Bab-el-Mandeb, which means gate of tears, is the name given to the strait at the southern end of the Red Sea and identified by some researchers as the location of the Pillars of Heracles referred to by Plato. This idea is advocated by Jacques Hébert, Thérêse Ghembaza and Sunil Prasannan who have respectively located Atlantis at Socotra, Meroë and Sundaland.
A fictional account of the destruction of Atlantis in the Red Sea and its relationship with the biblical Deluge by Orson Scott Card is now available on the Internet(a).
(b) https://www.academia.edu/3480936/Atlantis_myth_legend_History (French) (offline Nov. 2015)
(c) https://www.academia.edu/3339364/PLATO_revisited_what_he_precisely_said_about_Atlantis (French) (offline Nov.2015)
Thérêse Ghembaza is a French researcher who has a website, in French and English, entitled The Great Enigmas of Antiquity(a) in which she discusses matters such as the Hyksos, the identity of Moses and the Kushites. The site also deals with her theory that Atlantis had been situated in Meroë on the Upper Nile, a theory that she developed in a number of other papers(c), which are certainly worth a read.
While at first sight this might be seen as a wild claim, Ghembaza offers a well reasoned theory which was presented to the 2nd Atlantis Conference held in Athens in 2008. She has imaginatively linked aspects of Meroitic geography and history with Plato’s story of Atlantis. For example, she identifies Tyrrhenia with Tyre in Lebanon and claims that Tyrrhenia in Italy was a later colony of Tyre! While some of her ideas are convincing I found others a little threadbare. Nevertheless Ghembaza must be applauded for her efforts to construct a scientific explanation for the Atlantis narrative.
In April 2015, Ghembaza offered a short paper(d) in support of identifying Bab-el-Mandeb as the location of the Pillars of Heracles.
Ghembaza has kindly drawn my attention to two quotations from Pliny the Elder and Ovid that offer possible explanations for Plato’s orichalcum (see Document 091011). The former refers to a Cypriot copper mixed with gold which gave a fiery colour and called pyropus, while Ovid also refers to a cladding of pyropus, a term often translated as bronze. She also mentions auricupride(Cu3Au), an alloy that may be connected with orichalcum.
(b) Hecataeus of Miletus‘ Periegesis 550 – 480 “now lost, but probably the main source of Plato and Eratosthenes”
(d) See: Archive 2526
Tyre was located in what is modern Lebanon and is considered to have been originally a colony of Sidon. According to Egyptian records they ruled it during the middle of the second millennium BC, but lost control when their influence in the area declined. Independence brought commercial success that saw Tyre surpass Sidon in wealth and influence and eventually establish its own colonies across the Mediterranean. One of these was Carthage in North Africa, which in time became independent and eventually rivalled the Roman Empire in the west. It also had colonies in Greece and frequently fought with Egypt.
The location of Tyre, on an island with a superb natural harbour and which had great wealth and was supported by its many colonies, has been seen as a mirror of Atlantis. The Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel, writing around 600 BC, described (26:19, 27: 27-28) the destruction of Tyre in terms that have prompted some to link it with Plato’s description of Atlantis’ demise, written two hundred years later.*The earliest claim that Ezekiel’s Tyrus was a reference to Atlantis was made by Madame Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine  in 1888.
However, although both J.D. Brady and David Hershiser promote the idea of a linkage between Ezekiel’s Tyrus and Atlantis, they are certain that Tyrus is not the Phoenician city of Tyre. Beyond that, Brady identifies Tyrus/Atlantis with Troy, while Hershiser has placed his Tyrus/Atlantis in the Atlantic just beyond the Strait of Gibraltar(b).
Early in the 20th century Hanns Hörbiger also cited Ezekiel as justification for identifying Tyre as Atlantis.*
Recently, a sunken city has been discovered between Tyre and Sidon and according to its discoverer, Mohammed Sargi, is the 4,000 year old City of Yarmuta referred to in the Tell al-Amarna letters.
Carl Fredrich Baer, the imaginative 18th century writer, proposed a linkage between Tyre and Tyrrhenia. This idea has been revived recently by the claims of Jaime Manuschevich that the Tyrrhenians were Phoenicians from Tyre. Other supporters of a Tyrrhenian linkage with Tyre are J.D.Brady, Thérêse Ghembaza and most recently Dhani Irwanto. J.S. Gordon also claims[339.241] that Tyre was so named by the Tyrrhenians.
In Greek mythology it is said that Cadmus, son of the Phoenician king Agenor, brought the alphabet to Greece, suggesting a closer connection than generally thought.
J.P. Rambling places the Pillars of Heracles on Insula Herculis, now a sunken island, immediately south of Tyre(a).
*(b) See: Archive 3395*
The Island of Meroë is the name given by some classical writers to the land bounded by the White Nile, Blue Nile and Atbara rivers. Meroë has over two hundred pyramids, built with their own distinctive style(d).
Thérêse Ghembaza submitted a paper to the 2008 Atlantis Conference, suggesting that Plato’s ‘Atlantida nesos’ was in fact this ‘island’ of Meroë. Her theory, which matches many, but not all, of the details provided by Plato, can now be read online(a)(b). For example, she does not attempt to explain Plato’s reference to the Atlanteans having control of the Western Mediterranean as far as Libya and Tyrrhenia.
Ghembazza has offered a short paper in support of her belief that the Pillars of Heracles were situated at Bab-el-Mandeb(c).
(a) https://www.antiqua91.fr/cariboost_files/meroechapitre_20i_2021_20september_202009.pdf (link broken Dec. 2020)
Panchaea was an island in the Indian Ocean first mentioned by the Greek philosopher Euhemerus in the 4th century BC. It is conventionally assumed to be fictional(b) as it shares many of the characteristics of Plato’s Atlantis.
Nevertheless, Thérêse Ghembaza has boldly proposed(a) that Meroë on the Upper Nile, which can be loosely described as an island, was in fact the Panchaea described by Diodorus Siculus and was, by extension, Plato’s Atlantis.
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!
Orichalcum is one of the many mysteries in Plato’s Atlantis narrative. It is mentioned five times in the Critias [114e, 116c-d, 119c] as a metal extensively used in Atlantis. I am not aware of any reference to it anywhere else in his writings, a fact that can be advanced as evidence of the veracity of his Atlantis story. Plato took the time to explain to his audience why the kings of Atlantis have Hellenised names. However, he introduces Orichalcum into the story without explanation, which suggests that the metal was something well-known to the listeners. It is therefore natural to expect that metals might play an important part in determining the credibility of any proposed Atlantis location.
Bronze was an alloy of copper and tin, while brass was a mixture of copper and zinc, their similarity is such that museums today refer to artefacts made of either refer to them as copper alloys.
According to James Bramwell[195.91], Albert Rivaud demonstrated that the term ‘orichalcum’ was known before Plato and not just invented by him. Similarly, Zhirov notes that both Homer and Hesiod refer to the metal[0458.46], , as does Ibycus, the 6th century BC poet, who compares its appearance to gold suggesting a brasslike alloy. Thomas Taylor (1825) noted that in a fragment from a lost book of Proclus, he seems to refer to orichalcum under the name of migma(c). Wikipedia also adds that “Orichalcum is also mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews – Book VIII, sect. 88 by Josephus, who stated that the vessels in the Temple of Solomon were made of orichalcum (or a bronze that was like gold in beauty). Pliny the Elder points out that the metal had lost currency due to the mines being exhausted. Pseudo-Aristotle in ‘De mirabilibus auscultationibus’ describes orichalcum as a shining metal obtained during the smelting of copper with the addition of ‘calmia’, a kind of earth formerly found on the shores of the Black Sea, which is attributed to be zinc oxide.”
Orichalcum, or its equivalent Latin Aurichalcum, is usually translated as ‘golden copper’ referring to either its colour or composition (80% copper and 20% zinc) or both. However, Webster’s Dictionary translates it as ‘mountain-copper’ from ‘oros’ meaning mountain and ‘chalchos’ meaning copper.
Sir Desmond Lee described the metal as ‘imaginary’ without explaining away the classical references or the fact that ”In numismatics, orichalcum is the name given to a brass-like alloy of copper and zinc used for the Roman sestertius and dupondius. Very similar in composition to modern brass, it had a golden-yellow color when freshly struck. In coinage, orichalcum’s value was nearly double reddish copper or bronze. Because production cost was similar to copper or bronze, orichalcum’s formulation and production were highly profitable government secrets.”(m)
Modern writers have offered a range of conflicting explanations for both the origin and nature of orichalcum. A sober overview of the subject is provided by the Coin and Bullion Pages website(d).
In 1926 Paul Borchardt recounted Berber traditions that recalled a lost City of Brass. Salah Salim Ali, the Iraqi scholar, points out that a number of medieval Arabic writers referred to an ancient ‘City of Brass’ echoing the Orichalcum covered walls of Plato’s Atlantis.
Ivan Tournier, a regular contributor to the French journal Atlantis proposed that orichalcum was composed of copper and beryllium. Tournier’s conclusion seems to have been influenced by the discovery in 1936 at Assuit in Egypt of a type of scalpel made from such an alloy(e). An English translation of Tournier’s paper was published in Atlantean Research (Vol 2. No.6, Feb/Mar.1950). In the same edition of A.R. Egerton Sykes adds a few comments of his own on the subject.
An unusual suggestion was made by Michael Hübner who noted that “small pieces of a reddish lime plaster with an addition of mica were discovered close to a rampart” in his chosen Atlantis location of South Morocco. He links this with Plato’s orichalcum, but does so without any great enthusiasm.
Jim Allen, promoter of the Atlantis in Bolivia theory, claims that a natural alloy of gold and copper is unique to the Andes. Tumbaga is the name given by the Spaniards to a non-specific alloy of gold and copper found in South America. However, an alloy of the two that has 15-40% copper, melts at 200 Co degrees less than gold. Dr. Karen Olsen Bruhns, an archaeologist at San Francisco State University wrote in her book, Ancient South America, “Copper and copper alloy objects were routinely gilded or silvered, the original colour apparently not being much valued. The gilded copper objects were often made of an alloy, which came to be very important in all of South and Central American metallurgy: tumbaga. This is a gold-copper alloy which is significantly harder than copper, but which retains its flexibility when hammered. It is thus ideally suited to the formation of elaborate objects made of hammered sheet metal. In addition, it casts well and melts at a lower temperature than copper, always a consideration when fuel sources for a draught were the wind and men’s lungs. The alloy could be made to look like pure gold by treatment of the finished face with an acid solution to dissolve the copper, and then by hammering or polishing to join the gold, giving a uniformly gold surface”.
Enrico Mattievich also believed that orichalcum had been mined in the Peruvian Andes(b).
Jürgen Spanuth tried to equate Orichalch with amber. Paul Dunbavin links Orichalcum with Wales. Robert Ishoy implies a connection between obsidian and Orichalcum, an idea also promoted by Christian & Siegfried Schoppe, while Felice Vinci equates it with platinum.
Albert Slosman thought that there was a connection between Moroccan oricalcita, a copper derivative, and Plato’s orichalcum. Peter Daughtrey has offered [893.82] a solution from a little further north in Portugal where the ancient Kunii people of the region used ori or oro as the word for gold and at that period used calcos for copper.
Thorwald C. Franke has suggested[750.174] that two sulphur compounds, realgar and orpiment whose fiery and sometimes translucent appearance might have been Plato’s orichalcum. His chosen location for Atlantis, Sicily, is a leading source of sulphur and some of its compounds. I doubt this explanation as realgar disintegrates with prolonged exposure to sunlight, while both it and orpiment, a toxin, could not be described as metals in any way comparable with gold and silver as stated by Plato.
Frank Joseph translates orichalcum as ‘gleaming or superior copper’ rather than the more correct ‘mountain copper’ and then links Plato’s metal with the ancient copper mines of the Upper Great Lakes. Joseph follows Egerton Sykes in associating ‘findrine’, a metal referred to in old Irish epics, with orichalcum. However, findrine was usually described as white bronze unlike the reddish hue of orichalcum.
Ulf Erlingsson suggested [319.61] that orichalcum was ochre, which is normally yellow, but red when burnt. He seems to have based this on his translation of the text Critias116b. In fact the passage describes the citadel flashing in a fiery manner, but it does not specify a colour!
Other writers have suggested that orichalcum was bronze, an idea that conflicts with a 9600 BC date for the destruction of Atlantis since the archaeological evidence indicates the earliest use of bronze was around 6000 years later.
Thérêse Ghembaza has kindly drawn my attention to two quotations from Pliny the Elder and Ovid that offer possible explanations for Plato’s orichalcum(n) . The former refers to a Cypriot copper mixed with gold which gave a fiery colour and called pyropus, while Ovid also refers to a cladding of pyropus. She also mentions auricupride(Cu3Au), an alloy that may be connected with orichalcum.
Zatoz Nondik, a German researcher, has written a book about Plato’s ‘orichalcum’, From 2012 to Oreichalkos, in which he describes, in detail, how the orichalcum may be related to Japanese lacquer and suitable for coating walls as described in the Atlantis(b) narrative!
The fact is that copper and gold mixtures, both natural and manmade, have been found in various parts of the world and have been eagerly seized upon as support for different Atlantis location theories. A third of all gold is produced as a by-product of copper, lead, and zinc production.
It is also recorded that on ancient Crete, in the Aegean, two types of gold were found, one of which was a deep red developed by the addition of copper. Don Ingram suggests that the reddish gold produced in ancient Ireland is what Plato was referring to.
Irrespective of what orichalcum actually was, I think it is obvious that it was more appropriate to the Bronze Age than 9,600 BC. Furthermore, it occurs to me that Plato, who was so careful to explain or Hellenise foreign words so as not to confuse his Athenian audience, appears to assume that orichalcum is not an alien term to his audience.
The result of all of this is that Orichalcum has been advanced to support the location of Atlantis in North and South America, Sundaland, Ireland, Britain and the Aegean. Once again an unintentional lack of clarity in Plato’s text hampers a clear-cut identification of the location of Atlantis.
A fascinating anecdote relating to the use of a term similar to ‘orichalcum’ to describe a mixture of copper and gold was used by a metalsmith in Dubai as recently as 2007 and is recounted on the Internet(a) .
The Wikipedia entry(f) for ‘orichalcum’ adds further classical references to this mysterious metal.
2015 began with a report that 47 ingots of ‘orichalcum’ had been found in a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily, near Gela, and dated to around 600 BC(g). What I cannot understand is that since we never knew the exact composition of Plato’s alloy, how can anyone today determine that these salvaged ingots are the same metal. Thorwald C. Franke has more scholarly comments on offer(h). Jason Colavito has also applied his debunking talents to the subject(i). In June of the same year, Christos Djonis, in an article(j) on the Ancient Origins website, wrote a sober review of the media coverage of the shipwreck. He also added some interesting background history on the origin of the word ‘orichalcum’.
An analysis revealed(k) that those ingots were composed of 75-80% copper, 15-20% zinc, and traces of nickel, lead and iron, but no proof that this particular alloy was orichalcum. The recovery of a further 39 ingots from the wreck were reported in February 2017 and the excavation of the sunken ship continues.
An extensive paper(o) on the Gela discovery reported “that Professor Sebastiano Tusa, an archaeologist at the office of the Superintendent of the Sea in Sicily, claimed the metal they had discovered in the remains of the ship was probably the mythical and highly prized red metal orichalcum.” However dissent was not long coming, as the paper also notes that “ Enrico Mattievich, a former physics professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, believes the metal has its origins in the Chavin civilisation that developed in the Peruvian Andes in around 1,200 BC. He claims the metal alloy is made from copper, gold and silver. He claims that the discovery off the coast of Gela is not true orichalcum.” I think that both are probably wrong as we do not know the exact chemical composition of Plato’s orichalcum and both are just engaging in speculation.
The most recent explanation for the term comes from Dhani Irwanto who has proposed that orichalcum refers to a form zircon(l) that is plentiful on the Indonesian island of Kilimantan, where he has hypothesised that the Plain of Atlantis was located [1093.110].
(e) Atlantis Research Vol 2. No.6, Feb/Mar 1950, p.86
(g) See: Archive 2460
(n) See: Archive 3456
Divine Twins (Dioscurism) occur frequently in many cultures worldwide(c), Greek mythology being no exception, although Plato’s report that five sets of twins were the original rulers of Atlantis, it provides one of the more unusual elements in the account. Could there be any connection between the male twins of the Atlantis and the male twins, Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome or Amphion and Zethos who established Thebes?
Greek and Roman mythologies also shared the twins Castor and Pollux. Furthermore, a Christian reference to them can be found in the Acts of the Apostles (28.11), where St.Paul is said to have left Malta for Rome on a ship displaying the sign of Castor and Pollux.
The idea of Divine twins is also found in the old Slavic pantheon according to Michael Shapiro in a 1982 paper(g) and found across European mythologies(i).
According to Jim Allen, the leading proponent of the idea of Atlantis having existed in the Andes, the Aymara kingdoms which existed on the Andean Altiplano also governed in pairs, so he has no doubt that the story of Atlantis had its origins in a Bolivian legend(a). It is accepted that ‘The Hero Twins’ are part of Mayan mythology in the form of Xbalanque and Hunaphu. The anthropologist Robert L. Hall has detected twins in the native symbolism as far north as the Mississippi. The existence of twin rulers also existed in Bronze Age Scandinavia – one being the chief of war, the other the chief of rituals.
A recent paper by Alastair Coombs entitled The Atlantis Twins offered further thoughts on possible prehistoric references, including a suggested link with Göbekli Tepe. This article was expanded and retitled Göbekli Tepe & the Atlantis Twins and was later published on Graham Hancock’s website(d).
In December 2017, Anton Mifsud, the doyen of Maltese Atlantologists, published an intriguing suggestion(f), when he pointed out that on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Neo-Platonist Michelangelo, something odd can be perceived in the central panel, known as The Creation of Adam. There, we find ‘god’ surrounded by five pairs of flightless ‘cherubs’. This is reminiscent of Poseidon’s five pairs of twin sons that ruled Atlantis. However, Christian iconography invariably shows cherubs with wings, so it begs the question; why this departure from the norm? Mifsud contends that together with other aspects of the fresco, this depiction is closer to Plato’s ‘god’, Poseidon, than that of the Mosaic creator in Genesis!
My own view is that the story of the five sets of male twins is just one of the mythological threads in Plato’s Atlantis narrative. P.P. Flambas who has taken a generally literal view of Plato’s account, admits the improbability of happening to one couple through natural means. However, in correspondence, he defensively quotes the somewhat dubious(e) case of “the greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia.”
(g) Michael Shapiro, Neglected Evidence of Dioscurism (Divine Twinning) in the Old Slavic Pantheon, JIES 10 (1982), 137-166.