first posted May 27, 2019 - estimated read time: 10 minutes and 44 seconds
The Lost City of Atlantis is a myth and legend that has fascinated generations and captured the imagination for countless storytellers since the great philosopher Plato first introduced it to the masses ~360BC. Since then, there have been many theories on whether the famous sunken city ever existed, with the city being “found” almost every year by bored internet users on Google Maps. But what if the ancient city really did exist? What if we never found it because we were looking for it in the ocean?
To begin, there are three schools of thought on Atlantis; Atlantis was a completely fictional city, Atlantis was a fictional city that was heavily inspired by a real city, or Atlantis was a totally real city. So which is the truth? Let’s dive into the evidence and see where it takes us.
Was Atlantis A Completely Fictional City?
In the modern era, the general scientific and historical consensus was that Atlantis was a completely fictional city invented by Plato to serve as an allegory on hubris as well as to prop up his own concept of the ideal state. In Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, Plato uses Atlantis as an example of an advanced naval power that attacks his fictionalized version of Athens. Because his fictitious Athens is run by his ideal state concept, it is able to repel the Atlantian siege. A defeated Atlantis falls out of grace with the gods and sinks to the bottom of the sea.
So it’s pretty clear that Atlantis was used in Plato’s writings in a fictitious story, but does that mean that Atlantis itself was fictitious? Many works of fiction use or reference real places and events after all. However, Aristotle (who was Plato’s student) believed himself that Atlantis was an invention to help teach philosophy. Uh oh, not looking so good for Atlantis, is it?
The philosopher Crantor however, believed that Atlantis was a real historical city. Although not a direct student of Plato, Crantor was a student of one of Plato’s students Xenocrates. So, a philosophical grandchild if you will. Crantor also believed that the Egyptians were the actual first basis of the story of Atlantis after finding written evidence when visiting!Please note that this is subject to great debate as it is unclear if Crantor visited and witnessed hieroglyphs that confirmed Atlantis himself, or if he simply spoke to someone else who had seen the glyphs in Egypt. Egypt, which corroborates Plato’s assertion that Solon learned of Atlantis when visiting Egypt between 590 and 580 BC. This is important because if true, it means that our assumption that Plato was the first to “know” and write about Atlantis is false.
Was Atlantis Based On A Real City?
There just does not seem to be enough concrete evidence to completely dismiss Atlantis as a fictional city or to confirm it as a historical city, so what if the truth is more of a hybrid? What if Plato really did invent Atlantis, but heavily based his fictitious city on a real one? Kind of like how science fiction seems to always have some crazy futuristic neon city that is clearly inspired by modern-day Tokyo or San Fransisco or something. If so, what could the inspiration city have been? In order to guess at this, we need to use the original legend of Atlantis, as written by Plato for clues.
Arguably, the most important part of the legend is that the city fell into the sea, and the most well-known civilization who fit this description are the Minoans on the island of Crete, Greece. The Thera or Minoan Eruption was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption!the eruption was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history that happened around the sixteenth century BC. This event caused a massive tsunami that would have very likely devastated the Minoans.
The Minoans, although advanced and prosperous, were nowhere near the military juggernaut that Plato paints Atlantis as, but we also have to remember the reason Plato would have invented Atlantis to begin with – to prove his idea of a state as superior! Interesting side note, it was the Minoans who had the myth of the Minotaur and the maze.. If Atlantis was indeed invented by Plato, then it would be very likely that the destruction of Crete would have served as the inspiration for the fall of Atlantis.
Was Atlantis A Historical and Real City?
And now for the fun school of thought; what if Atlantis was, in fact, a real historical city? Where would it be located, and what evidence is there to support it? As of the writing of this article, it looks like there is significant evidence that if Atlantis were to be real, then it would actually have been located in The Eye of The Sahara, Africa. No wonder we’ve never found it before!
The Eye of The Sahara, or Richat Structure, is a deeply eroded, slightly elliptical dome with a diameter of 40 kilometres (25 mi), located in Mauritania, Northwest Africa!. Mauritania is bordered by the Atlantic ocean, and Mauretania!Mauretania is Latin for a region in the ancient Maghreb, which included modern Mauritania includes the Atlas Mountains. Furthermore, King Atlas was a legendary king of Mauretania credited with the invention of the celestial globe and was the first known king of the Mauri.
So that’s a nice little geography and history lesson, but what does it have to do with our lost city? Well, according to Plato, the first king of Atlantis was named, you guessed it, Atlas. This could very well just be a coincidence though, or perhaps, like with Crete, Plato simply borrowed first-king Atlas as inspiration. Atlas was a very well known Titan in Greek mythology after all.
Enter Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian who is considered to have been the first to record history using a method of systematic investigation, making him a sort of father of history. What makes him so important to us is his ecumene!Greek for “inhabited” map – a map of the known populated world. On this map, he places “Atlantes” almost exactly where the Eye of The Sahara is located. That’s right, one of the most important historians of all time describes the existence of “Atlantes” in Northwest Africa. It’s also important to note that Herodotus died c. 425 BC while Plato was purported to have been born c 424 BC, meaning that Herodotus did not learn of Atlantis from Plato.
I mean, on first look, this is some fairly good evidence. We have a city that was at the very least colloquially called Atlantis, named after its first king Atlas, just like Plato said. We also have the most respected and trusted historian of the time placing Atlantes in Northwestern Africa, a place now called Mauritania. But what about any other details about what Atlantis was supposed to be, such as physical details?
By far the largest argument against the Richat Structure being remnant of Atlantis is that is is very much not under water, but we will address this further in this article. For now, let’s look at the other physical and geographical evidence we have. In Plato’s Critias, Atlantis is described by the Egyptians as made of concentric islands separated by wide moats and linked by a canal that went all the way to the center. Atlantis mostly consisted of mountains in the northern portions, and along the shore and encompassing a great plain in an oblong shape in the south “extending in one direction three thousand stadia [about 555 km; 345 mi].
In Plato’s Timaeus, references are made that Atlantis held a great number of Elephants (seriously!), which if true, knocks a bunch of locations out of the running as places like Greenland and Crete could not support such animals.
So how well does this description fit our proposed location? Well, we have mountains to the north, an opening to the south where it was said to have connected to the ocean, it’s surrounded by nothing but great planes, it’s is almost exactly 555km to the ocean, and most importantly, Mauritania has elephants!
I mean, I am certainly no scientist, geologist, historian, or, well, anything, but for whatever it’s worth, my uneducated arm-chair opinion is that the above photo looks exactly like what we would expect. Five concentric circles, and what looks like clear areas where water and moats existed – 3 rings of water, and 2 of land. The Richat Structure is 40 kilometers (25 mi) in diameter, which is pretty close to what the total size of Atlantis would have been according to Plato’s writings.
However, Plato also wrote that the central island itself was five stades!an ancient Greek unit of length, based on the length of a typical sports stadium of the time in diameter, which is about 0.92 km [0.57 mi], and from what I can see, the center of the structure is far larger than that. It’s important to note that I think it’s very possible, if not likely!Just remember that I am no expert, so what I think is not important, that a smaller center island was actually present, but has been washed out and eroded over time.
Despite having some really good similarities and evidence pointing towards the true location of the lost city of Atlantis, there is still contrary evidence that I have been ignoring until now, mainly that the Richat Structure IS ABOVE GROUND. Don’t worry, I’m not an idiot!editor note: citation required who forgot this glaring issue, I simply wanted to wait for this section to tackle the more… problematic aspects of this theory.
First, yes, the Richat Structure is currently above ground, but this does not mean that it always was. Admittedly, our current models last put the area underwater several million years ago, which means that if this ever were the city of Atlantis, then the story of its demise was either false or grossly exaggerated.
Now, someone who actually knows things might be able to see the following and tear me apart for it, so once again, I just want to reiterate that I am in no way a geologist or any other kind of expert. In February 2007, whale bones were found in Dakhlet Nouadhibou, Mauritania, many miles inland, so we have to ask – if this land has not been underwater in millions of years, how did these bones get here? My guess is that a tsunami is the most likely culprit, and if so, is it that much of a stretch to assume that, like the Minoans, Atlantis could have been devastated by a tsunami?
Mauritania is certainly not immune to tsunamis and is currently part of the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Tsunami Warning System, established by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Assembly in 2005. Furthermore, Mauritania was also a site of a massive undersea megaslide that would have absolutely caused tsunamis to hit.
Urlaub was analyzing ocean drilling data from 1980 when she realized it included samples from the seafloor just outside the Cap Blanc slide, a 149,000-year-old megaslide offshore northern Mauritania, in northwest Africa, that propelled more than 7.2 cubic miles (30 cubic km) of material over a seafloor gently inclined at just 2.8 degrees.https://www.livescience.com/61756-sea-slime-mega-tsunamis.html
Not only is a tsunami possible, but that the area itself is already prone to geological shifting.
So What’s The Truth?
As anticlimactic as it sounds, I have no idea. The truth is that if Atlantis was a real city, then the Eye of The Sahara sure makes a compelling argument, but without a team on the ground doing more research and excavations, we just can’t know.