Scientists say they may have discovered the lost city of Atlantis buried deep under the marshlands of southern Spain.
The legendary city is believed to have been “swallowed up by the sea,” as the Greek philosopher Plato so famously put it 2,400 years ago.
He wrote of a great city destroyed by floodwaters following an earthquake deep under the sea — an image that resonates at a time when Japan is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake and tsunami off its northeast coast.
We have in the photos concentric rings just as Plato described
Dr Rainer Kuehne
Satellite photos of a salt marsh region known as Marisma de Hinojos near the city of Cadiz show two rectangular structures in the mud and parts of concentric rings that may once have surrounded them.
A National Geographic television special that aired on Sunday details the work of American, Canadian and Spanish scientists as they attempt to prove Atlantis existed by following up on space satellite images showing unusual features in an area just north of Cadiz.
The area is near the Straits of Gibraltar — widely thought to be the “Pillars of Hercules” Plato mentioned in his description of the location of Atlantis.
The team is led by archaeologist Richard Freund of the University of Hartford in Connecticut. It used satellite photography, ground-penetrating radar and underwater technology to look for proof of the city’s existence.
“This is the power of tsunamis,” Freund told Reuters. “It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles (almost 100 kilometres) inland, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about.”
Freund’s team also includes geophysicist Paul Bauman from the engineering firm WorleyParsons in Calgary and geographer Philip Reeder of the University of South Florida.
Sensor readings suggest the presence of a communal oven and possibly canals, Bauman told Postmedia News.
The researchers say they also discovered a series of mysterious memorial cities in central Spain, seemingly modelled on Atlantis, leading them to conclude those who survived the tsunami fled Atlantis and built new cities inland.
Dr Rainer Kuehne thinks the “island” of Atlantis simply referred to a region of the southern Spanish coast destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC.
The research has been reported as an ongoing project in the online edition of the journal Antiquity.
“Plato wrote of an island of five stades (925m) diameter that was surrounded by several circular structures – concentric rings – some consisting of Earth and the others of water. We have in the photos concentric rings just as Plato described,” Dr Kuehne told BBC News Online.
Dr Kuehne believes the rectangular features could be the remains of a “silver” temple devoted to the sea god Poseidon and a “golden” temple devoted to Cleito and Poseidon – all described in Plato’s dialogue Critias.
The identification of the site with Atlantis was first proposed by Werner Wickboldt, a lecturer and Atlantis enthusiast who spotted the rectangles and concentric rings by studying photographs from across the Mediterranean for signs of the city described by Plato.
The sizes of the “island” and its rings in the satellite image are slightly larger than those described by Plato. There are two possible explanations for this, says Dr Kuehne.
First, Plato may have underplayed the size of Atlantis. Secondly, the ancient unit of measurement used by Plato – the stade – may have been 20% larger than traditionally assumed.
It is claimed that concentric rings surround the temple site
If the latter is true, one of the rectangular features on the “island” matches almost exactly the dimensions given by Plato for the temple of Poseidon.
Mr Wickboldt explained: “This is the only place that seems to fit [Plato's] description.”
He added that the Greeks might have confused an Egyptian word referring to a coastline with one meaning “island” during transmission of the Atlantis story.
Commenting on the satellite image showing the two “temples”, Tony Wilkinson, an expert in the use of remote sensing in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, UK, told BBC News Online: “A lot of the problems come with interpretations. I can see something there and I could imagine that one could interpret it in various ways. But you’ve got several leaps of faith here.
“We use the imagery to recognise certain types of imprint on the ground and then do [in the field] verification on them. Based on what we see on the ground we make an interpretation.
“What we need here is a date range. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with morphology. But the [features] are interesting.”
The fabled utopia of Atlantis has captured the imagination of scholars for centuries. The earliest known records of this mythical land appear in Plato’s dialogues Critias and Timaios.
One recent theory equates Atlantis with Spartel Island, a mud shoal in the straits of Gibraltar that sank into the sea 11,000 years ago.
Plato described Atlantis as having a “plain”. Dr Kuehne said this might be the plain that extends today from Spain’s southern coast up to the city of Seville. The high mountains described by the Greek scholar could be the Sierra Morena and Sierra Nevada.
“Plato also wrote that Atlantis is rich in copper and other metals. Copper is found in abundance in the mines of the Sierra Morena,” Dr Kuehne explained.
Marisma de Hinojos Kuehne
The rectangles: What interpretation can be put on the satellite images? Image: Werner Wickboldt
Dr Kuehne noticed that the war between Atlantis and the eastern Mediterranean described in Plato’s writings closely resembled attacks on Egypt, Cyprus and the Levant during the 12th Century BC by mysterious raiders known as the Sea People.
As a result, he proposes that the Atlanteans and the Sea People were in fact one and the same.
This dating would equate the city and society of Atlantis with either the Iron Age Tartessos culture of southern Spain or another, unknown, Bronze Age culture. A link between Atlantis and Tartessos was first proposed in the early 20th Century.
Dr Kuehne said he hoped to attract interest from archaeologists to excavate the site. But this may be tricky. The features in the satellite photo are located within Spain’s Donana national park.
Lost city of Atlantis ‘could be buried in southern Spain’
Archaeologists have begun the search for an ancient civilization in southern Spain that some believe could help pinpoint the legendary lost city of Atlantis.
By Fiona Govan in Madrid 6:00AM GMT 19 Jan 2010
A team of researchers from Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Study (CSIC) are examining a marshy area of Andalusian parkland to find evidence of a 3,000-year-old settlement.
They believe that Tartessos, a wealthy civilization in southern Iberia that predates the Phoenicians, may have had its capital in the heart of what is now the Donana national park.
Until now historians had dismissed the region as a possible site believing that it had been submerged since the ice age. But it is claimed new evidence suggests the waters may have receded in time for the Tartessians to build an urban centre, which was later destroyed in a tsunami.
The Hinojos marshes, an area close to the mouth of the Guadalquiver river where it meets the Atlantic, have now been pinpointed as the site most likely to provide evidence of a lost city.
Archaeological findings have already proved the existence of Tartessian culture at sites on the opposite bank of the river.
“If they existed on the other side, they must also have been here (in Donana),” Sebastian Celestino, the archaeologist leading the project told the newspaper El Pais.
“There were earthquakes and one of them caused a tsunami that razed everything and which coincided with the era in which Tartessian power was at its height.”
Aerial photos show the existence of large circular and rectangular forms that could not have been produced by nature.
The images, together with literary accounts by ancient Greek geographers have given weight to the theory that a great Tartessian city once existed within the park.
The Tartessian civilization, which developed in southern Spain between the 11th and 7th centuries BC and became rich trading gold and silver from local mines, has long been linked by mythologists to the Atlantis legend.
While the Spanish researchers refuse to speculate on whether they are on the brink of discovering Atlantis others believe their research could be a breakthrough in a centuries old quest.
“Evidence is mounting that suggests the story of Atlantis was not mere fiction, fable or myth, but a true story as Plato always maintained,” said Georgeos Diaz-Montexano, a Cuban archeologist who has spent the last 15 years searching for the submerged city.
“Atlantis is not exactly where the CSIC is looking, but it is close,” he claimed.
The theory is just the latest in a long list of suggested locations for Atlantis, including various Mediterranean islands, the Azores, the Sahara desert, Central America and Antarctica.