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).
Dr Paul Theodor Borchardt (1886-1957) at the very least could never have claimed to have lived a dull life. He came from a Jewish family but adopted Theosophy, publishing a commentary on Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled while still in his early twenties. He joined the German army and served in the Middle East during the First World War, working as a pilot and spy. After that war, he explored Tunisia, which led to his contribution to Atlantology.
>Borchardt studied under Professor Siegfried Passarge and when Borchard later proposed that the chotts of northwest Africa held the remains of Plato’s Atlantis, Passarge investigated the claim and expressed some reservations. Passarge was a rabid anti-Semite, but at that time does not appear to have been aware of Borchardt’s ancestry.<
Later, in 1929 he became a professor of military geography in Munich, but, his Jewish background led to his dismissal in 1933 and later in 1938 was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Intervention by a relative led to his release and emigration to Britain in 1939. MI5 were impressed by his wartime exploits and his anti-Nazi outlook.
However, Borchardt travelled to the United States and quite incredibly was recruited as a German spy by the infamous Kurt Frederick Ludwig who was already under surveillance by the authorities. When the so-called Joe K spy ring was broken up Borchardt was sentenced to 20 years in prison, narrowly avoiding the death penalty. Once again through the influence of friends he got an early release and a pension.
Letters relating to his wartime activities can be read online(c)(d).
Borchardt was convinced that Atlantis had been located in North Africa(a). He particularly favoured an area between the Chott el Jerid and the Gulf of Gabés, off Tunisia. James Bramwell notes[195.115] that Borchardt recorded the location as Ham Mam and that he had deduced that the salt lake, Chott Hammeina, was once called the “Lake of the Atlantes”, formerly known as Lake Tritonis. El Hamma (Al Hammah) is a town 30km west of Gabès.>Sprague de Camp noted [194.191] that Borchardt identified ancient Mt. Atlas with the Ahaggar Mountains rather than the Atlas range in the Maghreb!<
The topography of the region together with the ruins of an ancient city near Gabés that Borchardt discovered along with traces of irrigation canals, as well as a huge concentric feature, convinced Borchardt that he had identified Plato’s Atlantis. He believed that the Pillars of Hercules were not the mountains on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar but instead were actual pillars in a temple of Hercules in the at the Gulf of Gabés near the entrance to the chotts.
It may be worth mentioning that the Maltese archipelago, just north of Tunisia, also had an ancient temple dedicated to Hercules.
Borchardt differentiated between the island of Atlantis and the location of the citadel of Poseidon. He identified similarities between Berber tribal names and the ten kings of Atlantis e.g. Plato refers to the founder of the royal house of Atlantis as Euenor, which is claimed to be echoed in the name of Uenur, the mythical father of all the Berbers.
A 1928 newspaper report(b) is also worth a look.