' In fact I couldn't believe no-one had drawn this conclusion before," team member Paul-Henri Nargeolet told BBC News Online.

Plato made the first written references to Atlantis in 360BC:

"There was an island situated in front of the Pillars of Hercules; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together," he said in his Timaeus dialogue. He explained that the island "was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent".

Ancient archipelago

Professor Collina-Girard says that whilst researching patterns of human migration from Europe to North Africa 19,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, he became convinced that in pre-historic times a land bridge linked the two continents.

He says that by making a map of the ocean floor as it would have appeared at that time, when the sea levels were much lower, he discovered an archipelago just in front of the Straits of Gibraltar, or as Plato referred to them - the Pillars of Hercules.

The professor believes that about 11,000 years ago the rapidly rising seas submerged the archipelago - not in one day as Plato describes, but nonetheless at a rapid rate in geological terms - some 2 metres per century.

If correct, the timing is a match for what Plato describes in his Timaeus and Critias texts as he, a figure from over 2,000 years ago, recounts a story from 9,000 years before.

Childhood fascination

Joining the professor in exploring his Atlantis theory are George Tulloch and Mr Nargeolet, famous for leading the expeditions to Titanic.

"I first met Jacques at an archaeology conference - he was giving a talk, but no-one was listening to him. I think I was the only one listening and as I sat there I started to think 'this is good stuff'," Mr Nargeolet explained.

"He was describing his theory about Atlantis - I had read about Atlantis since I was a kid and had of course been fascinated by it, and what Jacques was describing was a great new way of seeing it."

Mainly we will be looking for caves that look like they could have been lived in and if we find any we will then come back with a remote controlled camera that we can use to explore those caves

Paul-Henri Nargeolet

Mr Nargeolet said that following the success of the Titanic project he and his American partners were looking for a new challenge and that the professor's theory proved alluring.

Spartel Island is a mud shoal about 8 kilometres (five miles) by 3.5 km and lies at a maximum depth of 100 metres (320 feet).

Later expeditions planned

On the first two-week mission, set to take place next July, a two-man submersible captained by Mr Nargeolet will be sent down to investigate areas of the island most likely to be inhabited. "For example we have identified an area which we think would most likely have been the island's harbour - an area which would of course been a centre for civilisation, " the project's spokesman James McCallum said.

However, although they hope to uncover evidence of tools, weapons or even walls, the team will not be searching for the great buildings and temples so often associated with Atlantis. We are not treasure hunters, our only goal afterwards is an exhibition that the public can see

Paul-Henri Nargeolet

"Those are dreams. Mainly we will be looking for caves that look like they could have been lived in and if we find any we will then come back with a remote controlled camera that we can use to explore those caves," Mr Nargeolet said.

The $250,000 to $500,000 estimated cost of the first expedition is being covered through a combination of private collections and sponsorship.

If the two-week study yields good results they will return at a later date for a more exhaustive study.

But Mr Nargeolet stresses his team are pushed on by the pursuit of knowledge, not profit.

"We are not treasure hunters, our only goal afterwards is an exhibition that the public can see - everything we salvaged from the Titanic has gone into an exhibition and nothing has ever been sold - that is not what we are interested in."


Russians seek Atlantis off Cornwall

29 Dec 97 | UK Atlantis 'obviously near Gibraltar'

20 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech Archaeologists probe legendary city

19 Oct 00 | Europe Disaster that struck the ancients

26 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech



Sunday, 6 June, 2004, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK

Satellite images 'show Atlantis'

By Paul Rincon

BBC News Online science staff

A scientist says he may have found remains of the lost city of Atlantis.

Satellite photos of southern Spain reveal features on the ground appearing to match descriptions made by Greek scholar Plato of the fabled utopia.

Dr Rainer Kuehne thinks the "island" of Atlantis simply referred to

a region of the southern Spanish coast

destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC. The research has been reported as an ongoing project in the online edition of the journal Antiquity.

We have in the photos concentric rings just as Plato described Dr Rainer Kuehne

Satellite photos of a salt marsh region known as Marisma de Hinojosnear the city of Cadiz show two rectangular structures in the mud and parts of concentric rings that may once have surrounded them.

"Plato wrote of an island of five stades (925m) diameter that was surrounded by several circular structures - concentric rings - some consisting of Earth and the others of water. We have in the photos concentric rings just as Plato described," Dr Kuehne told BBC News Online. Dr Kuehne believes the rectangular features could be the remains of a "silver" temple devoted to the sea god Poseidon and a "golden" temple devoted to Cleito and Poseidon - all described in Plato's dialogue Critias. Temples of the sea god

The identification of the site with Atlantis was first proposed by Werner Wickboldt, a lecturer and Atlantis enthusiast who spotted the rectangles and concentric rings by studying photographs from across the Mediterranean for signs of the city described by Plato.

The sizes of the "island" and its rings in the satellite image are slightly larger than those described by Plato. There are two possible explanations for this, says Dr Kuehne. First, Plato may have underplayed the size of Atlantis. Secondly, the ancient unit of measurement used by Plato - the stade - may have been 20% larger than traditionally assumed. It is claimed that concentric rings surround the temple site

If the latter is true, one of the rectangular features on the "island" matches almost exactly the dimensions given by Plato for the temple of Poseidon. Mr Wickboldt explained: "This is the only place that seems to fit [Plato's] description."

He added that the Greeks might have confused an Egyptian word referring to a coastline with one meaning "island" during transmission of the Atlantis story. Commenting on the satellite image showing the two "temples", Tony Wilkinson, an expert in the use of remote sensing in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, UK, told BBC News Online: "A lot of the problems come with interpretations. I can see something there and I could imagine that one could interpret it in various ways. But you've got several leaps of faith here.

Metal trading

"We use the imagery to recognise certain types of imprint on the ground and then do [in the field] verification on them. Based on what we see on the ground we make an interpretation. "What we need here is a date range. Otherwise, you're just dealing with morphology. But the [features] are interesting."

The fabled utopia of Atlantis has captured the imagination of scholars for centuries. The earliest known records of this mythical land appear in Plato's dialogues Critias and Timaios. This reconstruction of the city of Atlantis is based on Plato's description

His depiction of a land of fabulous wealth, advanced civilisation and natural beauty has spurred many adventurers to seek out its location.

One recent theory equates Atlantis with Spartel Island, a mud shoal in the straits of Gibraltar that sank into the sea 11,000 years ago. Plato described Atlantis as having a "plain". Dr Kuehne said this might be the plain that extends today from Spain's southern coast up to the city of Seville. The high mountains described by the Greek scholar could be the Sierra Morena and Sierra Nevada.

"Plato also wrote that Atlantis is rich in copper and other metals. Copper is found in abundance in the mines of the Sierra Morena," Dr Kuehne explained.

The rectangles: What interpretation can be put on the satellite images? Image: Werner Wickboldt

Dr Kuehne noticed that the war between Atlantis and the eastern Mediterranean described in Plato's writings closely resembled attacks on Egypt, Cyprus and the Levant during the 12th Century BC by mysterious raiders known as the Sea People. As a result, he proposes that the Atlanteans and the Sea People were in fact one and the same.

This dating would equate the city and society of Atlantis with either the Iron Age Tartessos culture of southern Spain or another, unknown, Bronze Age culture. A link between Atlantis and Tartessos was first proposed in the early 20th Century.

Dr Kuehne said he hoped to attract interest from archaeologists to excavate the site. But this may be tricky. The features in the satellite photo are located within Spain's Donana national park.


Hunt for Lost City of Atlantis

30 Oct 03 | Europe

Atlantis 'obviously near Gibraltar'

20 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech

Russians seek Atlantis off Cornwall

29 Dec 97 | UK


Antiquity Journal

Rainer Kuehne


See also

Platons Atlantis was in a River Delta

By Ulf Richter