Chott el Jerid is one of a series of ancient salt lakes (sometimes spelt shott or shat) in Tunisia that stretches from the Gulf of Gabés westward into Algeria, south of the Atlas Mountains. It is the second-largest salt lake in the world after Salt Lake in Utah. It is maintained that ancient Lake Tritonis was located in this region and possibly incorporated Chott el Jerid and at some point may even have extended as far as an enlarged Lake Chad.
These chotts are not, strictly speaking, lakes at all today. They are flat depressed areas, which for most of the year are areas of dried mud covered with a thick skin of salt,>suggesting an earlier connection with the Mediterranean.<
>The principal chotts are Chott el Djerid, Chott ech Chergui, Chott Melrhir, Chott el Fejej and Chott el Hodna.<
The largest, the Chott el Jerid, is just a few feet below the level of the Mediterranean, according to Wikipedia. However, François Roudaire, a 19th-century French geographer, surveyed the chott and reported that the entire salt lake was 15 metres above the level of the Mediterranean. This fact was confirmed by Edward Dumergue in his 1883 booklet, The Chotts of Tunis.>In the same publication [p.5] he mentions Roudaire “showing how these chotts could be formed into one great inland sea, extending from near Biskra and Chegga in Algeria, through Tunis, to the Gulf of Gabes, about 300 miles in length and about 60 in breadth, forming a new gulf into the Mediterranean, with an area somewhat greater than the Irish Sea.”<
It is worth noting that Diodorus Siculus records that around 1250 BC catastrophic seismic activity across North-West Africa from the Gulf of Gabés to the Atlantic radically changed the topography of the region. Some investigators see this event as being responsible for the cutting-off of these inland seas from the Mediterranean creating today’s salt lakes. This idea is not as fanciful as it might seem at first sight when you consider the geological instability of the Central Mediterranean region. A well-known example is to be found at the Macellum of Pozzuoli near Naples which has been rising and falling over the past two millennia, due to movements in the volcanic caldera on which it sits.
Wintertime can produce up to a metre of water in these chotts, which by liquefying the mud makes them perfectly impassable. There is a clear suggestion that these chotts represent an inland sea that was once connected to the Mediterranean. It is believed that seismic activity in the area cut this connection. All around these salt lakes there are numerous springs, rushing from the sandy hillocks. Virtually all these springs are very near boiling point. The town of Gabés is close to a grand oasis, which is maintained by water from a stream emptying itself into the sea at Gabés after a short run.
More than one writer has placed Atlantis in this region. Paul Borchardt and Albert Hermann in the early 1920s and more recently Alberto Arecchi have advocated this idea. Borchardt reported that the local name of Chott el Jerid was Bahr Atala or Sea of Atlas.
Arecchi concurs with this explanation and is convinced that the inland sea was the original ‘Atlantic Ocean’. He quotes the Book of Jubilees to support this contention(a).
>In 2021, Hong-Quan Zhang also placed Atlantis firmly within what is now the northwest region of Africa, specifically identifying the capital’s location at the eastern end of Chott el Jerid in modern Tunisia(e).<
A contributor to a June 2012 forum(b) provided a link(c) to an interesting satellite image, as well as the following list of fifteen points favouring the chotts as a location for Atlantis:
1) Atlantis did not sink to “the bottom of the ocean” instead it became a “muddy shoal only several feet below the water surface”
2) It’s to the West of both Egypt and Greece
3) The Chotts used to be a large “mega-lake” and you can use a sea-level map to simulate how large this lake used-to be
4) That mega-lake is very likely to be the mythical “Lake Tritonis” that the Greeks ascribed to this area
5) Herodotus spoke of Tritonis in relation to peoples near mount Atlas who referred to themselves as Atlanteans
6) There are Carthaginian coins from this area with Elephants (and older petroglyphs with Elephants and diverse fauna)
7) One phase of the local art was highly similar to the Minoan\Sea Peoples influence
8) The local Deity is syncretically equal to Neith (who was deemed syncretically equal to Athena by Egypt in the tale)
9) Another local Deity is syncretically equal to Poseidon
10) The tale of the Amazons is corroborated genetically from Tuscany to Corfu to this Region (the Amazons fought the Atlanteans)
11) The Berbers often claim to have a heritage from Atlantis (not a big deal, so does half the Mediterranean and South America… etc)
12) Several ancient sources claim that this “mega-lake” emptied via a geological cataclysm. The event precedes the Sea Peoples epoch.
13) The name ‘Gabes’ is arguably linguistically closer to ‘Gades’ than Cadiz (Spain).
14) Gafsa (Caspa) was legendarily the home of the Libyan Herakles and resided between two mountains
15) It’s closer proximity to Egypt and Greece make it more plausible as a Bronze Age power than Gibraltar where it would be essentially like living on the moon in that age. (In no order).
Gulf of Gabés on the eastern coast of Tunisia was formerly known as Syrtis Minor. Today is contains the Tunisian oil reserves and has the distinction of having one of the few significant tidal ranges (max. 8 feet) in the Mediterranean, which exposes extensive sandbanks at low tides(b).
Inland from the Gulf are the salt marshes or chotts that originally constituted an inland sea, possibly Lake Tritonis, connected with the Mediterranean but due to a seismic upheaval a ridge was created separating them from the outer sea. A comparable event was the 2011 Fukushima earthquake which moved the seafloor 16 meters vertically and 50 metres laterally(a).
In the 19th century François Roudaire proposed the cutting of a channel from the Gulf of Gabés to the chotts, recreating the former inland sea(c).
His plan was supported by Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894), who developed the Suez Canal. However, when Roudaire surveyed the chott nearest the sea, Chott el-Djerid, he discovered that it was in fact lying significantly above sea level. This forced him to revise the scale of the plan, which in turn began the erosion of support for the project, which was eventually abandoned.
It is interesting that the idea of creating a vast inland sea in the Sahara has been been raised again(d) in the context of the current climate change, which, if unchecked, will raise sea levels dramatically. The objective of this new inland sea would be to partly offset this sea level rise.
Férréol Butavand was one of the first to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf. Dr. Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (cap. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkenna at the western end of Syrtis Minor.
Alberto Arecchi has built on the earlier work of Butavand and places Atlantis firmly in the Gulf(e) when sea levels were much lower as a result of an isthmus separating Eastern from Western Mediterranean.
George Sarantitis delivered three papers to the 2008 Atlantis Conference also locating the Pillars of Heracles in the Gulf of Gabés, which led to the ‘Atlantic Sea in modern Tunisia and Algeria, south of the Atlas Mountains and the site of Atlantis.
(d) Emancipatory Oceanic Macro-engineering Richard B. Cathcart (See Archive 5079)