North Africa has received considerable attention as a possible location for Atlantis since the beginning of the 19th century. Gattefosse and Butavand are names associated with early 20th century North African theorists. They, along with Borchardt, Herrmann and others have proposed locations as far west as Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, on through Tunisia and Libya and even as far east as the Nile delta.
One of the earliest writers was Ali Bey El Abbassi who discussed Atlantis and an ancient inland sea in the Sahara. The concept of such an inland sea, usually linked with Lake Tritonis, has persisted with the Chotts of Tunisia and Algeria as prime suspects. There is acceptance that a seismic/tectonic convulsion in the vicinity of the Gulf of Gabés cut off this inland sea from the Mediterranean. Diodorus Siculus records this event in his third book dating it to around 1250 BC. If such an event did not occur, how do we explain the salt laden chotts? However, proving a connection with Atlantis is another matter.
Whether this particular geological upheaval was related to the episode that destroyed parts of ancient Malta is questionable as the Maltese event was one of massive subsidence.
It should be kept in mind that Plato described the southern part of the Atlantean confederation as occupying North Africa as far eastward as Egypt (Tim.25b & Crit.114c). This of course conflicts with the idea of the Atlanteans invading from beyond ‘Pillars of Heracles’ situated at Gibraltar since they apparently already controlled at least part of the Western Mediterranean as far as Italy and Egypt.
*One of the principal arguments against Atlantis being located in North Africa is that Plato clearly referred to Atlantis as an island. However, as Papamarinopoulos has pointed out that regarding the Greek word for island, ‘nesos’ “a literary differentiation between ‘island’ and ‘peninsula’ did not exist in alphabetic Greek before Herodotus’ in the 5th century BC. Similarly, there was not any distinction between a coast and an island in Egyptian writing systems, up to the 5th century BC.” In conversation with Mark Adams[1070.198] Papamarinopoulos explains that in the sixth century BC, when Solon lived, nesos had five geographic meanings. “One, an island as we know it. Two, a promontory. Three, a peninsula. Four, a coast. Five, a land within a continent, surrounded by lakes, rivers or springs.”
Personally, from the context, I am quite happy to accept that the principal city of the Atlantean alliance existed on an island as we understand the word. This was probably north of Tunisia, where a number of possible candidates exist. However, it may be unwise to rule out a North African city just yet!
Another argument put forward that appears to exclude at least part of North Africa is that Plato, according to many translations, he refers to Atlantis as ‘greater’ than ‘Libya’ and ‘Asia‘ combined, using the Greek word, ‘meizon‘, which had a primary meaning of ‘more powerful’ not greater in size. Atlantis could not have been situated in either Libya or Asia because ‘a part cannot be greater than the whole’. However, if Plato was referring to military might rather than geographical extent, as seems quite likely, North Africa may indeed have been part of the Atlantean alliance, particularly as Plato describes the control of Atlantis in the Mediterranean as far Tyrrhenia and Egypt.*
Ambiguities and Contradictions are to be found in Plato’s Atlantis texts. Similar difficulties can be found in other documents that originated in the same period. Readers may be familiar with the discrepancies and apparent contradictions that are to be found throughout the Old Testament. Most of these difficulties stem from the fact that these texts were written in archaic languages that are still not totally understood and where the original text are no longer extant. In addition, these original have been translated into other languages that often included translation and transcription errors. These problems are often more apparent than real.
All these factors have led to most ancient writings being the subject of extensive debates. Plato’s work is no exception. The greatest controversy has arisen regarding the location of Atlantis with the focus on the position of the Pillars of Heracles. Until relatively recently the accepted wisdom was that the ‘Pillars’ could only have been at the Strait of Gibraltar. However, writers such as Eberhard Zangger, Anton Mifsud, Sergio Frau and many others have offered equally legitimate alternative locations for the ‘Pillars’, leading to a broadening of the debate on the location of Atlantis itself.
Another subject that receives ongoing heated discussion is the date of Atlantis’ destruction. Although Plato states that the war occurred 9,000 years before Solon’s Egyptian visit and that Atlantis was destroyed ‘afterwards’. It is clear that such an early date is incompatible with the Bronze Age society, which he so clearly describes and is quite definitely in conflict with the archaeological evidence, which denies the existence of structured societies in either Egypt or Greece at that time.
Other matters that continue to generate controversy are the size of Atlantis, whether Atlantis was a continent, an island or a peninsula and what will surprise many people, the exact location of Plato’s ‘Atlantic Ocean’. Another example is Plato’s consistent reference to Atlantis as an island, yet he twice mentions that part of North Africa and southern Italy, that are clearly not islands, were part of Atlantis.
These arguments usually arise because of the limitations of the developing Greek language and their numerical notation, as they existed at the time of Solon and Plato.
The result is that if you have, say, three proposed locations for Plato’s ‘Atlantic Sea’, six or more locations for the ‘Pillars’, various identifications of the ‘continent’ referred to, as well as debates regarding the size of Atlantis and it is obvious why there is such a multiplicity of Atlantis theories. Apart from which, Plato’s date for the Atlantean War of 9,600 BC seems to conflict with both archaeology and reason adding additional confusion and yet more theories. Other details, such the identity of the Atlanteans, have only compounded matters further.
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.
Island, Peninsula or Continent? Advocates of a continental rather than island identification for Atlantis have to contend with the fact that Plato never referred to Atlantis as a continent instead he used the Greek words for island, namely ‘nesos’ and ‘neson’. Their line of argument is that these words in addition to ‘island’ or ‘islands’ can also mean “islands of an archipelago” or “peninsula”. Furthermore it is claimed that the ancient Greeks had no precise word for ‘peninsula’.
Gilles le Noan, quoted by Papamarinopoulos[629.558], has offered evidence that there was no differentiation in Greek between ‘island’ and ‘peninsula’ until the time of Herodotus in the 5th century BC. In conversation with Mark Adams[1070.198] he explains that in the sixth century BC, when Solon lived, nesos had five geographic meanings. “One, an island as we know it. Two, a promontory. Three, a peninsula. Four, a coast. Five, a land within a continent, surrounded by lakes, rivers or springs.”
Robert Bittlestone, in his Odysseus Unbound [1402.143] also notes that “nesos usually means an island whereas cheronesos means a peninsula, but Homer could not have used cheronesos when referring to the peninsula of Argostoli for two very good reasons. First, it cannot be fitted into the metre of the epic verse and second, the word hadn’t yet been invented: it doesn’t occur in Greek literature until the 5th century BC.”
Another researcher, Roger Coghill, echoed the views of many when he wrote on an old webpage that “To the Greeks peninsulae were the same as islands, so the Peloponnesian peninsula was “the island of Pelops” and the Chersonnese was to them “the island of Cherson”. Similarly in describing a place found after escaping the Pillars of Hercules, Plato quite normally describes the Lusitanian coast (modern Portugal) as an “island”, reached, he clearly says, after passing Cadiz”.
Johann Saltzman claimed that ‘nesos’ did not mean ‘island’ or ‘peninsula’ but ‘land close to water’. However I would be happier sticking to the respected Liddell & Scott’s interpretation of island or peninsula. If Saltzman is correct, what word did the Greeks use for island?
The Modern Greek word for peninsula is ‘chersonesos’ which is derived from ‘khersos’ (dry) and ‘nesos’ (island) and can be seen as a reasonable description of a peninsula. It is worth noting that the etymology of the English word ‘peninsula’ is from the Latin ’paene’ (almost) and ’insula’ (an island).
Jonas Bergman maintains that the Greek concept of ‘island’ is one of detachment or isolation. He also points out that the original Egyptian word for island can also mean lowland or coastland, because the Egyptians had a different conception of ’island’ to either the ancient Greeks or us. Some commentators have claimed that the Egyptians of Solon’s time described any foreign land as an island.
Eberhard Zangger offers another correction of the Atlantis mystery: If one compares the land- / sea-distribution in Egypt and in the Aegean Sea, it becomes obvious why the Egyptians used at that time the expression “from the islands”. While today the word “island” has a clear meaning, this was not the case at the late Bronze Age. For the Egyptians more or less all strangers came from the islands. As there had been practically no islands in Egypt, the ancient Egyptian language did not have any special character for it. The hieroglyphic used for “island” was also meaning “sandy beach” or “coast” and was generally used for “foreign countries” or “regions on the other side of the Nile”.
A contributor to the Skeptic’s Dictionary(b) has added “I remind you that the Greek definition of “island” paralleled that of “continent.” To the Greeks, Europe was a continent. West Africa was an island, especially since it was cut off from the rest of what we now call “Africa” by a river that ran south from the Atlas mountains and then west to what is now the Western Sahara. This now dry river was explored by Byron Khun de Prorok in the 1920’s.”
Reginald Fessenden wrote: “One Greek term must be mentioned because it has given rise to much confusion. The word ‘Nesos’ is still translated as meaning ‘island’ but it does not mean this at all, except perhaps in late Greek. The Peloponnesus is a peninsula. Arabia was called a “nesos” and so was Mesopotamia”. This ambiguity in the written Greek and Egyptian of that period was highlighted at the 2005 Atlantis Conference by Stavros Papamarinopoulos.
Werner Wickboldt pointed out at the same conference that Adolph Schulten in the 1920’s referred to a number of classical writers who used the term ‘nesos’ in connection with the Nile, Tiber, Indus and Tartessos, all of which possessed deltas with extensive networks of islands.
To confuse matters even further, there have been a number of theories based on the idea that the ‘island’ of Atlantis was in fact land surrounded by rivers rather than the sea. These include Mesopotamia in Argentina proposed by Doug Fisher, the Island of Meroë in Sudan suggested by Thérêse Ghembaza and a large piece of land bound by the Mississippi, Ohio, Potomac rivers offered by Henriette Mertz. However, none of these locations match Plato’s description of Atlantis as a maritime trading nation with a naval fleet of 1200 ships, nor do any of them explain how they controlled the Mediterranean as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia.
The waters around Plato’s island are indeed muddy!