Sunken Cities, Harbours and Islands are to be found all over the world. Sometimes these were caused by local seismic, tectonic or volcanic events. A greater number were undoubtedly caused by the rising sea levels that followed the deglaciation at the end of the last Ice Age. This deglaciation continues today as the greenhouse gases produced by human activity threatens to raise sea levels further that could inundate a number of our major cities that could lead to dramatic social and economic consequences.
The flooding of Atlantis, as recorded by Plato, continues to prompt opportunistic writers to try to link any new discovery of submerged structures with this prehistoric catastrophe. Cuba, The Baltic Sea, Malta, and Southern Spain, among others, have all been touted as Atlantis on this basis. Many more are yet to be discovered that will attract this same spurious identification. There is also the possibility that a sunken structure from Atlantis will be discovered that will not be identified as such.
Even more depressing is the possibility that mankind may have to wait until the inevitable next ice age, when the sea levels again drop, before we will have our best opportunity to identify the true location of Plato’s city. That is assuming that we are still around and in a position to scientifically search for the site of this enduring mystery.
The most spectacular sunken city recently discovered is undoubtedly that of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of modern Alexandria(c). A close second might be the city found in the Gulf of Cambay in India, for which claims of extreme antiquity have been made, however, archaeologist Justin Morris from the British Museum said more work would need to be undertaken before the site could be categorically said to belong to a 9,000 year old civilisation.
The sunken town of Dunwich was once the 10th largest settlement in England and is frequently referred to as ‘Britain’s Atlantis’. However it was inundated relatively recently, in 1286 AD, and obviously has no connection with Plato’s Atlantis. Modern technology has now enabled an accurate mapping of this old town(b). Similarly, the German city of Rungholt was flooded by the Wadden Sea less than a century later(d).
In 2009 the lost city of Bathonea was rediscovered just 20 km from Istanbul. Evidence of human habitation in an area dated to earlier than 10,000 BC has been found. Millennia later a Greek settlement was established on the site and later expanded by the Romans. Excavation of the partially submerged city may take up to a century. The discovery of cities such as Bathonea understandably raise hopes that someday the remains of Atlantis may also be found.
In 2017, also in Turkey a sunken city has been found in the waters of Lake Van in the far east of the country(e).
A Swedish website dedicated to underwater archaeology, lists a number of known sunken cities(a).
Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 AD) was a Greek historian, who was well-known to the Roman Emperor Julian. He is widely quoted on the internet as having written that the destruction of Atlantis was an accepted fact by the intelligentsia of Alexandria. However, I am indebted to Bernhard Beier of Atlantisforschung.de for pointing out that no such statement was made by Marcellinus, referring to the English translations of his work by John C. Rolfe(a) and Charles D. Yonge(b). On the Atlantisforschung website(c) be suggests that the quote originated from an overly liberal interpretation of a line from Lewis Spence’s The History of Atlantis[259.33]. He described a class of earthquake that suddenly swallows up large tracts of land as had happened in the Atlantic to a large island.
Stavros Papamarinopoulos is Professor of Applied Geophysics at the University of Patras in Greece. In 2003 he led a team from his university in an attempt to locate the tomb of Alexander the Great in the cemetery quarter of Alexandria.
Papamarinopoulos was one of the organisers of the Atlantis Conferences of 2005, 2008 and 2011. He was also the editor of the published proceedings of those conference. Furthermore, he delivered a number of papers to all three conferences.
In his paper A Bronze Age Catastrophe in the Atlantic Ocean?, he points out some of the pitfalls associated with the interpretation of prehistoric events when using the language of 4th century B.C. “For instance, a literary differentiation between ‘island’ and ‘peninsula’ did not exist in alphabetic Greek before Herodotus’ in the 5th century B.C. Similarly, there was not any distinction between a coast and an island in Egyptian writing systems, up to the 5th century B.C.” Papamarinopoulos maintains that a lack of knowledge of such linguistic shortcomings has been used unwittingly by many who deny the existence of Atlantis.
Papamarinopoulos personally supports the idea of an Iberian Atlantis(f)(g). He presented this view in a series of six papers(b)presented to a 2010 International Geological Congress in Patras, Greece. Papamarinpoulos has written a number of other papers including one which discusses Phaeton as a comet and its possible coincidence with the Trojan War(a).
Papamarinopoulos is also co-author with John S. Kopper of a paper(c) which concluded that there is “a strong correlation between times of abrupt physical and cultural changes in man and reversals of the earth’s magnetic field.”
In 2012 Papamarinopoulos et. al published a paper(d)(e) that carefully analyses astronomical data enabling them to conclude that a solar eclipse of 30th October 1207 BC occurred just five days after Homer’s Odysseus returned to Ithaca.
A Shoal of mud is stated by Plato (Tim.25d) to mark the location of where Atlantis ‘settled’. Plato describes these shallows in the present tense, clearly implying that they were still a maritime hindrance in Plato’s day.
Three of the most popular translations clearly indicate this:
….the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
…..the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal of mud which the island created as it settled down.”
…..the sea in that area is to this day impassible to navigation, which is hindered by mud just below the surface, the remains of the sunken island.
Since it is probable that Atlantis was destroyed around a thousand years or more before Solon’s Egyptian sojourn, to have continued as a hazard for such a period suggests a location that was little affected by currents or tides. The latter would seem to offer support for a Mediterranean Atlantis as that sea enjoys negligible tidal changes, as can be seen from the chart below. The darkest shade of blue indicates the areas of minimal tidal effect.
If Plato was correct in stating that Atlantis was submerged in a single day and that it was still close to the water’s surface in his own day, its destruction must have taken place a relatively short time before since the slowly rising sea levels would eventually have deepened the waters covering the remains of Atlantis to the point where they would not pose any danger to shipping. The triremes of Plato’s time had an estimated draught of about a metre so that the shallows must have had a depth that was less than that.
The reference to mud shoal resulting from an earthquake brings to mind the possibility of liquefaction. This perhaps what happened to the two submerged ancient cities close to modern Alexandria. Their remains lie nine metres under the surface of the Mediterranean.
Our knowledge of sea level changes over the past two and a half millennia should enable us to roughly estimate all possible locations in the Mediterranean where the depth of water of any submerged remains would have been a metre or less in the time of Plato.
The tidal map above offers two areas west of Athens and Egypt that do appear to be credible location regions, namely, (1) from the Balearic Islands, south to North Africa and (2) , a more credible straddling the Strait of Sicily. This region offers additional features, making it much more compatible with Plato’s account.
By contrast, just over a hundred miles south from that Strait, lies the Gulf of Gabés, which boasts the greatest tidal range (max 8 ft) within the Mediterranean.
The Gulf of Gabes formerly known as Syrtis Minor and the larger Gulf of Sidra to the east previously known as Syrtis Major, were greatly feared by ancient mariners and continue to be very dangerous today because of the shifting sandbanks created by tides in the area.
There are two principal ancient texts that possibly support the gulfs of Syrtis as the location of Plato’s ‘shoal’. The first is from Apollonius of Rhodes who was a 3rd century BC librarian at Alexandria. In his Argonautica (Bk IV ii 1228-1250)(a) he unequivocally speaks of the dangerous shoals in the Gulf of Syrtis. The second source is the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27 13-18) written three centuries later, which describes how St. Paul on his way to Rome was blown off course and feared that they would run aground on “Syrtis sands.” However, good fortune was with them and after fourteen days they landed on Malta. The Maltese claim regarding St. Paul is rivalled by that of the Croatian island of Mljet as well Argostoli on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Even more radical is the convincing evidence offered by Kenneth Humphreys to demonstrate that the Pauline story is an invention(b).
Both the Strait of Sicily and the Gulf of Gabes have been included in a number of Atlantis theories. The Strait and the Gulf were seen as part of a larger landmass that included Sicily according to Butavand, Arecchi and Sarantitis who named the Gulf of Gabes as the location of the Pillars of Heracles. Many commentators such as Frau, Rapisarda and Lilliu have designated the Strait of Sicily as the ‘Pillars’, while in the centre of the Strait we have Malta with its own Atlantis claims.
Zhirov[458.25] tried to explain away the ‘shoals’ as just pumice-stone, frequently found in large quantities after volcanic eruptions. However, Plato records an earthquake not an eruption and Zhirov did not explain how the pumice-stone was still a hazard many hundreds of years after the event. Although pumice can float for years, it will eventually sink(c). It was reported that pumice rafts associated with the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa were found floating up to 20 years after that event. Zhirov’s theory does not hold water (no pun intended) apart from which, Atlantis was destroyed as a result of an earthquake. not a volcanic eruption and I think that the shoals described by Plato were more likely to have been created by liquefaction and could have endured for centuries.