The Central Mediterranean is a very geologically unstable region containing as it does all of Europe’s land-based active volcanoes(a), regular seismic(b) activity with the attendant risk of tsunamis. It is now estimated that a devastating tsunami will hit the Mediterranean every 100 years(c). While the Aegean region experiences the greatest number of earthquakes, the Central Mediterranean, particularly around Sicily is also prone to regular tremors.
The idea that Atlantis was situated in this region is advocated by a number of researchers, including Alberto Arecchi, Férréol Butavand, Anton Mifsud, Axel Hausmann, as well as this compiler. Plato unambiguously referred to only two places as Atlantean territory (Crit.114c & Tim 25b) North Africa and Southern Italy as far as Tyrrhenia (Tuscany) plus a number of unspecified islands.
The area between Southern Italy and Tunisia has had a great number of sites proposed for the Pillars of Herakles, while possible locations for Gades are on offer with a number places still known today by cognates of that name.
Plato clearly includes continental territory as part of the Atlantean domain as well as a number of important islands. Within a relatively small geographical area, you have two continents, Africa and Europe represented by Tunisia and Italy respectively, as well as the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Malta together with a number of smaller archipelagos, matching Plato’s description exactly. The later Carthaginian Empire also occupied much of the same territory apart from eastern Sicily and southern Italy which by then was controlled by the Greeks and known as Magna Graecia.
For me, the clincher is that within that region we have the only place in the entire Mediterranean to have been home to elephants up to Roman times – Northwest Africa.
*(b) The Europeam Mediterranean Seismic Centre – EMSC, records all activity in the region.*
(c) https://www.tsunami-alarm-system.com/en/content/vorkommen-mittelmeer (German & English)
Civilisation Collapse has occurred many times over past millennia in all parts of the world. The American anthropologist, Joseph A. Tainter defines collapse as “a rapid shift to a lower level of complexity(a) .” Societal disintegration immediately brings to mind the Maya, the Indus Valley and in what are relatively more modern times, the Western Roman Empire.
The causes are usually a combination of factors, such as, climate change, warfare, disease or excessive expansionism. Global catastrophes such as encounters with comets or asteroids are rare, while more local events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis can also be thrown into the mix. These have all been encountered from time to time, but have rarely been blamed for the collapse of a society; recovery from such limited regional events is usually possible.
The Mediterranean has seen its share of all these catastrophic events. A major tsunami on Sardinia, volcanic eruptions in Italy, earthquakes in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Close encounters with extraterrestrial bodies have also been proposed in that region.
Perhaps the best documented civilisation collapse is that which occurred around 1200 BC and affected many societies, particularly in the Middle East(b) . Israel Finkelstein, a leading Israeli archaeologist, has attributed this event to climate change and is of the view that this disruption was global in extent.
Inevitably, Atlantis has been cited as an example of civilisation collapse, particularly supporters of the Minoan Hypothesis, who link the 2nd millennium BC eruptions of Thera with the demise of the Minoans on Crete. Also popular is the idea that Atlantis had been a large island in the Atlantic Ocean destroyed by a cometary impact or the rising sea levels as the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age.
A variety of other theories have associated Atlantis with the collapse of a civilisation. For example, Frank Joseph claims that 40,000 years ago “sudden sea-level rises triggers migration from Mu around. The Pacific motherlanders settle on a large, fertile island about 380 kilometers due west from the Straits of Gibraltar. There, the newcomers merge with the native Cro-Magnon inhabitants, resulting in a new, hybrid culture – Atlantis.”
Basil Booth & Frank Fitch are two earth scientists who co-authored Earthshock. They reviewed the catastrophic past of our planet and its lessons for the future. They briefly touched on the subject of Atlantis suggesting that “it is possible that the legends of Atlantis and Noah’s Flood may arise from folk memories of ancient tsunamis”[p.102] and that the tsunami associated with the eruption of Thera that devasted the Minoan civilisation may have given rise to the legend of Atlantis[p.150].
Katherine Fordham Neer is an American writer, editor and researcher. She appears to accept the existence of Atlantis having published a brief paper(a) with the odd title of Shocker: 9 Reasons Atlantis May Have Been Real, which simply recounts the existence of natural catastrophic events such as tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods. Disappointingly, Neer offers nothing to support the existence of Plato’s Atlantis exemplified by number 8 of her ‘reasons’ entitled ‘The Ocean is Really, Really Big’!
Karen Mutton is a Australian writer(a) who has written books and articles on a range of ‘alternative’ or ‘fringe’ subjects. Her 2009 book, Sunken Realms, is a comprehensive examination of known sunken cities, harbours and roads. Included in her survey are crannogs, which are artificial islands constructed in lakes. She refers to the crannogs of Scotland, ignoring the Irish examples which total around 1,200 or nearly three times the Scottish number.
She devotes a somewhat disproportionate amount of space to an extensive review of Atlantis theories, without offering anything new. Google Books have a considerable amount of this book online(b).
>Mutton also published a paper(c) on the Ancient Origins website, reviewing some of the most devastating tsunamis experienced by man over the past eight thousand years.<
George Pararas-Carayannis is a Greek-born oceanographer now living in Hawaii. His area of interest is disasters, natural and man-made, particularly tsunamis. He has a website devoted to disasters(a) which includes a paper(b) linking the Minoan civilisation and the Bronze Age eruption of Thera with the destruction of Atlantis. In a similar vein is another paper(c) that he prepared for the 2005 Atlantis Conference.
Hendrik J. Bruins is a Dutch professor of geology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. In April 2007 he appeared on a BBC Timewatch documentary entitled The Wave that Destroyed Atlantis. In it he supported the new old idea that Atlantis was Crete and had been destroyed by a megatsunami generated by the eruption of Thera. Costas Synolakis, a tsunami expert from the University of Southern California, on the same programme pointed out that apart from tsunami damage to ports and shipping, ash falls would have resulted in crop failure and general social collapse. Neither Bruins or Synolakis attempted to match the full Atlantis text with the Minoan location.
>In 2010, Bruins commenting on new developments in the radiocarbon dating of Pharaonic Egypt conceded that “major problems exist here in relation to the Santorini eruption between archaeological dating, radiocarbon dating and association between archaeological strata in the field and Egyptian Historical Chronology.”(a)
Theodoros V. Paschos is a Greek researcher and the son of Vassilios Paschos (1924-1993) who was also an atlantologist. Theodoros delivered a paper to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in which he placed Atlantis in the Atlantic and focused on its destruction which he claims to have taken place in two stages. The first of these was a partial submergence around 9600 BC resulting from the melting of the Ice Age glaciers. The second and final destruction took place, between 7000 BC and 7500 BC, as a consequence of the seismic instability of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which generated earthquakes and tsunamis.
Paschos formerly supported his work with a website, now closed, which had included some English sections.
A YouTube clip featuring T.V. Paschos is available(a).
(a) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNR7uELdky4 (Greek)
A Tsunami was probably first described in the 5th century BC by Thucydides when he wrote “in my opinion, the cause of the phenomenon was this: where the earthquake was most violent, the sea receded and was then pushed back with even greater violence, thus bringing about a flood. Such a thing would not have happened without an earthquake” (Peloponnesian War, Book III.89)(b). However, there are also conditions that can produce tsunamis inland, such as occurred around 500 AD inundating Geneva in the Alps(k)(m).
The word ‘tsunami’ first appeared in an English language publication in the September 1896 edition of National Geographic Magazine in which the devastation caused by an earthquake wave in Japan was graphically described.
Recent studies(g) indicate that a similar tsunami saved the Greek town of Nea Poteidaia from a Persian attack in 479 BC. Herodotus in reporting the event attributed the Persian defeat to divine intervention by Poseidon, god of the sea.
A similar event on an even greater scale has been one of the suggestions as the possible cause of the flooding of Atlantis. A 2002 paper(a), by Louisiana State University geologist, Gary Byerly and his team, identified an ancient asteroid impact that generated a tsunami that “swept around the earth several times, inundating everything except the mountains”. The study of ancient tsunamis is at a very early stage of development.
Ivan T. Sanderson in one of his books, Investigating the Unexplained , recounts an 1863 report of a 200-foot high tsunami which sped up the Ganges and Houghli Rivers in India killing tens of thousands of people without ‘snapping-off’ trees. He contrasts this with the tree stumps covering acres around East Creek, New Jersey that have all been broken off at the same height and where he suggested that only a tsunami could have caused such widespread and uniform destruction. In view of the fact that some of these cedar trees had six foot diameter trunks he speculates on the possible size of a tsunami that could bring about such extreme damage.
Perhaps even more relevant to the study of Atlantis is the evidence gathered by Jürgen Spanuth in his chapter on the ‘Natural Catastrophes of the 13th Century’ including an interesting section on tsunamis[015.167].
Marc-André Gutscher of the University of Western Brittany in Plouzané, France, has discovered evidence of ancient tsunami on Spartel Island, an Atlantis candidate, in the Gulf of Cadiz. Georgeos Diaz-Montexano has pointed out that Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, seems to describe the devastation caused by its assault on the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal at the time of the Lusitanians and Cantabrians in the 1st millennium BC.
Professor Stefano Tinti of Bologna University visited Sardinia and explained(r) “that until the 1980s no one was aware that tidal waves had occurred in the Mediterranean. But since 2004 scientists have identified 350 events of this type over a 2,500-year period,” and regarding the Sardinian tsunami “So what would have been required in our case?” he then asked. “We’re talking about a huge volume of water, some 500 metres high [the elevation up to which the nuraghi were affected]. Only a comet could do that, if the impact occurred very close to the coast and in a very specific direction,” he asserted. An event of this sort may have occurred near Cagliari, with the resulting wave devastating the plain of Campidano.”
Tinti has also noted(w) that generally speaking, the majority of tsunamis are generated by seismic rather than volcanic activity. Globally, volcanic tsunamis account for only 2% of the total, however, the profusion of volcanoes in Southern Italy has considerably increased this percentage. Furthermore, according to a recent article on the BBC website “The scale of the tsunami hazard from volcanoes that collapse into the sea has been underestimated.”(x)
More recently, Dhani Irwanto has written of the probable effect of tsunamis on his Indonesian Atlantis(y). Studies of the sedimentary record in a sea-cave in Sumatra have revealed the frequency and strength of tsunamis in the region over a five thousand year span from 5900 BC until 900 BC(u).
Tsunamis are also associated with destruction on Crete following the eruption of Thera in the 2ndmillennium BC. A TV documentary entitled Sinking Atlantis(i), provided graphic evidence of tsunami damage on Minoan Crete(h).
J.V.Luce cited[120.119] a number a local legends from around the Aegean that may have originated with the tsunami that followed the eruption on Thera.
However, the extent of this damage is strongly contested by W. Sheppard Baird(j) and he proposes instead that it was in fact more likely to have been a pyroclastic surge from the Theran eruption that caused most damage.
A recent report(d) concludes that a large tsunami generated by the volcanic activity of Mt. Etna around 6000 BC produced waves up to 43 feet high that struck the coasts of Greece and Libya. This event would have caused devastation on nearby Malta, where evidence of past tsunamis was published in the journal Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie. The research was carried out over three years by scientists from the University of Portsmouth, led by Dr Malcolm Bray with assistance from colleagues at the Department of Geography at the University of Malta(n). A 1693 earthquake generated the earliest recorded tsunami on Malta and as recent as 1908 Malta was hit by a tsunami that resulted from a catastrophic earthquake in the vicinity of the Strait of Messina(p).
On the Atlantic west coast of Ireland we have a 250 km2 locality, in County Clare, known as the Burren, which consists of limestone denuded of soil cover. Recently, strong evidence was discovered suggesting a 4000 BC tsunami in the region(o). For me the karst landscape of the Burren is reminiscent of areas of Malta.
Plato’s description does not support the idea of a tsunami as the primary cause of Atlantis’ inundation since tsunamis will eventually subside and return to the ocean, whereas Atlantis was still under water years after the event, causing a permanent navigation hazard. John Michael Greer makes a similar point [345.126] in relation to the megatsunami which struck Madagascar 2800 BC. Evidence of other ancient megatsunamis in Hawaii was presented to 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union(l). The power of megatsunamis is highlighted in an article the UK’s MailOnline website(t).
Recent excavations at Olympia on the Peloponnese peninsula, the location of the original Olympic Games, have pointed to the site having been repeatedly hit by devastating tsunamis during the past 7,000 years(c).
The Bunurong tribe in Australia have a ‘myth’ which explains the creation of Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay. A recent article(e) has linked this to a tsunami which resulted from the impact of Comet Manhuika south-west of New Zealand in the 15th century. A more cautious view of this event is expressed elsewhere(f).
The excellent livescience.com website has an interesting list of ten history-making tsunamis(q), while Wikipedia offers an extensive list of European tsunamis from prehistoric times until the present(s).
A 100-metre-high tsunami, caused by a landslide, one of the highest ever recorded was experienced in a remote area of Greenland in June 2017. Four lives were lost and eleven houses destroyed in the fishing village of Nuugaatsiaq, located on an island about 20 kilometres away(v).
(a) See: Archive 2931
Thera is an ancient name for today’s Aegean archipelago of Santorini, which are the remains of a volcanic island.
Only two of the islands are inhabited, the main island, Santorini and Therasia, which had been joined before the 16th century BC eruption. Recent excavations have revealed a pre-eruption settlement on Therasia(x).
Although it exhibited low-level activity in 1939-41 and 1950-51, it was in 1926 when it last erupted violently, destroying many hundreds of buildings in less than a minute. Eruptions of similarity intensity occurred in 1650, 1707 and 1866. It was also the site of probably the most powerful and destructive volcanic explosion in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. Although the exact date of this event is still the subject of some controversy, the most recent evidence(a) indicates a date around 1613 BC ±13years, while archaeologists are more supportive of a date circa 1500 BC.
Professor Floyd McCoy of the University of Hawaii has written and broadcast extensively on the matter of the Late Bonze Age eruption of Thera, including a paper delivered to the 2005 Atlantis Conference. In it, he noted that “New finds of tephra – ash and pumice – both on land and on the seafloor indicate a far larger eruption than previously assumed, suggesting a volume of at least 100 km3 of tephra (bulk volume) ejected, perhaps more. Such a volume ranks the eruption on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) at 7.0, equivalent or larger than the 1815 eruption of Tambora (‘the year without a summer’), ten times larger than the eruption of Krakatau in 1883, and approximately 100 times that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.”[629.311]
The 1500 BC date was supported by David A. Warburton who edited the Acts of the Minoan Eruption Chronology Workshop in 2007(af). The workshop provided a good overview of the Theran eruption dating debates, Warburton’s own comments are to be found in the Epilogue.
There was clearly a series of eruptions that ended with a final enormous explosion that has been linked to the ending of Minoan civilisation on Crete, the Plagues of Egypt and agricultural failures throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. For a geologist’s view of the island’s dramatic history, Walter Friedrich’s bookis hard to beat. His book supports a 1640 BC date for the eruption although he has subsequently revised this to 1613 BC. Sturt W. Manning supports a 1628 BC date and Mike Baillie has offered dendrochronological evidence for a 1628 BC eruption date at the 2011 Quantavolution conference in Athens(j). This converges with McCoy’s date above. However, the dating of the eruption continues to be controversial as this December 2012 link(i)demonstrates. At the heart of the problem is that acceptance of an early 17th century BC date for the event conflicts with established Egyptian chronology. While the exact year of the eruption continues to be debated, there is now scientific evidence that it occurred in early summer(s).
A 2014 paper published in Antiquity by Paolo Cherubini would appear to confirm the 16th century BC as the date of the catastrophic eruption ruling out an earlier date as untenable(o). In the same year, the University of Birmingham published a report(u) that supported the 1625 BC date. The earlier Antiquity paper prompted a response by a group, led by Sturt Manning later in 2014(y).
In August 2018, an interdisciplinary group led by dendrochronologist Charlotte L. Pearson published a paper(ab)(ad), which concluded that the eruption of Thera took place in the 16th century BC. This conclusion was the result of using a combination of ‘dendro’ along with high-resolution radiocarbon dating methods. In April 2020, a new report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explained how a new study of “the wood of an ancient grove of juniper trees, which suggested that the volcano blew its top around the year 1560 B.C.”(ae)
October 2018 saw further evidence for an early 16th century BC date for the eruption emerge after the radiocarbon dating of some olive wood found on Therasia, one of the Santorini group(z). The same month saw the publication of a paper on the ResearchGate(aa) website date the event to 1727-1600 BC!
The doctoral thesis of Dr. David Sewell explores the cultural effects of the Theran eruption and can be read online(h).
The volcanic ash deposited by the Theran eruption was centuries later to be used in huge quantities to manufacture cement for the construction of the Suez Canal. It was during the mining of this material that workmen encountered large stone blocks under the layers of pumice, indicating buildings of a great age.
It is claimed by many that a garbled Egyptian description of this devastating event was the basis for the story of the destruction of Atlantis. Louis Figuier was the first, in 1872, to publicly link the demise of Atlantis with the explosion on Thera. Opponents of this theory counter it by pointing out that Plato describes the inundation of an island much larger than Santorini or Crete, located in the Atlantic following an earthquake, not a volcanic eruption many thousands of years earlier. Various attempts have been made to reconcile the Minoan Theory with these apparent inconsistencies with Plato’s text. They are discussed separately under
Pillars of Heracles
It was announced at the end of February 2010 that the BBC was about to air a dramatisation of the Theran disaster as well as a documentary on the eruption as its influence on the development of Plato’s story of Atlantis. June 2010 saw the historian, Bettany Hughes, front a disappointing BBC Timewatch Special, which also promoted the idea of the eruption on Thera as the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis. The material introduced as evidence was highly selective and, for me, unconvincing. A few parallels between Thera and Plato’s description were trotted out, while the more numerous differences were ignored!
Alain Moreau has written a highly critical review(v) of the idea that the island of Thera/Santorini had been home to Atlantis.
Dr. Dora Constantinidis who studied under Prof. Christos Doumas delivered a lecture in Melbourne on May 29th 2014 with the inviting title of Unravelling the Atlantis Myth at Akrotiri. However, the primary purpose of the talk was not to advance our knowledge of Atlantis but to encourage the sale of Bronze Age inspired merchandise(p).
Another twist on the Thera explosion is offered by Andis Kaulins who suggests that there is a connection between that event and the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah(g), while Riaan Booysen has linked two separate Theran eruptions with two Exodus events in the Bible(k), offering as evidence, the existence of two distinct Theran ash fallout areas, caused by different wind directions at the time of the events.
Initially, it was thought that the collapse of the Theran caldera generated very destructive tsunamis, but new studies have concluded(w) that instead that it was the violent entry of pyroclastic flows into the sea that triggered the tsunamis.
A further possible consequence of the Theran eruption(s) was proposed after the discovery of the Nebra Sky Disk(n), which was buried about 3,600 years ago. This is suggested to have resulted from the volcanic ash generated by the eruption blotting out the sun for up to 25 years. It is thought that the Disk had been used to synchronise the lunar and solar calendars(l) and when this was no longer possible the Disk was buried as some form as offering. A contrary view is offered elsewhere on the Internet(m), as well as further controversy(t) led by Peter Schauer from the University of Regensburg.
Andis Kaulins has also written an extensive paper on the Nebra Sky Disk. A 2014 update(r) on the Disk was posted by Claudia Bracholdt.
2020 brought further debate with the claim in an extensive paper that the date of the Disk should be brought forward to the 1st millennium BC(ag). This was followed by a shorter but vehement rebuttal(ah).
>In December 2020, the Discovery Channel aired a new documentary, which attempted to revive the Minoan Hypothesis, placing Atlantis on today’s Santorini. This recycled claim adds little that is new and has been taken up by a number of media outlets(ai), repeating an old error which claims that Plato said that Atlantis was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, when in fact he clearly states that it was the result of an earthquake.<
An extensive bibliography of books and articles on the subject of Thera can be found on the Internet(b).
(h) See: Archive 2199
(i) See: Archive 2200
(ac) Archive 3919