The Lost Continent of Atlantis
By Tom Slemen

During World War Two, scores of American pilots on submarine duty in the Caribbean reported sightings of artificial underwater structures. Many of these geometrical constructs were seen in the coastal vicinity of Mexico, Yucatan and British Honduras, and seemed to fly in the face of the text book history of the Americas. Today, many more submerged building of uncertain origin have been discovered, and they are providing quite a headache for conventional archaeology, because evidence is gradually mounting that hints at a pre-Inca (and possibly pre-Egyptian) civilization, which might have actually had a transatlantic trade route with Europe. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that the shipping lanes of this route had a regular port of call on their journeys: the mid-Atlantic continent of Atlantis.

The primary source of a legendary ancient super-civilization that existed on a mid-Atlantic island ten thousand years before the birth of Christ originated in Plato's books Critias and Timaeus, written circa 355 BC, when Plato was in his seventies. Among these works, Plato gives a detailed description of the Atlantean metropolis. When describing the dimensions and measurements of the island and its architecture, Plato often refers to the "stade" - which is an archaic measurement of length, equivalent to 606 feet. According to Plato:

At the center of the island, near the sea, was a plain, said to be the most beautiful and fertile of all plains, and near the middle of the plain about fifty stades inland a hill of no great size... There were two rings of land and three of sea, like cartwheels, with the island at their center and equidistant from each other... In the center was a shrine sacred to Poseidon and Cleito, surrounded by a golden wall through which entry was forbidden... There was a temple to Poseidon himself, a stade in length, three hundred feet wide and proportionate in height, though somewhat outlandish in appearance. The outside of it was covered all over with silver, except for the figures on the pediment which were covered in gold... Round the temple were statues of the original ten kings and their wives, and many others dedicated by kings and private persons belonging to the city and its dominions... The two springs, cold and hot, provided an unlimited supply of water for appropriate purposes, remarkable for its agreeable quality and excellence; and this they made available by surrounding it with suitable buildings and plantations, leading some of it into basins in the open air and some of it into covered hot baths for winter use. Here separate accommodation was provided for royalty and commoners, and again, for women, for horses and for other beasts of burden... The outflow they led into the grove of Poseidon, which (because of the goodness of the soil) was full of trees of marvelous beauty and height, and also channeled it to the outer ring-islands by aqueducts at the bridges. On each of these ring-islands they had built many temples for different gods, and many gardens and areas for exercise, some for men and some for horses... Finally, there were dockyards full of triremes and their equipment all in good shape... Beyond the three outer harbors there was a wall, beginning at the sea and running right round in a circle, at a uniform distance of 50 stades from the largest ring and harbor and returning in on itself at the mouth of the canal to the sea. The wall was densely built up all round with houses and the canal and the large harbor were crowded with vast numbers of merchant ships from all quarters, from which rose a constant din of shouting and noise day and night.

Where was this civilization sited? According to Plato, Atlantis was located "Beyond the Pillars of Hercules", which means beyond the Straits of Gibraltar (on either side of which the Herculean pillars once stood) and out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Many think that Atlantis was merely a figment of Plato's imagination; a pure myth that the Greek philosopher used as a vehicle for his theories of a utopia. Aristotle flatly rejected Plato's tale, and right up to the Middle Ages, a majority of the academics agreed with him, although Aristotelian reasoning on many things, such as metaphysics and astronomy, was faulty, and held up the advancement of empirical science for centuries.

Where did Plato get his information about Atlantis from? He says he heard it from a young man named Critias, who says he heard it from his grandfather who in turn heard it from his father, a friend of Solon, a famous Greek elder statesman, who had learned of the story of Atlantis from the Egyptian priests of Sais. Solon was visiting Sais on the Nile delta around 600 BC. His work of framing a constitution for Athens and of instituting social and economic reforms was ended, so Solon had decided to devote the remaining years of his life to poetry and the study of history. He was particularly interested in the origins of the Hellenic civilization, so he asked the Egyptian scholars what they knew of his nation's genesis. The scholars of the college of the goddess Neith, the protectress of learning, confided to Solon that there were records in their archives that were thousands of years old which referred to a continent beyond the Pillars of Hercules which sank around 9560 BC. This continent, was named Atlantis. The people of this continent - the Atlanteans - prized fellowship and friendship above worldly possessions, and enjoyed an advanced system of socialism that meant no one ever lived in poverty. Like the Incas (who were said to descendants of the Atlanteans) the people of Atlantis also had a money-less economy and all land was held in common. Virgil's Georgics and Tibullus's Elegies state that land in ancient times was shared by large communistic-like societies where no one had the right to own a single acre. There is also a mention of a lost social system in which "there were no liars, no sickness, nor old age" in the 5,000-year-old Engidu and the poem of Uttra of Sumer.

Alas, Plato says that the Atlanteans became decadent and bellicose. They waged a war against the neighboring areas of Europe and Asia. Not long afterwards, Atlantis disappeared beneath the ocean after being devastated by either a catastrophic earthquake or a meteor. Some skeptical historians believe the dramatic end of Atlantis is a very convenient epilogue that gets around the problem of obtaining proof of the continent's existence. However, throughout history, there have been many instances of land masses sinking and emerging from the seas of the world. In 1780, Falcon Island in the Pacific was discovered by the Spanish. In 1892 the government of Tonga planted 2,000 coconut palms on the island. Two years afterwards, the island dramatically sank beneath the ocean waves. In November 1963, the volcanic island of Surtsey emerged from the coastal waters of Iceland and grew rapidly. After three weeks, the island - which was half a mile across - had risen to 390 feet above sea level. Its lava rapidly solidified and the island now has vegetation. In 1819, the delta of the Indus was shaken by a mighty earthquake which caused most of the local territory to sink. One of the worst cases of a drowned city occurred on 1 November 1755, when a tremendous earthquake struck Lisbon. Every dwelling in the lower part of the city was demolished by the quake, then a gigantic tidal wave swept in from the ocean. Over sixty thousand people perished in the catastrophe. The shock from the quake was felt over an area of one and a half million miles, and people all over Europe who were attending masses in their cathedrals that All Soul's day actually saw the chandeliers dance and sway.

If Atlantis did disappear under the waves, surely there must be some traces of the island on the bed of the Atlantic? Deep-sea soundings of the Atlantic sea-bed have been made over the years with sonar and submarine investigation, and there have been some very curious finds. In 1898, 500 miles north of the Azores an American telegraph company lowered grappling irons onto the seabed and tried to retrieve the broken ends of the snapped transatlantic cable. Instead, they brought up samples of basaltic lava. A French geologist named Pierre Termier who analyzed the dredged up lava was flummoxed, as the sample was vitreous instead of crystalline. This meant that the lava had been submerged under water after cooling. As lava disintegrates after 15,000 years, this told Termier that there had been some volcanic activity above sea level near the Azores in the fairly recent past, perhaps around the time of the Atlantis cataclysm.

In other areas on the sea bottom in the vicinity of the Azores, beach sand has been found. It was first discovered by Professor M. Ewing of Columbia University in 1949, at a depth of 3« miles. The find was just as perplexing as the lava discovery. Beach sand is a product of sea erosion, and non-existent on the bed of the ocean, so its presence indicates that coastal land must have sank into the Atlantic at some period in the recent past.

Some think that these underwater findings suggest that the Azores are the vestiges of Atlantis, but there is another site in the Atlantic where the legendary continent may have been located: the West Indies. The West Indies is an archipelago that extends in a curved chain for over 1500 miles from the peninsula of Florida to the Venezuelan coast. The islands are mostly volcanic origin, but the Bahamas and Antigua are composed largely of coral. In September 1968, a local Bahamian fishing guide known as 'Bonefish' Sam brought Dr J. Manson Valentine, an archaeologist and honorary curator of the Museum of Science in Miami, to see an intriguing geometrical structure lying in 23 feet of water off North Bimini. Dr Valentine, who had been searching for traces of lost civilizations in the Bahamas for 15 years, was naturally excited. After investigating the underwater structure, Dr Valentine described his findings in his museum magazine as:

An extensive pavement of regular and polygonal flat stones, obviously shaped and accurately aligned to form a convincingly artefactual pattern. These stones had evidently lain sub- merged over a long period of time, for the edges of the biggest ones had become rounded off, giving the blocks the domed appearance of giant loaves of bread or pillows of stone... Some were absolutely rectangular and some approaching perfect squares.

The J-shaped "Bimini Road" as it is now called, quickly fired speculation that evidence of a submerged civilization had been uncovered; perhaps the very site of Atlantis had now been found. Strangely enough, the renowned American psychic and prophet Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) went into a trance in 1933 and said that parts of Atlantis would be discovered in the late 1960s. His actual words were "A portion of the temples may yet be discovered under the slime of ages and sea water near Bimini. Expect it in '68 or '69 - not so far away." The stones of the Bimini Road cannot be dated, but analysis of the fossilized mangrove roots growing over the stones in the road has given a date of around 10,000 to 12,000 years.

In 1975, the explorer Dr David Zink discovered an unusual fragment of worked stone lodged in the Bimini Road; a block of tongue-and-groove masonry. One edge of the man-made fragment is semi-cylindrical and the other is rectangular. The remnant is hard but was evidently never fired, so it cannot be dated by thermoluminescence, and no archaeologist or architect can identify its origin.

Three miles south of the Bimini Road, underwater explorers have found fluted marble columns, which is hard to explain, as marble is not native to the Bahamas. Beneath the waters of the Great Bahama Banks, a large pyramidal building measuring 180 by 140 feet has been located. In the same area, a pilot spotted a wall under 12 fathoms of unusually clear water. Curiously, the wall had an archway going through the middle of it. There was also a recent report of another architectural anomaly a few miles from this wall: a large marble citadel covering five undersea acres with roads leading from it. Unfortunately, diving on the citadel is too hazardous, as Cuban patrol boats regularly visit the waters around it.

Surely if Atlantis did exist in the vicinity of the West Indies, its culture would have rubbed off on the peoples of the eastern coast of Mexico and the North and South Americas? The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which was inhabited by 300,000 people, was situated on an island in a vast lake in the middle of concentric canals. The Aztecs built the capital as a replica of 'Aztlan' a land which lay in the east, from which the Aztecs claimed their descent. Tenochtitlan's concentric layout was a copy of the description of Atlantis given by Plato.

The Mayan Civilization of Central America left curious accounts of the destruction of an early civilization. Brasseur de Bourbourg, an eminent French ethnographer, deciphered a Mayan document in 1869 which told of the annihilation, millennia before, of two countries on an island that was rocked by a massive earthquake and 'suddenly disappeared in the night' along with 64 million people.

The American Indians also have stories about a drowned civilization in their folklore. According to the anthropologists, the Indians came across the Bering Straits from Siberia, but the Indians themselves believe that they came from a homeland in the east which was destroyed in a flood. The Okanogan Indians of British Columbia tell a similar story. They maintain that a continent existed in the middle of the Atlantic long ago called 'Samah-tumi-whoo-lah' - which translates as 'White man's island'. This island - which was destroyed in a terrible war - was said to be ruled by a tall white-skinned ruler named Queen Scomalt.

In the year 1519, Hernan Cortes and his Conquistadors landed in Mexico at Vera Cruz. Cortes and his men gazed in awe at Mexico City, the capital of the New World. The Emperor Montezuma II greeted the explorers and promptly surrendered himself and his empire of five million people to Cortes and his six hundred soldiers. Cortes was baffled. He was not aware that to the Aztecs and Mayas, his arrival signified their Second Coming. Like the Red Indians of North America, the races of Central America were awaiting the return of the White God, known as Quetzacoatl, who was expected to turn up soon. To the Incas he was called Viracocha. The Toltecs described the god as fair and ruddy with a beard and long hair who wore a long robe of black linen cut low at the neck with short sleeves - a dress worn by the natives to this very day. To the baffled Cortes, the Emperor explained (through the daughter of an Aztec chieftain, who acted as an interpreter) that the Aztecs had not lived in Mexico long, and that their ancestors had been led by a bearded white man from the east named Quetzacoatl who displayed great wisdom. Before sailing back towards the east, the White God had promised to return to Mexico to govern the land. Cortes could make no sense of the Emperor's story, and gave an account of his journey from Cuba and his mission to secure the pagan lands for King Charles V of Spain. The Emperor replied, "You tell us that you come from where the sun rises, the things you tell us of this great Lord or King who sent you hither to us, we believe and take it for certain that he is our natural Lord, especially as you tell us that he was known of us for many days. And therefore you may be certain that we shall obey you and accept you as Lord in place of this great Lord of whom you speak." Fourteen years later, the same tragedy unfolded in Peru, when Atahualpa, the tyrannical Inca ruler, venerated the Spanish soldier of fortune Don Francisco Pizarro as a descendant of the White God Viracocha. In shining armor, Pizarro and 168 soldiers had been sighted by the natives riding inland from the sea towards the Inca city of Cajamarca. The awe-struck Incas greeted the strange visitors, and at Cajamarca, Atahualpa hailed Pizarro as the divine son of Viracocha. When Pizarro gave a demonstration of his power by firing a cannon, the Incas shuddered, as they recalled the legends which told of Viracocha's control over thunder. In no time, Pizarro's men were plundering their way across the country. Atahualpa saw that the visitors were not gods, but gangsters, and he demanded that the thieves from the west return the goods they had stolen. Instead, Pizarro sent a Bible-carrying priest to the Inca ruler to convert him and his people from sun-worship to Christianity, but the catechism lesson ended abruptly when Atahualpa threw the holy book to the ground. The outraged Spaniards immediately went on the rampage and slaughtered the unarmed natives. Atahualpa was taken captive and held for ransom for nine months, and during this time, a huge room was filled with silver and gold and offered to Pizarro for the Inca ruler's release. Pizarro had already planned to kill Atahualpa in order to disrupt and conquer the Inca society. The Spaniard mercenary arranged a mock trial and found Atahualpa guilty of trumped-up charges. Pizarro gave him a choice; he could be burned alive as a heathen, or he could be strangled as a Christian. Atahualpa chose to be strangled. He was baptized Juan de Atahualpa "in honor of St John the Baptist" then tied to a stake and garroted. Pizarro and his soldiers then laid on a full-scale Catholic funeral for the 'converted' ruler. It was then only a matter of time before the "men from the rising sun" sacked the rest of the country.

The strange aspect of these dark episodes in the exploration of the Americas is the way the explorers were assumed to be long-awaited white gods from an eastern land.

If Atlantis really was situated near the West Indies, there is evidence that an earthquake may not have been the demise of the legendary landmass. On the ocean floor of the south-west Atlantic, there are twin depressions 23,000 feet deep, near Puerto Rico, which look remarkably like craters. There are similar craters of meteoric origin on the North American mainland at Arizona and Charleston, South Carolina, where an elliptical area extends out into the Atlantic. It has been estimated that the craters near the hypothetical site of Atlantis in the West Indies were created with an explosive force equivalent to the detonation of 30,000 million tons of nitroglycerine around 10 to 15,000 BC. An explosion of this magnitude could also be produced by 3000 medium-sized hydrogen bombs. Such an apocalyptic explosion would punch a hole in the planet's crust and some theorists think this was how the Gulf of Mexico was formed millions of years before. The celestial object that inflicted such a devastating hammer blow to the Earth is estimated to have been around 6 miles in diameter, which rates it as an asteroid. An earlier asteroid fall is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and in modern times, our world has had a number of close shaves with so-called 'Earth-grazers' - asteroids that come dangerously close to the planet as they orbit the sun. The asteroid Eros, which has a diameter of 10 miles, came within 14 million miles of the Earth in 1931. In February 1936, another asteroid named Adonis came within 1,500,000 miles of the Earth, which is too close for comfort. Incredibly, in 1993, an asteroid designated 1993 KA2, made the closest approach ever made by an asteroid. It passed within 90,000 miles of the Earth, traveling at a speed of 48,000 miles per hour. Although it was only 30 feet in diameter, the asteroid had an estimated mass of 6,000 tons, and had it survived a fiery plunge through Earth's atmosphere, it would have caused the equivalent of an atomic explosion.

Despite all the speculation, the truth about Atlantis still eludes us, yet the legends of the submerged civilization continue to hold a growing fascination over each generation. There are many who think Atlantis is just a fable, but they should remember that prior to the excavations made by the explorer Heinrich Schliemann in the late 19th century, Troy was also regarded as fiction.

©Tom Slemen 2001

This story reproduced with permission from Tom Slemen

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