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atlantis antiquity ancient history
atlantis, in the tradition of antiquity, a large island in the western ocean (the ocean to the west of the known world), near the pillars of hercules. the first recorded accounts of atlantis, which is said to have been engulfed by the ocean as the result of an earthquake, appear in timaeus and critias, two dialogues by greek philosopher plato.
according to the account in timaeus, the island was described to athenian statesman solon by an egyptian priest, who maintained that atlantis was larger than asia minor and libya combined. the priest further revealed that a flourishing civilization had reputedly centered on atlantis about the 10th millennium bc, and that the nation had conquered all the mediterranean peoples except the athenians.
in critias, plato records the history of atlantis and depicts the nation as a utopian commonwealth. although platos descriptive material and history are probably fictional, the possibility exists that he had access to records that have not survived.
the tradition that a lost island such as atlantis once flourished has always fascinated the popular imagination, and the tradition continues today. in the 20th century some oceanographers advanced the theory that atlantis was once a greek island in the aegean sea. some associate the legend of atlantis with the greek island th�ra, which, according to geologists, experienced a massive volcanic eruption about 1500 bc. other theories have been based on archaeological discoveries. scholars have variously identified the island with crete, the canary islands, the scandinavian peninsula, and the americas.
the legend of the lost civilization of atlantis comes to us primarily from an account recorded by plato, the great greek philosopher and author, around 370 b.c.e. he described it as a beautiful continent-sized island that existed somewhere to the west of the mediterranean, by most interpretations. it was a peaceful land, prosperous from its flourishing commerce, highly advanced in knowledge and technology, and powerful in its governmental influence. after many years of prosperity, however, the gods looked unfavorably upon the island nation because of its arrogant rulers and complacent citizenry, and they condemned it. in just one dreadful day and night, plato tells us, atlantis was completely destroyed by catastrophic flooding and disappeared beneath the sea.
plato's description of the exact location of atlantis is vague at best, giving us only its general direction. people have been searching for it ever since.
the idea that such a marvelous lost world may have once existed - and about which we know so little and have even less evidence - is compelling. people have devoted their lives to studying, researching and hunting for atlantis. a lucrative cottage industry has grown around the legend, producing countless books, articles, websites and movies - all speculating on the true fate of the doomed land.
did atlantis really exist? if so, where was it and can we find evidence of the once-great civilization today?
atlantis in antarctica?
in the not-too-distant future, atlantis-seeking archeologists may have to trade in their sun hats and scuba gear for snow goggles and parkas.
if a rapidly growing body of opinion proves correct, instead of the bottom of the ocean, the next great arena of exploration for the fabled lost continent could be the frozen wastelands at the bottom of the earth. and before scoffing too vigorously, backers of north atlantic, aegean and other candidates would be well advised to give the new arguments for atlantis in antarctica a fair hearing.
already enlisted in the ranks of those who take the notion very seriously are such luminaries as john anthony west and graham hancock. founded on a scientific theory developed by the late dr. charles hapgood in close interaction with no less a personage than albert einstein, the idea appears robust enough to withstand the most virulent of attacks expected from the guardians of scientific orthodoxy. at any rate, it will not take a wholesale melting of the icecap to settle the question. a few properly directed satellite pictures and the appropriate seismic surveys could quickly make it clear if, indeed, advanced civilization has ever flourished on the lands beneath the ice.
leading the charge of those betting that such evidence will soon be forthcoming are canadian researchers rand and rose flem-ath, the authors of when the sky fell, just out in a new u.s. edition (st. martin's press, new york). previously published in canada, the book contains the couple's painstaking synthesis of hapgood's theory of earth crust displacement and their own ground-breaking discoveries. the result has already won many converts. graham hancock believes the flem-aths have provided the first truly satisfactory answer to the question of just what happened to plato's giant lost continent. since devoting a chapter in his best-selling fingerprints of the gods to the work of the flem-aths, hancock continues to opine in media appearances about the importance of their antarctic theories. john anthony west provides an afterword to the new edition of when the sky fell (colin wilson writes the introduction). flem-ath himself discussed his ideas on the february nbc special, the mysterious origins of man.
to get to the bottom of all the excitement, if not the planet, atlantis rising recently cornered rand flem-ath at his home on vancouver island in british columbia.
the author has not forgotten how his own interest in atlantis began. in the summer of 1966, while waiting for an interview for a librarian's position in victoria, british columbia, he was working on a screenplay involving marooned aliens hibernating in ice on earth for 10,000 years. suddenly, on the radio, came pop singer donovan's hit hail atlantis. hey, that's a good idea. he thought. i wanted ice, so i thought, now where can i have ice and an island continent? and i thought of antarctica.
later, researching the idea, he read everything he could find on atlantis, including plato's famous account in criteas and timeaus where egyptian priests described atlantis, its features, location, history and demise to the greek lawgiver solon. at first the story didn't work for flem-ath, but that changed later when he made a startling discovery, unmistakable similarities between two obscure but remarkable maps.
a 1665 map by jesuit scholar athenasius kircher, copied from much older sources, seemed to have placed atlantis in the north atlantic but strangely, had put north at the bottom of the page apparently forcing study upside down. the 1513 piri ri'is map, also copied from much more ancient sources, demonstrated that an ice age civilization had sufficient geographic knowledge to accurately map antarctica's coast as it existed beneath an ice cap many millennia old (as pointed out by charles hapgood in maps of the ancient sea kings: evidence of advanced civilization in the ice age). what seemed obvious to flem-ath was that both maps depicted the same land mass.
suddenly antarctic atlantis stopped being a science fiction story. the revelation had dawned that it might be something that could have been real. further study of plato yielded even more clues. i noticed that the description is from atlantis, he recalls. soon, armed with a u.s. navy map of the world, as seen from the south pole, he discovered a new way of understanding plato's story and a new way of looking at kircher's map. viewed from this southern perspective, all of the world's oceans appear as parts of one great ocean, or, as what is described in plato as the real ocean and the lands beyond as a whole opposite continent. sitting in the middle of that great ocean, at the very navel of the world is antarctica. suddenly, it was possible to understand kircher's map, as drawn, with north at the top, africa and madagascar to the left and the tip of south america on the right.
the term atlantic ocean, flem-ath soon realized, had meant something quite different in plato's time than it has since the age of exploration. to the ancients, it included all of the world's oceans. the idea becomes clearer, when one remembers from greek mythology that atlas (a name closely related to atlantis and atlantic) held the entire world on his shoulders.
the whole opposite continent, which surrounded the real ocean in plato's account, consisted of south america, north america, africa, europe and asia fused together in the atlantean world view as though they were one continuous land mass. and in fact, these five continents were at the time (9,600 b.c.) one landmass in the geographic sense.
flem-ath would render plato's account to read: long ago the world ocean was navigated beyond the straits of gibraltar by sailors from an island larger than north africa and the middle east combined. after leaving antarctica you would encounter the antarctic archipelago (islands currently under ice) and from them you would reach the world continent which encircles the world ocean. the mediterranean sea is very small compared to the world ocean and could even be called a bay. but beyond the mediterranean sea is a world ocean which is encircled by one continuous landmass.
a common mistake in most readings of plato, flem-ath believes, is the inappropriate attempt to interpret the ancient account in the light of modern concepts. another example, is the familiar reference to the pillars of hercules, beyond which, atlantis was said to reside. while it is true that the term sometimes referred to the straits of gibralter, another, equally valid interpretation is that it meant the limits of the known world.
for flem-ath, the world as seen from antarctica matched perfectly the ancient egyptian's account of the world as seen from atlantis. the ancient geography was in fact far more advanced than our own, which made sense if atlantis was, as plato argued, an advanced civilization.
platonic theories notwithstanding, the most difficult challenge, explaining how atlantis might have become antarctica, remained. how could land, now covered with thousands of feet of ice, have once supported any kind of human habitation, to say nothing of a great civilization on the scale described by plato? for the flem-ath's, the answer, it turned out, had already been worked out, thoroughly, convincingly and published in the yale scientific journal in the mid 1950s.
in his theory of earth crust displacement, professor charles hapgood had, citing vast climatalogical, paleontological, and anthropological evidence, argued that the entire outer shell of the earth, over its inner layers periodically shifts, bringing about major climatic changes. the climatic zones (polar, temperate and tropical) remain the same because the sun still shines from the same angle in the sky, but as the outer shell shifts, it moves through those zones. from the perspective of earth's population, it seems as though the sky is falling. in reality the earth's crust is shifting to another location. some lands move toward the tropics. others shift, with the same movement, toward the poles. while yet others escape great changes in latitude. the consequences of such a movement is, of course, catastrophic. throughout the world, massive earthquakes shake the land and enormous tidal waves batter the continental shelves. as old ice caps forsake the polar zones, they melt, raising sea levels higher and higher. everywhere, and by whatever means, people seek higher ground to avoid an ocean in upheaval.
the flem-ath's corresponded with hapgood from 1977 until his death in the early '80s and though he differed with them about the location of atlantis (his candidate was the rocks of saint peter and saint paul) he praised their scientific efforts to buttress his theory. in the summer of 1995, flem-ath was allowed to read hapgood's voluminous correspondence (170 pages) with albert einstein and to discover a much more direct collaboration between the two than has been previously supposed.
upon first hearing of the research, in correspondence from hapgood, einstein responded very impressive...have the impression that your hypothesis is correct. subsequently einstein raised numerous questions which hapgood answered with such thoroughness that einstein was eventually persuaded to write a glowing foreword for hapgood's book earth's shifting crust: a key to some basic problems of earth science (1958 by pantheon books, new york).
earth crust displacement is not mutually exclusive with the now widely accepted theory of continental drift. according to flem-ath they share one assumption, that the outer crust is mobile in relation to the interior, but in plate tectonics the movement is extremely slow. earth crust displacement suggests that over long periods of time, approximately 41,000 years, certain forces build toward a breaking point. among the factors at work: a massive buildup of ice at the poles, distorting the weight of the crust; the tilt of the earth's axis which changes by over three degrees every 41,000 years (not to be confused with the wobble which causes the precession of equinoxes); and the proximity of the earth to the sun which also varies over thousands of years.
one of the common mistakes, says flem-ath, is to think of the continents and the oceans as being separate, but really, the fact that there's water on certain parts of the plates is irrelevant. what we have in plate tectonics are a series of plates which are moving very gradually in relationship to each other. but what we have in earth crust displacement is all of the plates are considered as one single unit as part of the outer shell of the earth which changes place relative to the interior of the earth.
the theory, says flem-ath, offers elegant explanations for such phenomena as the rapid extinction of the mammoths in siberia, the near universal presence of cataclysmic myths among primitive people, and many geographic and geological anomalies left unexplained by any other theory. most of the evidence usually cited to support the idea of ice ages serves earth crust displacement even better. under the latter, some parts of the planet are always in an ice age when others are not. as lands change latitudes, they move either into or out of an ice age. the same change that put western antarctica in the ice box also quick-froze siberia but thawed out much of north america.
while many establishment geologists insist that the antarctic ice cap is much older that the 11,600 years indicated by plato, flem-ath points out that the core sampling on which most of the dating is based is taken from greater antarctica which was indeed under ice, even during the time of atlantis. the suggestion here is that a movement of about 30 degrees or about 2,000 miles occurred within a relatively short span of time. before such a movement, the palmer peninsula of lesser antarctica (the part closest to south america whose sovereignty is presently disputed by chile, argentina and great britain) would have projected an area the size of western europe beyond the antarctic circle into temperate latitudes reaching as far as mediterranean-like climes. in the meantime greater antarctica would have remained under ice in the antarctic circle.
an area such as that described by plato, says flem-ath would be the size of pennsylvania, with a city comparable to modern-day london. not a bad target for satellite photography. concentric circles or other large geometric features should be easily discernible through the ice.
flem-ath believes that in most areas, plato should be taken at his word, though he does suspect that there may have been some fabrications in the story. the war between the atlanteans and the greeks, for example, he believes may have been cooked up to please the local audience. in regard to the scale of atlantean achievement, however, he takes plato quite seriously and is very impressed. the engineering feats described, says flem-ath, would have required incredible skill, more so than even what we have today. as for the notion that plato's numbers should be scaled down by a factor of ten, a frequent argument used to support claims that atlantis was really the minoan civilization in the aegean, he doesn't buy it. a factor of 10 error might be understandable when you are using arabic numbers, with a difference between 100 and 1000 of one decimal place, but in egyptian numbering, the difference between the two numbers is unmistakable. for him the argument is similar to the one for a north atlantic location, in which a modern concept has been inappropriate-ly superimposed upon an ancient one.
so far flem-ath's ideas have been largely ignored by the scientific establishment, but he believes that at least hapgood's arguments may be getting close to some kind of acceptance. quite often new ideas take about 50 years to be absorbed, he says, and we're getting close to the time.
if, in fact, satellite photography and seismic surveys produce the indications that flem-ath expects, what next? the ice in the region that we are talking about is relatively shallow, he says, less than half a kilometer and once we've pinpointed the area, it should be relatively easy to sink a shaft and find something.
that something could be among the finest and most dramatic artifacts ever discovered, quick-frozen and stored undisturbed for almost 12,000 years.
a prospect hot enough to melt the hearts of even the most hardened skeptics? we shall see.
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