July/August 2010 – #82
A King of Atlantis for Colombia
Did Plato Point the Way to South America?
In his 2,300-year-old “dialogue” known as the Kritias, Plato provides the names of the first kings of Atlantis. Athens’ famous philosopher tells us very little about them, although at least some have been identified by investigators with particular places, peoples, or persons. For example, he cites an Atlantean monarch called Gadeiros. Curiously, that is the same name by which the modern Spanish city of Cadiz was known to Plato’s fellow Greeks.
Another member of the Atlantean kings list is Elasippos, as Portugal’s Lisbon was called by the earlier Phoenicians. Euaemon from the Kritias suggests Eremon, the flood-hero of pre-Celtic Irish myth who survived the cataclysmic deluge of a splendid kingdom with his wife and children to settle in Ireland, where they became the Emerald Isle’s first royal family. Four hundred years after Plato, a Greek geographer, Diodorus Siculus, told of an indigenous people dwelling along the Atlantic coast of Morocco who called themselves the Autochthones, apparently after Autochthon, the sixth Atlantean ruler. Appropriately, each of the first ten kings of Atlantis has been associated with a particular location, folk, or mythic figure in non-Greek societies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean which long ago was dominated from its center by the great capital of Atlantis. It seems unlikely Plato merely fabricated these names, given their geographical and cultural affinities.
A case in point is his fifth Atlantean monarch, Musaeus. The name bears a philological resemblance to Muyscas, the founding father of the Chibcha Indians. They occupied the high valleys surrounding Bogota and Neiva at the time of the Spanish Conquest, in the early sixteenth century. Although Muyscas means, literally, “the Civilizer,” they also referred to him as the “White One,” a bearded man from across the Eastern Water (i.e., the Atlantic Ocean), who long ago laid down the ground rules for Colombia’s first civilization. The Chibcha referred to themselves, after Muyscas, as the Muisca. Appropriately, Colombia’s outstanding archaeological remains may be found along the Atlantic shores of Santa Maria, just where Muyscas was said to have landed in the company of fellow “sorcerers” who escaped a great flood that overwhelmed their overseas homeland.
It was here, along this coastal region, that G. Reichel-Dolmatoff, the doyen of Colombian archaeology, found abundant evidence of a sprawling public works system, cities and ceremonial centers, paved roads, efficient irrigation, and sophisticated agricultural practices (G. Reichel-Dolmatoff, Colombia, NY: Praeger Press, 1965). Although these abundant ruins were discovered in the mid-twentieth century, they are still largely unknown to the outside world, just as the identity of their builders continues to defy scholars.
Among the best-preserved and most dramatic physical remains from this enigmatic people are huge, sepulchral chambers cut into the soft rock at Tierra Dentro, in Colombia’s southwest. Concealed beneath stone slabs hedged with earth, they were laid out in a circular or oval plan with squat columns hewn from the living rock. Roofs are slanted and vaulted, and niches, perhaps once containing effigies, were chiseled out of the interior walls on either side of stone blocks formed as columns. The walls themselves were colored black, white, and red, and decorated with spirals, lozenges, concentric circles, and rhomboids. Shallow pits in the floor contained human bones, and a large, apparently ceremonial urn was found nearby.
Colombia’s Tierra Dentro complex so resembles a similar underground structure on the other side of the world, that both might have been designed by the same architect. The South American site’s twin counterpart occurs at a place called Hal Saflieni, on the island of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea. Hal Saflieni is part of a Stone Age complex—dated to the early third millennium BC, contemporaneous with the pyramid-builders of Dynastic Egypt—and no less mysterious than the pre-Chibcha civilizers of Colombia. The Maltese site is likewise a subterranean series of rooms carved out of limestone rock to resemble a vault supported by slanting arches. Stone slabs covered with earth conceal entrances. Niches containing statues are spaced off by squared columns. The grand plan is circular or oval. There are sunken pits in the floor and a large urn. Even some of the drawn motifs are identical to Tierra Dentro, including concentric circles and lozenges. Comparisons between the Maltese and Colombian sites are far more than coincidental and self-evidently represent a shared relationship; namely, their origins from a common culture.
Cultural resemblances between prehistoric South America and pre-Roman Europe were noticed from the beginning of the Spanish Conquest after 1520. The conquistadors came closer to the truth than they realized when they reported that the natives of the Sierra Nevada near the Atlantic coast irrigated their fields and gardens in a well-ordered system identically employed by the Etruscans. These were a people who raised a rich civilization of city-states throughout western Italy centuries before the ascent of Rome. The Etruscans referred to themselves as the Rasna; “Etruscan” was the collective name by which later Romans knew them because of their residence in Tuscany. Their provenance is uncertain, although they appear to have been a synthesis of native Italians which archaeologists refer to as the Villanovans, circa 1200 BC., with foreign arrivals, most notably from northwest coastal Asia Minor. As such, modern research tends to confirm Roman tradition, as best preserved in Virgil’s Aeneid, of refugees from the Trojan War settling in western Italy, where Etruscan Civilization flourished for six centuries after 800 BC.
But the Etruscan connection to ancient South America was more than agricultural: Among the leading mythic motifs of Etruscan material culture is the Medusa head, or Gorgon. San Agustin is populated by numerous Gorgons
portrayed in stone sculpture, just as they were similarly depicted in Etruscan temple art. Nor are ancient European faces missing from prehistoric Colombia. Some of the most obvious examples belong to a helmeted, baked-clay warrior with a long, straight nose and European cast of facial features plus the head of a bearded figurine from Tumaco, an island off Colombia’s Pacific coast where characteristically Trojan vases have been recovered. More of the uniquely double-spouted vessels were found at San Agustin and in the high plateaus near Bogata, residence of the Chibcha.
Not far away was discovered a polished stone staff, or lituus, of the type carried as ceremonial batons by Trojan and Etruscan high officials. The Sierra Nevada artifact is surmounted by a device in the shape of a boat decorated with an ornamenta navium representing a pair of dragon or serpent heads facing in opposite directions on either prow. This double-headed theme signified supreme political authority among early Colombian rulers. Across the Atlantic Ocean and at the eastern extreme of the Mediterranean Sea, the identical imagery belonged to the apulstria, the badge of the royal house of Ilios, the Trojan capital. While the seafaring skill of ancient Mediterranean peoples is beyond question, possibilities for Etruscan, Trojan, or Maltese culture-bearers landing on the prehistoric shores of South America are less likely than arrivals from Atlantis, which fundamentally influenced all these peoples from their earliest beginnings.
Specifically, Atlantean motifs appear at Tierra Dentro with its deliberate arrangement of stonework in bands of black, white and red—the colors Plato tells us belonged to the fingerprint masonry of Atlantis. At the San Agustin Archaeological Park, visitors may see perhaps a dozen sculpted figures symbolically supporting the sky like so many Atlases. Atlas was the eponymous figure of Atlantis, envisioned as a titan shouldering the heavens, the sphere of the Zodiac, not the world, as he is falsely portrayed in modern times.
As native residents in the Bogata region, the Chibcha believe that their founding father, Muyscas, the “Civilizer,” was born in “the Gilded One,” a splendid island over the Atlantic Ocean. It was there that Bochica, a fair-skinned giant with a long beard, supported the sky on his shoulders. Long ago, Bochica accidentally dropped his celestial burden, causing the Earth to be consumed in flames, which he extinguished with a global flood, then once again took up the heavens. He is believed to still hold up the sky and inadvertently causes earthquakes whenever he shifts his weight.
In variants of Bochica’s myth, he condemned a demon responsible for the natural disaster, Chibchacum, to hold up the sky, while Bochica took up residence on the world’s first rainbow. Ever since, rainbows are not only associated with the god, but venerated as commemorative phenomena of the ancestral flood. Like Plato’s Kritias, in which Zeus destroys Atlantis for the iniquity of its inhabitants, Bochica brings about the catastrophe to punish a sinful mankind. In any case, it is significant to know that the importance of these mythic themes were and are so important to the Chibcha that they derived their own tribal name from its leading figures, Chibchacum and Muyscas.
Yet another Chibcha deluge-hero was Zuhe. “Bearded, he was unlike a man of any race known to them,” according to explorer and author, Harold T. Wilkins, in his authoritative Mysteries of Ancient South America (IL: Adventures Unlimited Press 2000 reprint of the 1947 original). “He carried a golden scepter.” Zuhe arrived on the shores of Colombia as the only survivor of a cataclysm that destroyed his kingdom in the Atlantic Ocean. The sky had fallen down on his homeland in a deluge of fire extinguished only when the island sank beneath the waves. He established the first guidelines for agriculture, law, and religion. The Chibcha greeted each Spanish visitor in the early sixteenth century as “Zuhe.” Like Kukulcan, Quetzalcoatl, Votan, Itzamna, and all the other “Feathered Serpent” progenitors of pre-Columbian civilization, Zuhe appears to have been one people’s mythic response to culture-bearers from Atlantis.
He was said to have escaped the chaos wrought by Bochica in the company of a goddess, Cuchavira, with his magician followers, by fleeing to the distant shores of Colombia, where he acquainted the Indians with the benefits of civilization. Thereafter, he and most of his companions from lost “Gilded One” disappeared into the Andes Mountains. Muyscas is transparently a native South American version of culture-bearers arriving from Atlantis, as borne out in its numerous details mirrored in Plato’s account. Bochica is identical to the Greek Atlas, who was similarly portrayed as a bearded titan supporting the heavens on his shoulders. How else may we account for the appearance of this bearded, white giant causing a global conflagration preserved in the the folk traditions of a dark-skinned, beardless people isolated from the outside world? The natural catastrophe associated with Bochica appears to have been the same disaster that ignited the Atlantean Deluge. So too, Muyscas’ oceanic kingdom was identically overwhelmed.
His story was ceremonially reenacted by the Chibcha in the Catena-ma-noa, literally, the “Water of Noa.” This name remarkably evokes the Old Testament flood hero, Noah. This Chibcha “Noa” was another version of Muyscas’ sunken homeland, “the Gilded One.” It was also a title assumed by each newly installed chief, known as the Zipa, for his participation in the Catena-ma-noa. It called for his naked body to be coated with a sticky resin while he stood at the shore of Guatavita. After he was entirely covered in pounds of finely ground gold dust, he dove into the sacred lake outside Bogata, leaving a glittering trail through the water, from which he emerged as the new Zipa. He was then wrapped in a blue robe, reminiscent of azure raiment worn by the kings of Atlantis, as described by Plato.
The diving chief suggests an attempt at confirming his legitimate descent from Muyscas, just as the gold dust flaking off from his body suggests the Gilded One’s riches lost at sea. These obviously Atlantean similarities with Guatavita are underscored by the site itself. The lake is a crater caused by a meteor-fall, since filled with water. Although the geologic date of the astrobleme’s formation is uncertain, the impact that created Guatavita is concurrent with cometary events responsible for the destruction of Atlantis. In other words, the Indians recognized the crater-lake as a result of the same celestial catastrophe memorialized in their “Water of Noa” ceremony.
The arrival of Muyscas and his “sorcerers” on Colombian shores near San Agustin is the folk memory of Atlantean refugees and culture-bearers in South America, as implied by the Chibchas’ own flood-hero. In their language, the “Muyscas” means “the Musical Ones.” So too, the name of Plato’s fifth Atlantean king, Musaeus, is Greek for “Of the Muses”—those divine patrons of the arts, from which our word “music” derives.