Atlanteans vs Roman Technology
The ditch surrounding the Plain of Atlantis was found to be ‘incredible’ by Plato (Crit.118c), it is worth comparing it with one of the most extensive ancient ditch systems still visible to day.
While the length of the ditch is remarkable, but being a stade (600ft) in width and a plethrum (100ft) deep, it amounts to a cross section of an astounding 60,000 sq ft. It brought to my mind the Fossatum Africae, which was a defensive ditch over 600 km long delineating the southern limit of the Roman Empire in what is now Algeria and Tunisia. This feature was rediscovered in 1947 by Jean Baradez, a retired French Air Force pilot and described in great detail in his 1949 book, Fossatum Africae. While the depth and width of the fossatum varies considerably, they are approximately 10ft x 10ft, which would give an average cross section of just 100 sq ft.
This means that the Atlantean ditch described by Plato would have been 600 times greater in cross section than the best produced by the might of the Roman Empire. A rough graphical depiction is given in the paragraph above, where the initial letter ‘W’ represents the cross section of the Roman fossatum, while the entire paragraph represents the presumed dimensions of the perimeter ditch surrounding the plain of Atlantis. Also keep in mind that the effort required to raise earth from a depth of ten feet becomes exponentially greater the deeper you go, so that the manpower required excavating the Atlantean ditch would be many thousands of times greater than that required for the fossatum. No wonder Plato found the dimensions passed to him by Solon ‘incredible’.
The illustration above should convince any reasonable person that Plato’s numerical data, at least in this instance, is greatly exaggerated.
Henri-Paul Eydoux has also written a chapter on this African feature [927.171].
Schoinos, which means ‘rope’ in Egyptian was an ancient unit of measurement which was the equivalent of 40 stadia but had huge regional variations ranging from 30 to 120 stadia(a). It was widely used throughout the Mediterranean and was adopted by the Greeks from the Egyptians around 2000 BC(d).
Albert Herrmann, quoted by Bramwell [195.117], attempted to make sense of the dimensions of the ditch surrounding the Plain of Atlantis by suggesting that Solon had been misled by an interpreter who converted the Egyptian measurements into Greek ‘podes’ (feet) but erroneously gave the results as ‘stadia’ exaggerating the data by a factor of thirty!
However, for me, Herrmann’s highly speculative theory makes little sense, if the ‘schoinos’ was used by the Greeks since 2oooBC, why convert it at all? Herodotus refers to it at least twice in his Histories (2.6(b) and 2.149(c))
The Plethrum is a Greek measurement of 100 Greek feet in length (101 English feet) as well as 10,000 sq.ft. in area. It and its plural, plethra, is used in four instances in Critias (115d, 116a, 116d and 118c).
It is interesting to note that in one case (118c) Plato found the dimensions of 10,000 stade ditch surrounding the plain of Atlantis as very hard to believe but felt obliged to record it out of deference to the reputation of his source, Solon. The text states that this ditch was dug by hand to a depth of a plethrum and a stade in width.
He was forced to make this suggestion because he recognised that the dimensions for the plain of Atlantis as recorded by Plato must have been exaggerated. However, when it came to the ditch which surrounded the plain he was also contented to accept that the stade width of the ditch was excessive but that the plethrum depth was acceptable because the clay banks would have been continually subject to slippage! Feasible, but for me, not totally convincing.
The Stade was an ancient Greek measurement of distance. The origins of the stade are not totally clear. One opinion claims that at first it was the distance covered by a plough before turning. Later it was the length of a foot race in a Greek Stadion (Roman Stadium) or 157 meters. A number of ‘standard’ stadia existed in various city states of ancient Greece ranging from 157 to 211 meters.
*Some commentators have treated the stade as a synonym for the British ‘furlong’ (one eight a mile or 220yards – approximately 201 metres), which was an old Anglo-Saxon measure for a ‘long furrow’.*
Most commentators on Plato’s Atlantis seem to accept a value of 185 metres (607 feet) to the stade. Thorwald C.Franke argues for a value of 176 metres – ” It is confusing: The building called “stadion” had been 185 meters, but the measure “stadion” not. We can conclude that the Athenians once had a shorter building, but decided to build a bigger building in later times. It is the same story for the “stadion” of other cities.” (private correspondence)
Jim Allen who is the leading advocate for a Bolivian location for Atlantis has used a value for the stade that is half the conventionally accepted 185 metres. He bases this on the fact that the ancient South Americans used a base of 20 rather than 10 for counting. He offers an interesting article with impressive images on his website(a) in support of his contention.
Dr. Rainer Kühne, who recently publicised that a site in Andalusia, identified by Werner Wickboldt from satellite photos, suggested that Plato used a stade that was probably 20% longer than what is normally accepted, since the dimensions of the Spanish site are greater than those given in Plato’s text. This idea is not satisfactory as so many other dimensions of the city’s features already suggest over-engineering on a colossal scale. To add a further 20% would be even more ridiculous.
If the dimensions of Atlantis did originate on the pillars in the temple at Sais, the unit of measurement used was probably Egyptian (or Atlantean) and so their exact value must be open to question. The values given by Plato relating to Atlantis have long been ammunition for sceptics. They argue that Plato’s topographical data suggests either a degree of over engineering that was improbable in the Bronze Age or impossible in the Stone Age and must, therefore, be a fantasy.
The late Ulf Richter has recently proposed a simple solution to this problem(b), namely that the unit of measurement originally recorded was the Egyptian Khet. This was equivalent to 52.4 metres or approximately 3.5 times less than the value of the stade. The acceptance of this rational explanation removes one of the great objections to veracity of the Atlantis narrative.
Dr. Rainer Walter Kühne was born in Braunschweig, Germany in 1970 and has a PhD in Physics (Dortmund 2001). He has proposed a modification of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), which predicts a second kind of photon (’magnetic photon’) and a second kind of light (’magnetic photon rays’). He has also offered evidence for the existence of a rotating universe. He lectured in the Institute of Physics at Dortmund University.
Kühne had studied Plato’s Atlantis story and concluded that many of its elements are fictional although based on three historical but unconnected sources. For example, on the basis of Plato’s description of the Acropolis at the time of the ‘Atlantean’ war that it can be dated to around 1200 BC, not 9600 BC. He linked the Atlantean war with the invasion of the ‘Sea Peoples’ recorded by the Egyptians and locates Atlantis in Andalusia in Southern Spain and places its capital in the valley of the Guadalquivir, south of Seville. Satellite photos of this same area have recently revealed rectangular structures surrounded by parts of concentric circles with dimensions similar to Plato’s description of Atlantis. Werner Wickboldt, a teacher, who lives in Braunschweig (Kühne’s birthplace) announced the discovery of these features on January 8th 2003. These structures include a rectangle of size 180 meters x 90 meters (Temple of Poseidon?) and a square of length 180 meters (Temple of Poseidon and Cleito?). Concentric circles surround these two rectangular structures, so that the site closely resembles Plato’s description of the Atlantean capital. However, the dimensions of this location are approximately 20% larger than Plato’s figures, so Kühne has suggested that the unit of measurement used by Plato, the stade, may have been greater than usually accepted.
It was a surprise to many when, in their June 2004 edition, the highly respected journal Antiquity published details of this discovery and Kühne’s interpretation(a).
An outline of Kühne’s theories, in English, is also available on the Internet(c).
(a) http://antiquity.ac.uk/ProjGall/kuhne/ (if offline, see Archive 2081)
Axel Hausmann (1939-2014) was a German physics professor at the Technical University of Aachen. He had identified a circular underwater feature 20 miles due south of Syracuse in Sicily (36°45’N & 15°18’E) as the possible location of Plato’s city of Atlantis and south of that again existed the plain of Atlantis extending as far as Malta. He contended that Atlantis had an area of influence that stretched from Tunisia to Italy including Malta and Sicily. He erroneously claimed in a paper presented to the 2005 Atlantis Conference [629.351] to be the first to suggest the Central Mediterranean region as a runner in the Atlantis Stakes (d). However, he does appear to be the first scientist to promote the idea of a late breaching of a Gibraltar Dam leading to the inundation of Atlantis.
He dated the submergence of Atlantis to around 3500 BC, based on the assumption that Plato’s ‘years’ were Egyptian seasons (three per solar year). He perceived the remarkable megalithic temples on Malta & Gozo as the remnants of Atlantis and anticipated similar discoveries on Sicily.
In a paper delivered to the 2005 Atlantis Conference on Milos, Hausmann speculated that the famous cart-ruts of Malta were irrigation channels[629.356], ignoring the fact that they follow the natural undulations of the landscape, unless he thought that these Maltese Atlanteans found a way to make water flow uphill.
Hausmann has also followed the suggestion of the late Ulf Richter who argued that the linear measurements of Atlantis used the Egyptian khet (52m)as the unit of measurement rather than the Greek stade (175m).
Hausmann proposed that the survivors of the catastrophe migrated to Crete, Egypt and Syria where they provided the stimulus for the subsequent civilisations of Egypt, Minoan Crete and Sumer. He specifically identified the Phaistos Disk as possibly having been brought to Crete by Atlantean refugees and also presented a paper on this idea to the 2005 Atlantis Conference(c). He has written a number of books including a second volume more directly related to Atlantis, Atlantis – Die Versunkene Wiege der Kulturen (Atlantis-The Sunken Cradle of Culture).
*Hausmann has written a two-part paper entitled Atlantis war Sizilien (Atlantis is Sicily) available on the Atlantisforschung.de website(a)(b) . In it, he echoes my own view that it seems incredible that commentators place Atlantis in locations on every continent and ignore the only region that Plato unambiguously identified as Atlantean territory, namely the Central Mediterranean, from Southern Italy to North Africa (Crit. 114c & Tim. 25a/b).
Atlantis from a Geographer’s Perspective  by Dr. Ulf Erlingsson, a Swedish geographer and geomorphologist, endeavours to identify Ireland as the original Atlantis described by Plato. As an Irishman, I would be delighted to support this view, if the evidence was strong enough. Unfortunately, I cannot see Erlingsson’s book advancing the case for an Irish Atlantis. I am willing to accept that the megalithic cultures of Western Europe and North Africa were probably part of a loose confederation of societies that led to a later tale of a mighty empire, as its existence was relayed through the myths of succeeding civilisations. However, to claim that Ireland was the centre of this civilisation is rather fanciful and unsubstantiated by anything other than the fertile imagination of Dr. Erlingsson.
Erlingsson refers to Henry O’Brien’s book, The Round Towers of Ireland as a sort of precursor of his own. In fact, O’Brien’s book was an attempt to link the Round Towers of Ireland with a pre-Christian period. O’Brien never referred to Plato or Atlantis at all. Now after more than a hundred and fifty years, no evidence to support O’Brien’s claim has been forthcoming. There is a consensus that the round towers date from the early part of the first millennium AD, but it must be admitted that with regard to their purpose, some mystery still exists.
The most glaring flaw in Erlingsson’s theory is his arbitrary use of the diagonal dimensions of Ireland in order to shoehorn it into Plato’s dimensions. Using the island’s latitudinal and longtitudinal dimensions, a much smaller figure would have resulted. However, his application of Plato’s 3,000 x 2,000 stadia (550 x 370 km) to the entire island, is dishonest as Plato’s figures only refer to the plain of Atlantis, whereas the Central Plain of Ireland would only occupy a fraction of that area.
Some of my other reasons for dismissing Dr. Erlingsson’s theory are:
- Ireland is too far north to have produced two crops annually and was mainly covered in ice during the last Ice Age. Furthermore;
- Ireland did not disappear beneath the sea
- Ireland has always been somewhat short of elephants
- Ireland does not have hot springs
- There is no evidence of any harbour in the immediate vicinity of Tara or Newgrange.
- Conventional archaeology indicates that Ireland did not have dressed stone structures until around 5th Century AD.
*Erlingsson, in order to explain the fact that Ireland was not submerged, has proposed that when the story of megalithic Ireland reached Egypt, it became confused with the tale of the inundation of Doggerland, which resulted from the Norwegian storegga event of around 6200 BC.*
My final gripe with the book, or should I say booklet, as it contains just a hundred pages, is that it lacks an index, an irritating omission that a number of authors reviewed here have also been guilty of.
On 19th August 2004, the respected The Irish Times newspaper, reported(c) that Erlingsson had appeared to backtrack on some of his initial claims when he said that “The existence of Atlantis has never been proven” and that “the purpose of his book was to test Plato’s claim that he based the utopia on a real, historic place.”
UPDATE – JULY 2016
It’s over ten years since I read Erlingsson’s book and have only recently re-read it because the author wrote to me complaining that I had included inaccuracies in my original comments on his book. Having perused the first chapter again, I quickly realised that any shortcomings on my part were greatly exceeded by those of Erlingsson’s.
Firstly, he claims that Atlantis was Ireland, but the island which sank, referred to by Plato, was in the North Sea, part of Doggerland. He claims that the story of a sunken island was a tale from Atlantis, not about Atlantis! He attempts to explain this away by simply claiming that Solon/Plato made a mistake! It is far more likely that Erlingsson is making a mistake.
He then uses Doggerland to explain away the elephants that Plato said inhabited Atlantis, claiming that the remains of mammoths were reclaimed from the North Sea. However, he fails to record that the mammoths in question were dated at 40,000 BC(b), tens of thousands of years before Atlantis.*Nevertheless, there is now evidence that mammoths may have existed on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean as recently as 2500-2000 BC(d)(e).*
My second complaint is that he initially matches the dimensions of the entire island of Ireland with those of the plain of Atlantis given by Plato, namely 3000 x 2000 stadia. I have already pointed out that if you remove the mountains from the Ireland, the remaining plains of our island, if combined, might amount to a third of that of the plain of Atlantis(a). In order to shoehorn Ireland into his hypothesis he abitrarily chose to use a value of 166m to the stade, instead of the more generally accepted 185m. On top of that, as already noted, he measured Ireland diagonally rather than north-south and east-west.
Furthermore, speaking of mountains, the highest Irish peak is only 1,038m high. On the other hand, Plato describes the mountains of Atlantis being renowned for their number, size and beauty, which apart from beauty cannot be applied to the modest Irish mountain ranges. I would expect better from a geographer.
The first chapter contains other errors, including the idea that the ancient Greeks knew of America. In fact they only knew of three continents, Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa). Herodotus, who flourished after Solon and before Plato, was quite clear that there were only three known to the Greeks. [Histories 4.42].
There are more speculative claims in this first chapter, but, at this point I could take no more and gave up, unwilling to waste any more time on this nonsense. Erlingsson claims that his hypothesis matches Plato’s Atlantis story with a probability of 99.98%. Hilarious.
The Architecture of Atlantis is described in such detail, that you can almost feel the ’buzz’ of a large maritime capital. We are left with the feeling that it is either the creation of a skilled writer or the report of an observant eyewitness. Once again, I am inclined to see it as an amalgam of both. Quite possibly the description is based on one of the models that have been suggested by some writers, such as Troy, Syracuse, Carthage or even Athens. In fact, elements from all these can be seen in Plato’s Atlantis.
The canals, bridges, watchtowers, warehouses and the acropolis, as described, would all have been within the experience of Plato or his associates.
Mention should be made of the dimensions ascribed by Plato to some of the architectural features of Atlantis, which appear to be exaggerated even for a sophisticated Late Bronze Age city. No matter how wealthy Atlantis may have been, the level of over-engineering suggested by Plato is not credible. However, Ulf Richter has recently provided a rational explanation for the apparently extravagant structures in the city by suggesting that the much shorter Egyptian khet rather than the Greek stade was the unit of measurement originally recorded by Solon.
For the record I should mention that the earliest prehistoric archictecture was reported in 2012(a) after the remains of 20,000 year-old huts were discovered in Jordan.*A decade ago, it was discovered that the Zarqa Valley, also in Jordan, has been inhabited and irrigated for 13,000 years(b), which is is close to the time of Göbekli Tepe!*
Ulf Richter (1935-2006) was a German researcher, who was a regular contributor to the Atlantis Rising forums and who presented a paper(a) to the 2005 Atlantis conference on Melos. Richter offered us a number of very interesting and cogently argued points in his essay [629.451]. He discusses the topographical details provided by Plato and concludes that the capital city of Atlantis was constructed on a river delta(b). He contended that the ‘circular’ canals were possibly an adaptation of existing natural features and provides good reasons to believe that the dimensions noted by Plato are incorrect as a consequence of confusion between the Greek stade and the Egyptian ‘khet’.
Richter offered some thoughtful comments regarding his interpretation of Plato’s reference to 9,000 years, subsequently quoted on an online forum(d). [see Archive 2846]
Sadly, Ulf died of cancer in April 2006.