Our knowledge of the world’s most famous lost continent comes from the work of one man – Plato.
The great Greek philosopher was the singular source of all information about the ill-fated island race and whilst experts write longwinded theses about the age and position of Atlantis, nobody is entirely sure that Plato did not just invent the Atlantean people as an allegory for what happens when a civilisation over-reaches itself. Despite this, the hunt for Atlantis is as fierce as ever.
Plato lived in Greece between 428 and 348 BC, and revealed the story of Atlantis in his dialogues ‘Timaeus’ and ‘Critias’. Many of Plato’s fables were fictional creations used to illustrate a point, but the history of Atlantis was repeatedly stated as fact.
The dialogues recount the story of Solon, a Greek scholar who travelled to Egypt in around 600 BC to learn more about the ancient world. The Egyptians were known to have knowledge and records dating back centuries, and as Solon tried to impress his hosts with tales of Greece’s achievements, the wise old Egyptian priests put him in his place.
They revealed a story about a continent and a people completely unknown to him. Around 10,000 BC, a powerful race lived on an island in the west, beyond the ‘Pillars of Hercules’, now believed to be the land masses along the coasts of the Straits of Gibraltar.
The island was the kingdom of Poseidon, the Sea God. It had a huge central mountain with a temple dedicated to the deity, and lush outlying districts, there was an elaborate system of canals to irrigate its successful farms, and a bustling central city.
The island was rich in vegetables, and was home to different types of exotic animals. The Atlanteans were originally a powerful but fair race. They were an advanced people with a prosperous trading industry, a strong and noble army and a highly educated, cultured society.
Their influence reached far and wide, and they controlled large areas of Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean. Although the island left its inhabitants wanting for nothing, their taste for power and empire led to them over-extending themselves. An attempt to conquer Athens failed, and the Atlanteans retreated home to face a cataclysmic disaster.
Legend says that the great god Zeus saw the corruption that had seized the island’s people, and sent down upon them an immense barrage of earthquakes, fire and water.
Atlantis disappeared under the waves. Whilst Plato’s story was well known, the renewed modern interest in Atlantis began in 1882 with the publication of Atlantis: The Antediluvian World by a former US congressman, Ignatius Donnelly. Donnelly’s book was a mixture of conjecture, misinterpreted fact and actual history.
But there were some interesting ideas; he noted similarities in the science and culture of native races which apparently could never have met.
Likewise, the great ancient flood, which is said to have destroyed Atlantis, is logged in ancient writings and traditions of peoples around the world. Exactly who the Atlanteans were is unknown.
Some say they were aliens, some believe they were descendants of the Lemurians, and some say they eventually travelled westward and became Native American tribes. Similarly, the actual placing of Atlantis is a subject open to argument.
Many experts suggest the island was actually in the Mediterranean, and a constant stream of archaeological investigations in the area has tried to prove this.
There are theories that Sardinia in the Mediterranean, and the island of Thera in the Aegean Sea, could be Atlantis. Both had highly-evolved civilisations: the Nuraghi people on Sardinia and the Minoan culture on Thera.
Both also suffered terrible natural disasters. But neither of these islands are westwards of the Straits of Gibraltar, so to accept them is to doubt Plato’s geography. Also, the advanced races on these islands disappeared about 900 years before Plato – he stated that Atlantis became extinct 9,000 years before him.
Other experts say Atlantis was in the middle of the Atlantic, and all that is left of the island are its mountains, the peaks of which show through above the waves. These are now believed by many to be the Azore islands.
There is also evidence to suggest a huge comet or asteroid crashed into the southwest Atlantic Ocean many thousands of years ago and two 23,000-feet-deep holes have been identified on the seabed close to Puerto Rico.
Experts believe the falling rock that caused them would have created massive natural movements, enough to destroy any mid-Atlantic islands.