The year is 4512. A team of archaeoscientists has discovered a text. Written by one of the greatest minds in history, the story tells of a lost city -- buried beneath the sea -- that holds secrets of an unusually advanced society and a bounty of priceless treasures.
While this could easily be the premise for a Hollywood blockbuster, strip away the first two sentences and you're left with the tale of Atlantis. In the fourth century B.C., the philosopher Plato wrote a series of dialogues (Timaeus and Critias) in which he introduced the story of Atlantis [source: Plato, Shepard, Jowett].
According to Plato, the city of Atlantis was home to the most advanced society in the world. It was filled with amazing architectural elements -- intricate buildings, bridges and passageways -- adorned with priceless metals:
Moreover, through the circles of land, which divided those of sea, over against the bridges they opened out a channel leading from circle to circle, large enough to give passage to a single trireme; and this they roofed over above so that the sea-way was subterranean … and upon the bridges on each side, over against the passages for the sea, they erected towers and gates … And they covered with brass, as though with plaster, all the circumference of the wall which surrounded the outermost circle; and that of the inner one they coated with tin; and that which encompassed the acropolis itself ... All the exterior of the temple they coated with silver, save only the pinnacles, and these they coated with gold. As to the interior, they made the roof all of ivory in appearance, variegated with gold and silver and orichalcum, and all the rest of the walls and pillars and floors they covered with orichalcum. And they placed therein golden statues … [source: Plato via Perseus Digital Library].
Although many believe this to be just that -- a story, others think this astounding tale could very well be true. So, what could possibly cause an entire city to be swallowed up by the sea? Keep reading to find out why the story of Atlantis might not be as far-fetched as some believe.
9: Many Cultures Share Similar Stories
This could just as easily be referred to as the "Just because we haven't found it yet, doesn't mean it's not out there" theory. And while that might seem a slightly -- or more so depending on your perspective -- naïve point of view, it's not entirely without merit. True, those who've spent (and sometimes lost) their lives searching for the lost city of El Dorado would have been better served by doing pretty much anything else. Still, think of other discoveries that have been made throughout the years.
For example, consider the city of Troy -- think Homer's Iliad, or the 2004 Pitt, Bana and Bloom flick.
Homer wrote of Troy sometime around 800 B.C. For ages after that, it was difficult for historians to distinguish history from legend. That is until Heinrich Schliemann stumbled on to the archaeological scene. The former businessman had reportedly spent his youth enamored of Homer's Iliad and hoped to one day prove the story, its characters and setting true. During an excavation in the early 1870s, Schliemann did just that [source: Harrington]. Perhaps one day soon someone will do for Plato's tale what Schliemann did for Homer.
Next, we look to the seas for support of Atlantis.
8: The Ocean Is Really, Really Big
When considering reasons why Atlantis may have been real, probably the easiest thing to point to is, well, the biggest thing to point to: the ocean.
Approximately 70 percent of Earth is covered in ocean, yet it's the least-explored place on the planet [source: HowStuffWorks]. So there's really no telling what all is down there. And the massive expanse of unchartered waters isn't the only issue -- there's also the depth of those waters to consider.
To this day, only two men have been to the deepest ocean location known to man -- and that excursion took place more than 50 years ago. And no one has been there since. To put things in perspective -- six times as many men have walked on the moon. On January 23, 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard travelled almost seven miles (35, 800 feet, or 10,911 meters) to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep. The deep sea excursion took more than eight hours to complete, including a 20-minute rest on the ocean floor.
Up next, another way the ocean might factor in to the Atlantis story.
7: Sea Levels Rise
According to Plato, the sinking of Atlantis happened some 9,000 years before his time. That places the event sometime within the early stages of the Holocene period. Just on the heels of the Pleistocene era, also known as the "Ice Age," the Holocene era saw a marked increase in global temperatures. As those temperatures rose, the massive glaciers and ice sheets that had formed during the Pleistocene era started to melt. As a result, sea levels rose dramatically -- as much as 100 feet (30 meters) in some areas [source: Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia].
Now, let's say there just so happened to be an advanced civilization as Plato suggested. And, let's imagine that it was situated on a low-elevation continent along the coast. With such drastic increases in sea levels, it's not entirely out of the question that a city in such a location could actually have been swallowed by the ocean. Whether this would have happened in one night, as Plato described, is another question.
In an article about the investigation of a sunken landscape beneath the North Sea (which likely became immersed more than 8,000 years ago), Professor Vince Gaffney suggests that the rising waters that buried this community could have been, "insidious and slow -- but at times, it could have been terrifyingly fast" [source: Coughlan].
Even if rising sea levels don't seem totally plausible for an overnight Atlantis scenario, water could still be the culprit. Keep reading to see how.
6: Severe Flooding
Flooding is the most devastating weather phenomenon known to mankind. Accounts of incredibly destructive floods have been recorded and recounted throughout history from all corners of the globe. People, livestock, cars, homes and more can be swept up in the rushing water. In the last century alone, millions of lives have been lost to this meteorological mêlée. In just a few hours, hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people can lose their homes and livelihoods, if not their lives. For example, both 2010 and 2011 have proven to be particularly devastating flood-wise to millions in Pakistan. In fact, according to the United Nations, just in the province of Sindh, more than 665,000 homes have been destroyed, displacing more than 1.8 million people, which is why the United Nations is seeking $357 million to help those affected by the flooding [source: Abbot].
Many early civilizations were built on rivers that frequently had severe floods, so a city such as Atlantis being wiped out by one isn't out of the question.
And speaking of floods …
5: Could the Black Sea flood be Atlantis?
Is it possible that the tale of Atlantis could simply be Plato retelling a story that had been told and retold by others for several generations -- the story of the Black Sea flood, which reportedly took place around 5600 B.C.? Some people think so.
As mentioned earlier, as temperatures increased after the end of the Ice Age, sea levels rose. It's believed that as the water levels of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas rose, the extra water made its way to the Black Sea, which at that time was a freshwater lake. In turn, the water levels of the Black Sea increased enough to flood the surrounding area. Typically, this description of events has been used to support another ancient story -- that of Noah's flood.
Until recently, the numbers involved in this theory were impressive: more than 60,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) of land engulfed in water and sea level increases of 160 feet (50 meters) or more [source: Wilford]. However, new research indicates that the numbers weren't quite that high -- more like 1,250 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of flooded land and sea level increases of 16 to 33 feet (5 to 10 meters)[source: Lippsett]. Numbers like these, though, are still high enough to do considerable damage, especially if a large settlement of people were living in the area at that time.
4: Tectonic Activity
Tectonic activity has been known to do some pretty amazing things to our familiar topography. Could it have had anything to do with Atlantis? At least one marine geologist thinks so.
Marine geologist, and former professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Japan, Masaaki Kimura thought he'd found the remains of Mu, a legendary society thought to have suffered the same fate as Plato's sunken city Atlantis. Kimura began studying the underwater structures, which are located just off the coast of Yonaguni Jima, in the late 1980s and has since identified what he believes are the remains of roadways, monuments, animal-shaped sculptures, castles and even a pyramid [source: New Scientist and Ryall].
Kimura contends that tectonic activity is the culprit behind this sunken city. Of course, Kimura's theory isn't supported by all. Some geologists believe all these underwater discoveries are just natural formations. Researchers and tourists can judge for themselves. The formations are owned by the district of Yonaguni, which means you're welcome to dive there.
And speaking of plate tectonics …
3: Massive Earthquake
In Plato's account of Atlantis' ultimate demise, he credits "earthquakes and floods of extraordinary violence" that were powerful enough to swallow up man and city in the course of a single day.
As the colossal quake that occurred on March 11, 2011, in Japan reminded us, earthquakes can very well be this catastrophic. Reaching a 9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale, the effects of the quake were reportedly felt by people as far away as 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers) [source: Diep]. The main event was preceded by four "smaller" quakes (known as foreshocks), ranging from 6.0 to 7.2 on the Richter scale, and it was followed by more than 400 aftershocks [source: Diep]. The death toll has exceeded 18,000 and the financial toll is well into the billions [source: McCurry]. With all this devastation, it's difficult to comprehend that this is only the fifth-largest earthquake, worldwide, since 1900.
So could a shocker like this be responsible for the disappearance of the legendary Atlantis? Perhaps. In fact, history tells us of a few massive earthquakes that had wreaked havoc prior to -- and even near-- Plato's account. For example, the great Sparta quake, which reportedly destroyed a large portion of the city and set off a multi-decade war, happened sometime around 464 B.C. Almost a century later, in 373 B.C., a devastating quake leveled the Greek city of Helike. And much earlier -- around 1600 B.C., another Greek locale was leveled: The Bronze Age city of Akroteri, which was located on the island of Thera (now Santorini), met its downfall via two natural forces -- a great quake and a volcanic eruption. Perhaps Akroteri is Plato's Atlantis …
If you're not familiar with what happened at Akroteri, you may be familiar with a similar tale -- that of Pompeii. Read on to learn how a volcano could have caused Atlantis to meet the same demise as Pompeii.
2: Volcanic Eruption
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum had very little time to escape the havoc that quickly ensued -- more than 2,000 didn't make it. Buried for more than 1,600 years, details of the event were pristinely preserved under layers of volcanic waste. To date, the excavation of these ruins represents the biggest archaeological find in history. The volcanic eruption provided us with a perfect specimen of an ancient city frozen in time. Could another city that suffered a similar fate be Plato's Atlantis? Some say, "Yes" -- thinking Atlantis may really have referred to the Minoan civilization.
A volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Thera (now Santorini), which occurred sometime around 1600 B.C., could be responsible for felling the Minoan civilization in one cataclysmic swoop. As mentioned on the previous page, Akroteri was affected by a massive quake and this very volcanic eruption. Furthermore, many believe the volcanic activity to be responsible for the obliteration of the Minoan society on the nearby island of Crete. And now, research suggests the effects of the blast likely extended much farther than originally thought.
During expeditions in the late spring and early summer of 2006, a research team discovered volcanic ash and pumice deposits radiating around Santorini some 12 to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) [source: URI]. The deposits range in thickness from 6 to 50 feet (10 to 80 meters), indicating that the eruption was likely about 33 percent bigger/more powerful than original estimations [source: URI]. By comparison, it was perhaps 10 times larger than the Indonesian eruption of Krakatau, which claimed the lives of more than 35,000 people -- thanks in large part to the 100-foot-high (30-meters) wall of water the earthy blast initiated [source: URI].
If Krakatau produced a tsunami of that size, imagine how large the resulting tsunami of the Santorini eruption would have been. As you're pondering the enormity of this, here's something else to consider: The tsunami that followed the 2011 Japan earthquake traveled across the ocean at a speed of approximately 500 miles per hour (800 kilometers per hour) [source: Diep]. That's the average cruising speed of a jet.
Click ahead to learn how a wall of water -- or a series of them -- could be responsible for the fall of Atlantis.
Imagine a deadly chain of events -- an earthquake and volcano of epic proportions shake things so violently that they stir the seas into a deadly tempest. Suddenly, a wall of water is rushing to shore at amazing speed, destroying everything in its voracious path. That's what scientists think happened in not one but two ancient spots -- and they think one of these might be Atlantis.
One locale is the one already covered in this article -- the area surrounding (and including) Santorini and Crete [source: Choi]. The other is off the coast of southern Spain in Doña Ana Park.
After viewing a satellite image of what some speculated to be a sunken city, a team of archaeologists and geologists decided to take a closer look. The researchers made their way to the area, which is north of Cadiz, Spain, with a lot of technology in tow, including digital mapping, ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers and spectrometers.
In addition to the underwater remains the research team has reportedly found, there are a few inland artifacts that lend -- at least to lead researcher Richard Freund -- even more credibility to the Spain/Atlantis claim. Freund believes these inland finds indicate that those who survived the tsunami resettled, creating a new city complete with memorials to their city that was stolen by the sea. And the memorials reportedly resemble Plato's description of Atlantis.
Of course, as with all Atlantis theories, this one isn't detractor-free. Juan Villarías-Robles, an anthropologist working for Spain's CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas), is one of those critics. Villarías-Robles has been conducting research in the same area for several years and does not believe Freund's team's findings to be scientifically founded [source: Owen].
Whether you're a believer or not, it's remarkable how the story of Atlantis has stood the test of time and continues to fascinate -- and inspire -- people around the globe.
To learn more, peruse the links on the next page.
Lots More Information
- 10 Reasons We Should Consider Living Undersea
- Top 10 Archaeological Finds of the 21st Century
- 10 Finds that Define Human Evolution
- Top 10 Cosmological Achievements
- 10 Amazing Intellectual Achievements
- Abbot, Sebastian. "UN Needs $357 Million to Cope with Pakistan Floods." Associated Press, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sept. 19, 2011. Accessed September 20, 2011 http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9PRJGQ00.htm
- Boyle, Rebecca. "Scientists Say They May Have Found Lost City of Atlantis Near Spain." POPSCI, March 14, 2011. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-03/scientists-say-theyve-found-lost-city-atlantis-swept-away-tsunami
- Choi, Charles, Q. "Tsunami may have inspired Atlantis legend." MSNBC/LiveScience, Oct. 9, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33243284/ns/technology_and_science-science/
- Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. "Holocene epoch." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition (July 2010), Columbia University Press: Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost. Accessed September 20, 2011.
- Coughlan, Sean. "Lost World Warning from North Sea." BBC News, April 23, 2007. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6584011.stm
- Diep, Francie. "Fast Facts About the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami." Scientific American, March 14, 2011. Accessed September 21, 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fast-facts-japan
- Green, Michael, J., and Szechenyi, Nicholas. "The March 11 Earthquake in Japan." Center for Strategic & International Studies, March 14, 2011. Accessed Sept. 21, 2011. http://csis.org/publication/march-11-earthquake-japan
- HowStuffWorks. "How much water is there on Earth?" April 1, 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/question157.htm
- Harrington, Spencer P.M. "Behind the Mask of Agamemnon." Archaeology, volume 52, number 4, July/August 1999. Accessed Sept. 20, 2011 http://www.archaeology.org/9907/etc/mask.html
- Hughes, Bettany. "Chipping Away at the Buried Secrets of the Lost City of Atlantis." Daily Telegraph (London) [serial online]. May 7, 2011:26. Available from: Newspaper Source Plus, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 20, 2011.
- Lemonick, Michael D. et al. "Troy's Lost Treasure." TIME, Apr. 22, 1996. Accessed Sept. 20, 2011 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,984435,00.html
- Lippsett, Lonny. "Noah's Not-so-big Flood." Oceanus. August 14, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=58886
- McCurry, Justin. "Japan Quake Death Toll Passes 18,000." The Guardian, March 21, 2011. Accessed September 21, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/21/japan-earthquake-death-toll-18000
- New Scientist Magazine. "Yonagun, Japan." Issue # 2736, Nov. 25, 2009.
- Plato. "Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb." Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925. via Perseus Hopper, Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DCriti.%3Asection%3D106b (multiple sections, beginning here)
- Plato, Shepard, Aaron, Jowett, B. "The Atlantis Dialogue: Plato's Original Story of the Lost City and Continent." Shepard Publications. 2001.
- Owen, Edward. "Lost city of Atlantis 'buried in Spanish wetlands'." The Telegraph. March 14, 2011. Accessed September 21, 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8381219/Lost-city-of-Atlantis-buried-in-Spanish-wetlands.html
- Ruane, Michael E. "Navy Honors Officer 50 Years After Voyage to Ocean Depths." Washington Post, April 16, 2010. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/15/AR2010041502544.html
- Ryall, Julian. "Japan's Ancient Underwater "Pyramid" Mystifies Scholars." National Geographic News, Sept. 19, 2007. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/09/070919-sunken-city.html
- University of New Orleans. "New Orleans … the new Atlantis?" Jan. 18, 2000. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2000-01/UoNO-NOtn-1801100.php
- University of Rhode Island. "Santorini eruption much larger than originally believed." Aug. 23, 2006. Accessed September 21, 2011. http://www.uri.edu/news/releases/?id=3654
- Wilford, John Noble. "Plumbing Black Sea for Proof of the Deluge." The New York Times, Jan. 5, 1999. Accessed September 20, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/05/science/plumbing-black-sea-for-proof-of-the-deluge.html