Pillars of Herakles
Thomas James was the 18th century author of The History of the Herculean Straits, in which he offered support for the idea of Atlantis in America [1739.1.216].
Neville Chipulina, a Gibraltarian, concluded his blog on the Pillars(a) with a quote from James’ 1771 book, who said – “The reader will observe by the great disagreement of authors, the almost impossibility of absolutely vouching for the truth of any fact. ” In 1854, Wm. Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography  summed up this uncertainty regarding the Pillars of Herakles by noting that when the ancient writers began to investigate the matter more closely, they were greatly divided in opinion as to where the Pillars were to be sought, what they were, and why they were called by the name of Hercules.
Jonathan Northcote is a South African legal practitioner and the author of 16.484ºW 58.521ºN Atlantis, Found? in which he applies his professional forensic skills to the question of Atlantis. Although initially brought to the subject by Otto Muck’s book, he found aspects of Muck’s ideas unacceptable and began an investigation of his own that led him to conclude that the region of Rockall in the North Atlantic is the most likely candidate as the location of Atlantis,
There is no doubting the quality of Northcote’s research, particularly relating to the geology and underwater topography of the Rockall region, which is fully referenced. However I cannot agree with his treatment of a number of critical items in Plato’s text. These relate to words and phrases such as, continent, Pillars of Heracles, Atlantic, greater than Libya and Asia combined and elephants.
*In 2018, Stuart L. Harris, citing Northcote’s work, published four papers (a-d) on the academia.edu website endorsing the Rockall Plateau as the location of Atlantis. Harris adopts some of Emilio Spedicato’s theories and attributes the destruction of Atlantis to a catastrophic encounter with Nibiru in 9577 BC.*
In January 2019, Northcote revised his book with additional material and published this second edition with the title of Atlantis, Found? An investigation into ancient accounts, bathymetry and climatology . I am currently working my way through this latest offering and hope to review it in the near future.
The Red Sea, also known as the Erythraean Sea lies between Egypt and Sudan in Africa and Saudi Arabia and Yemen in Asia. At the southern end lies the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, considered by a few researchers as the location of the Pillars of Herakles.
The ‘Red’ is often attributed to the seasonal blooming of a red-coloured bacterium. Some academics think that the cardinal points were ascribed colours, ‘red’ being south! Emilio Spedicato, in his paper(a) on the location of the biblical Ophir, points out that pumice which is normal volcanic ejecta turns blood-red when mixed with seawater. Immediately to the south is the East Africa Rift, home to dozens of volcanoes, which when erupting may have had pumice dust blown towards the Red Sea!
*[Coincidentally, the presumed cradle of humanity is situated not too far from the Rift volcanoes and has drawn serious claims(b) that they may have had a part to play in the evolution of hominids!]*
The Bering Strait between Asia and America has been a source of ongoing controversy regarding the peopling of America.
James Howell (1594-1666) relates how even in the 17th century the existence of the strait, then known as the Anian, was disputed, although at the same time there was also a theory that the nomadic Scythians had originally crossed over the Strait from America.
By the end of the 18th century the importance of the Strait had been recognised, when Paul Felix Cabrera wrote “That most troublesome of all the difficulties hitherto started by authors respecting the passage of animals to America, particularly of the ferocious kinds at enmity with man, even retaining in full force the plausible reasons so ingeniously urged, if not entirely removed, is nearly surmounted by the discovery and examination of Anian or Behring’s straits’ which are of no greater breadth than thirteen leagues from shore to shore, and where, by means of the ice, the two continents of Asia and America are connected; this would afford a practical route not only for animals but men, from whom it is possible to suppose that those who inhabit the most northerly countries from the straits as far as Hudson’s and Baffin’s Bays, and from the Frozen Sea to California, New Mexico, and Canada to the southward, are descended.” (s)
In certain circumstances, it is still possible to walk across the Bering Strait. “A 2.5-mile stretch divides Russia’s Big Diomede island from Alaska’s Little Diomede island. In the winter, the water separating the two islands freezes, allowing you to trek from one destination to the other.”(n) Wikipedia notes that “numerous successful crossings without the use of a boat have also been recorded since at least the early 20th century.” (o)
There is little doubt that at some point in prehistory a landbridge linked the two continents.
Although it is frequently claimed that the Hadji Ahmed Map of 1559 shows a landbridge between the two continents, it only appears to be so because of the way the map is drawn.
A recent paper(a) by Heather Pringle and Krista Langlois offers evidence that the link was more than just an isthmus, but was in fact a vast area of land, Beringia, the size of Australia and that it provided a crossing point, for humans and animals earlier and for longer than previously believed (See map above right).
After crossing the Strait there were two southward routes, one along the coast and the other via what is known as the Ice-Free Corridor Route which ran between two vast ice sheets, the Laurentide to the east and the Cordilleran to the west(c). According to a 2018 report(i), the coastal route which followed deglaciation “was physically and environmentally viable for early human migration to the Americas.” Another report in 2018 claims that the earliest settlers in America were island-hopping sea-farers from Asia(j)(k).
However, there is now compelling evidence that peopled reached South America before the existence of the northern ice-free corridor, suggesting the alternative coastal migration route, which, so far, has little evidence to support it. This recent report is the result of excavations at the Huaca Prieta ceremonial mound, 600 Km north of the Peruvian capital, Lima. Human activity there has now been dated to around 15,000 years ago(e). Further evidence has now emerged(p) that the peopling of America was not carried out by a single group, but by immigrants from different geographical areas.
Professor Jody Hey of Rutgers University published in 2011 the results of his North American DNA studies, which confirmed the arrival of the first migrants from Asia around 14,000 years ago in a group of not more than 70 people(r).
Pre-Columbian contact between Asia and Alaska was confirmed by a report(b) from Purdue University in September 2016. Artifacts were discovered in a house dated between 700 and 900 years old. The bronze items were identified as having been smelted in Asia, while a leather strap was radio carbon dated to between 500 and 800 years old.
Another 2016 report(d) added genetic evidence for the Beringia migration route, when the remains of two infants, dated to around 10,000 years ago were discovered at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska.
The ‘received wisdom’ regarding the origins of the Clovis people was that they had crossed into the Americas from Asia via the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago. This has been challenged in a book by two archaeologists, Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley, who claim “that the first Americans crossed the Atlantic by boat and arrived earlier than previously thought. Supplying archaeological and oceanographic evidence to support this assertion, the book dismantles the old paradigm while persuasively linking Clovis technology with the culture of the Solutrean people who occupied France and Spain more than 20,000 years ago.” In 2014, Stephen Oppenheimer endorsed the work of Stanford and Bradley(h). Coincidentally, an article(m) in the August 2017 edition of Antiquity offers evidence that humans lived in Brazil more than 20,000 years ago, which is many millennia before the Clovis people arrived in North America.
A sceptical view of their work should also be read(f). Furthermore, in 2016 the Solutrean Hypothesis also appears to have been contradicted by recent genetic studies(g).
Late August 2019 saw the dating controversy surrounding the arrival of the First Americans re-ignited with a study which pushes the date back to over 16,000 years ago(l) . This is based on archaeological discoveries at Cooper’s Ferry in Idaho. This earlier date suggests that the ice-free corridor would not have been available to these people, but are more likely to have used the coastal route from Asia via the Bering Strait. A secondary matter raised by these finds is that “Based on their analysis of the stone tools from Cooper’s Ferry, the researchers suggest that they are most similar to artifacts of the same general period found on the other side of the Pacific. Specifically, they appear to share many traits with tools produced on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido 13,000-16,000 years ago!”
The idea that the Clovis people were the first Americans is gradually losing support as the evidence found at Cooper’s Ferry and other sites indicates otherwise. A recent paper on the National Geographic website supports such a revised view(q).
The only direct connection of the Bering Strait with Atlantis has been suggested by Albert. M. Chelchelnitsky, who proposed that Atlantis had been situated in Alaska and placed the Pillars of Herakles in the Strait itself.
Odysseus and Herakles are two of the best known heroes in Greek mythology, both of whom had one important common experience, they each had to endure a series of twelve tests. However, although different versions of the narratives are to be found with understandable variations in the detail, the two stories remain substantially the same.
The two tales have been generally interpreted geographically although a minority view is that an astronomical/astrological interpretation was intended, as the use of twelve events in both accounts would seem to point to a connection with the zodiac!
Alice A. Bailey is probably the best known regarding Hercules in her book The Labours of Hercules, while Kenneth & Florence Wood have also proposed Homer’s work as a repository of astronomical data. Bailey’s work is available as a pdf file(d).
In geographical terms, Herakles and Odysseus share something rather intriguing. Nearly all of the ‘labours’ of Herakles (Peisander c 640 BC) and all of the ‘trials’ of Odysseus (Homer c.850 BC) are generally accepted to have taken place in the eastern Mediterranean. In fact, the first map of the geography of the Odyssey, was produced by Ortelius in 1597, which situated all of the locations in the central and eastern Mediterranean(e).
However, in both accounts, there is a suggestion that they experienced at least one of their adventures in the extreme western Mediterranean, at what many consider to be the (only) location of the Pillars of Heracles as defined by Eratosthenes centuries later (c.200 BC). Significantly, nothing happens over the 1100 mile (1750 km) journey on the way there and nothing occurs on the way back!
I think it odd that both share this same single, apparently anomalous location. I suggest that we should consider the possibility that the accounts of Heracles and Odysseus are possibly distorted versions of each other and that, in the later accounts of their exploits, the use of the extreme western location for the trial/labour is possibly only manifestations of a blind acceptance of the geographical claims of Eratosthenes or a biased view that this was always the case. A credible geographical revision of the location of those inconsistent activities by Odysseus and Heracles to somewhere other than the Gibraltar region would add weight to those, such as myself, that consider a Central Mediterranean location for the ‘Pillars’ more likely.
The German historian, Armin Wolf, relates how his research over 40 years unearthed 80 theories on the geography of the Odyssey, of which around 30 were accompanied by maps. In 2009, he published, Homers Reise: Auf den Spuren des Odysseus, a German language book that expands on the subject, concluding that all the wandering of Odysseus took place in the central and eastern Mediterranean. In a fascinating paper(a) he reviews many of these theories and offering his own ideas on the subject along with his own proposed maps, which exclude the western Mediterranean entirely. Wolfgang Geisthövel adopted Wolf’s conclusions in his Homer’s Mediterranean .
With regard to Hercules the anomalous nature of the ‘traditional’ location of Erytheia for his 10th ‘labour’ is evident on a map(b), while the 11th could be anywhere in North Africa.
Further study of the two narratives might offer further strong evidence for a central Mediterranean location for the ‘Pillars’ around the time of Solon! For example, “map mistress” places Erytheia in the vicinity of Sicily(c), while my personal choice would be the Egadi Islands further to the north, Egadi being a cognate of Gades, frequently linked with Erytheia.
Robert J. Tuttle (1935- ) is an American nuclear engineer and the author of The Fourth Source: Effects of Natural Nuclear Reactors, which is a ground-breaking review of “how the effects of nature’s own nuclear reactors have shaped the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, and the history of life as we know it.”
This large volume (580 pages) challenges many accepted theories, such as glaciation, evolution, and mass extinctions and offers new ideas that will undoubtedly raise eyebrows(a).*The first 25 pages can be downloaded as a free pdf file.*
Surprisingly, Tuttle also tackles the question of Atlantis (p.301) suggesting the possibility that when sea levels were lower, the Balearic Islands in the Western Mediterranean were more extensive and possibly the home of Atlantis. He takes issue with Bury and Lee who refer to the ‘Atlantic Ocean’, which he claims should read as the ‘Sea of Atlantis’ and locates the ‘Pillars of Herakles’ somewhere between Tunisia, Sicily and the toe of Italy.
Anatoliy Ivanovich Zolotukhin is a Ukranian researcher from the city of Nikolaev (also known as Mykolaiv) an important shipbuilding centre, northwest of Crimea. He is the author of 50 research works on acoustics and turbulence as well as 26 inventions. He is now retired and apart from his ecological interests he has devoted a website with the intriguing title of Homer and Atlantis(a).
His main objective is to demonstrate that Homer’s story of Odysseus’ wanderings took place within the Black Sea, but that is not the only controversial claim made by him.>He also maintains that the Pillars of Heracles were to be found near Homer’s Scylla & Charybdis and situated in the Bosporus(c).<
With regard to Atlantis itself, he locates it in the vicinity of Evpatoria in western Crimea. His 60-page book, Homer. The Immanent Biography is available on his website(b).
Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (1957- ) is a German professor of classical philology. He has studied Plato’s Atlantis story and concluded that it is purely an invention and should be treated as a morality tale. Although an Atlantis sceptic, he is also considered fair-minded. A review of his book can be read online(b).
Nesselrath has also published a German translation of and commentary on Plato’s Critias, as well as a paper (in Italian) on the Pillars of Herakles.
In his Newsletter 118(a) of July 2018, Thorwald C. Franke revealed that Nesselrath had provided some qualified support for Franke’s thesis which contradicts the long-held view that Aristotle had denied the existence of Plato’s Atlantis. Nesselrath goes further and “adds a brand new suggestion who could have been the true author of the invention assertion in Strabo 2.3.6: He suggests Eratosthenes, the famous geographer, mathematician, and author of poems, as a good candidate to be the true author. The reasons given for this are Eratosthenes’ geographical knowledge, his poetry, and his skepticism towards e.g. Homer’s Odyssee.”
In April 2020, Nesselrath published a critique(c) of my book, Joining the Dots. This he expanded for publication on the Academia.edu website with the combative title of How Not to Join the Dots. I found it strange that a person of Professor Nesselrath’s academic stature should bother to criticise the retirement project of an old pensioner. Unless there was something in it that was perceived as threatening his scepticism!
I published a response to Nesselrath’s first review in March 2021. Within days he offered a further, somewhat repetitious attack, on my book(d). Shortly after that, Thorwald C. Franke offered some critical comments on Nesselrath’s response in his newsletter No.157(e). Newsletter No.158 followed a day later in which Franke reviewed a lecture, previously unknown to him, given by Nesselrath, in Bologna, a few years ago(f) during which he apparently misrepresented Franke’s Atlantis theories. Shortly afterwards Nesselrath issued a rather intemperate reply to Franke’s criticisms(g).>A further document(h) from Franke detailed his continuing annoyance with what he perceives as ‘a breach of trust’ on the part of Nesselrath.<
Having read Nesselrath’s latest response to my response, I have decided to bring this matter to a conclusion, as he has merely repackaged his previous comments and is now becoming tedious.
He also seems to be unhappy that non-academics have intruded on to his territory. His repeated references to my admitted lack of an education in the Classics seemed to imply that I should not concern myself with such matters.
I began my book by declaring that it was my intention to demonstrate that the balance of probabilities strongly favoured the historical reality of Atlantis, nothing more. It appears that something in that book appeared to jeopardise the Professor’s intransigent views, It is unfortunate that he seems to suffer from terminal scepticism, allowing no room for any error on his part.
At its simplest, Nesselrath sees the Atlantis story as just a Platonic invention; I don’t.
He cannot accept that Socrates in the dialogues is only a mouthpiece of Plato’s; I do.
As long as those two fundamentals divide us, there is no room for any further comment.
Hopefully, I will have time to publish a revised edition of Joining the Dots, before donning my wooden overcoat.
Syrtis was the name given by the Romans to two gulfs off the North African coast; Syrtis Major which is now known as the Gulf of Sidra off Libya and Syrtis Minor, known today as the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisian waters. They are both shallow sandy gulfs that have been feared from ancient times by mariners. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27.13-18) it is described how St. Paul on his way to Rome was blown off course and feared that they would run aground on ‘Syrtis sands.’
The earliest modern reference to these gulfs that I can find in connection with Atlantis was by Nicolas Fréret in the 18th century when he proposed that Atlantis may have been situated in Syrtis Major. Giorgio Grongnet de Vasse expressed a similar view around the same time. Since then there has been little support for the idea until recent times when Winfried Huf designated Syrtis Major as one of his five divisions of the Atlantean Empire.
However, the region around the Gulf of Gabes has been more persistently associated with aspects of the Atlantis story. Inland from Gabes are the chotts, which were at one time connected to the Mediterranean and considered to have been part of the legendary Lake Tritonis, sometimes suggested as the actual location of Atlantis.
In the Gulf itself, Apollonius of Rhodes placed the Pillars of Herakles(a) , while Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (c. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkennah at the western end of Syrtis Minor. Lucanus, the Latin poet, located the Strait of Heracles in Syrtis Minor. Mifsud has pointed out that this reference has been omitted from modern translations of Lucanus’ work!
Férréol Butavand was one of the first modern commentators 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, while more recently Alberto Arecchi placed Atlantis in the Gulf when sea levels were lower(b) . George Sarantitis places the ‘Pillars’ near Gabes and Atlantis itself inland, further west in Mauritania, south of the Atlas Mountains. Antonio Usai also places the ‘Pillars’ in the Gulf of Gabes.
In 2018, Charles A. Rogers published a paper(c) on the academia.edu website in which he identified Tunisia as Atlantis with it capital located at the mouth of the Triton River on the Gulf of Gabes. He favours Plato’s 9.000 ‘years’ to have been lunar cycles, bringing the destruction of Atlantis into the middle of the second millennium BC and coinciding with the eruption of Thera which created a tsunami that ran across the Mediterranean destroying the city with the run-up and its subsequent backwash. This partly agrees with my conclusions in Joining the Dots!
(a) Argonautica Book IV ii 1230
Albert M. Chechelnitsky (1935-2011) was a Russian astrophysicist who, in a short 2007 book entitled Challenge of Plato: Atlantida Incognita, put forward the daring idea that Atlantis had been situated in Alaska and the Pillars of Herakles in the Bering Strait.
It appears that his book was initially only available in an electronic format(a) however it now seems to be also available in hard copy(b), but I cannot locate a seller.