Stele (pl. Stelai) is defined in Wikipedia as a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief or painted onto the slab. It can also be used as a territorial marker to delineate land ownership. Ireland is littered with solitary standing stones or menhirs that many consider to be boundary markers. They are to be found across Europe and North Africa as well as Asia.
The words come into the Atlantis narrative when Plato refers to what is usually translated as ‘the Pillars of Heracles’. In fact Plato does not use the Greek word ‘stulos’ which means pillar or supporting column. Commenting on this word, Riaan Booysen wrote(a) “The Greek word for pillar is stulos, which is similar but not identical to either stêlas or even stele. The latter two words are not to be found in any of Strong’s Concordance, the Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, the Oxford Greek Minidictionary or the Oxford Greek-English Learner’s Dictionary. That is however not to say that it does not exist, and I have indeed been able to find an interpretation of the word stele as:
“Greek: an inscribed stone slab; a block of stone, gravestone; a column, a pillar…”
It therefore seems that stêlas should be interpreted as an inscribed block of stone, possibly even a gravestone, rather than a pillar or pillars as it is understood today.
Anton Mifsud insists ‘stelai’ can only refers commemorative slabs rather than supportive pillars and that the distinction between a pillar and commemorative slab is important as Mifsud has identified two previously recorded blocks found on Malta as the ‘Pillars of Hercules.’
For my part, I favour the secondary meaning of ‘boundary marker’ as it would seem to better suit the context.