The Astrophysicist / Vittorio Castellani
wednesday, december 29, 2004
Physicist, astrophysicist, archaeologist, Academician of the Lincei.
Published in “Diogène” number 204/2003 (Revue trimestrielle publiée sous les auspices du Conseil international de la philosophie et des sciences humaines et avec l’aide de l’UNESCO), with the title “Atlantide – Sardaigne”.
For over a century, historical research on the distant origins of our civilization has acquired great importance in the imagination of Western culture, increasingly attentive to the search for its roots. Starting from the nineteenth century begins the rediscovery of the great civilizations that had preceded the Greco-Roman classicism. Alongside the Egyptians, Assyrians or Babylonians re-emerge in the light of history Sumerians, Hittites, Minoans and at the same time the awareness of how not only the Greco-Roman world but, with it, also our current civilization is ultimately indebted to a whole series of cultural acquisitions that have been handed down from generation to generation through the various forms and various moments of civilization.
While in academic circles the archaeological sciences were affirming and refining, the public – the so-called “general public” – has also been approaching these problems, a little through the school, a lot through scholarly dissemination but, and unfortunately, a lot also through the birth and proliferation of an “archaeological esotericism” that has tried and still tries every day to bend the results of historical research to an irrational anxiety of mystery and fia Ba. And so the majestic Pyramids of the Egyptian Pharaohs or the great megalithic “temple” of Stonehenge in England have become famous not only for what they tell us about the past of Man, but also for what some would like to tell them about hypothesized and wonderful occult sciences now lost, about incredible divinatory faculties of the ancients when it does not come to the intervention of extraterrestrial civilizations.
In this contradictory context is placed the famous myth of Atlantis. Originally a passage by Plato that, in his Dialogues, tells of an Egyptian priest who – limiting ourselves to the essential lines – would have spoken to Solon of an ancient civilization located on the Island of Atlantis, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, a civilization that in ancient times would have narrowly failed to conquer all of Europe and that finally disappeared submerged by the waves of the sea. A song that for two and a half millennia has aroused the curious interest of entire generations. Even Aristotle dealt with it, suggesting that Atlantis be placed where it came from: that is, in Plato’s imagination. Deaf to this advice, hundreds of people took care of it over time who, sometimes deaf even to historical or geological evidence, ended up placing Atlantis in the Crimea, in America, in Nigeria … to reach Antarctica.
Alas, the writer also dealt with it, physical by vocation and profession, and therefore with a love for rational research that sometimes led him to trespass, albeit prudently, in some events of ancient history. In a modest booklet, now out of circulation, premising that the problem of Atlantis is certainly not a problem of archeology but of mere scholarly curiosity, I advanced not the hypothesis but the evidence that if you really want to give faith to Plato, then geology puts at hand a phenomenon that could be linked to that story: the rise of the seas at the end of the last glaciation and the consequent submersion of vast populated territories. Concluding that in that case, the best candidates for an Atlantis beyond the Pillars of Hercules were the present British Isles. But it was wrong!
I was immediately convinced by the appearance of the incredible book by Sergio Frau: “the Pillars of Hercules. An investigation”. Incredible because Frau, with a long and valid career as a journalist behind him, with the cut and rigor of the serious journalist conducts a real investigation into the protohistory of the Mediterranean, researching and drawing on a mass of documentation that would seem accessible only to an elite of professional archaeologists. I said journalist, but now I add journalist and Sardinian, because only a deep love for his Sardinia can have given him the courage and patience necessary to face an endless research, juggling in an almost infinite amount of information until he draws that coherent and convincing picture that he presents us in his book, always remaining anchored to historical testimony and keeping at all times well away from the imaginative or, worse still, from the irrational.
The starting point of Frau’s research is the classic “egg of Columbus”: but are we sure that for the ancients the Pillars of Hercules were where we place them today? The answer is, probably, no, and Frau brings substantial clues that suggest that in ancient times, where plato’s story must be placed, the sea known and traveled by the Egyptians and the Greeks had its Pillars of Hercules not in distant Spain but in its nearest western end, the Channel of Sicily, enclosed between the foothills of Sicily itself and the extreme tip of Tunisia. And suddenly everything becomes immediately clear, and, in particular, what Plato says in the Timaeus of Atlantis becomes clear: “because in front of that mouth that is called, as you say, the Columns of Heracles, there was an island … and to those who proceeded from it was offered a passage to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole continent that was on the opposite side around what is truly sea”.
A passage that has formed the cross of all the locations of Atlantis, and that does not fit, and with difficulty, even to the hypothesis of the British Isles. Everything now seems to be becoming clear. Beyond the channel of Sicily there is Atlantis-Sardinia, and beyond other islands up to the continent that, from Italy to Spain and the African coasts, really surrounds a sea: the Tyrrhenian-Mediterranean. And if this were true, then Atlantis comes out of the myth and becomes a piece of history, history of that Sardinia archaeologically still so little studied, still so absent from the history of antiquity in spite of the endless presence of its imposing nuraghi, in spite of the extraordinary sacred wells and the many other ancient but still silent testimonies of civilization.
But Frau’s book is not just that. It starts from Sardinia-Atlantis to lead the reader by the hand to an exciting reinterpretation of European protohistory, sowing doubts and suggesting correlations, sometimes evident, sometimes more risky, but always stimulating and worthy of consideration. An all-round investigation where all the ancient Mediterranean peoples, from the Greeks to the Phoenicians, up to the still mysterious “Peoples of the Sea”, face and intertwine in unexpected synergies. The result is a repositioning of our knowledge on the ancient world which, born from the investigation of a journalist, will not fail to leave traces in the academic culture that not by chance, although rightly jealous of its prerogatives and suspicious of the encroachments of the field, has already shown great attention to this effort of Sergio Frau. As evidenced at the bottom of the text by the interventions of illustrious scholars of various archaeological disciplines.
We add, for completeness, that we are in the presence of a text of over 600 pages, easily divided into 43 chapters, richly illustrated with geographical maps and photographs of finds and other archaeological evidence. The individual chapters are each dedicated, with a cut of journalistic investigation, to build the pieces of a mosaic of information, considerations and, sometimes, of provocations that, taken as a whole, certainly ends up providing a welcome moment of cultural enrichment for every person interested in the historical roots of our present society.