Nearly 2,400 years ago, the philosopher Plato described Atlantis as a mighty state that possessed 10,000 chariots, advanced technologies, a large number of elephants and bulls, and a series of complex canals. And now, in a new documentary, a U.K.-based group claims to have discovered the ruins of this once-flourishing society on what is now the Atlantic coast of Spain.
But one archaeologist said that the ruins probably belong to another ancient culture, and several researchers interviewed by Live Science could hardly contain their exasperation when they heard the news of yet another Atlantis discovery. (People have made dozens of such claims over the years, locating the legendary society in Antarctica, Bolivia, Turkey, Germany, Malta, the Caribbean and elsewhere.)
"Bless their hearts – if they're right about this, that would be awesome," said Ken Feder, a professor of anthropology at Central Connecticut State University. "But here's my problem: As an archeologist, I know that I always need to be in the company of my bullshit detector. And these guys, they've done just about everything they could to set off my bullshit detector." [Images: Lost Medieval City Discovered Near Angkor Wat]
Seen from space
It's debatable whether Atlantis even existed. Plato described the ancient society in about 360 BC, writing that, in effect, a politician named Critias was hearing about the society through a game of historic telephone dating back to ancient Egypt. Atlantis served as the perfect example of a society that has been corrupted by its material wealth, advanced technology and military might. Then, the gods destroyed Atlantis about 9,000 years ago in a cataclysmic event, Plato wrote.
For centuries, scholars viewed Plato's writings are Atlantis as an allegory. But that perspective changed in 1882, when Minnesota's U.S. Rep. Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901), an amateur scientist, published the book "Atlantis: The Antediluvian World" (Harper & Brothers), which claimed that Atlantis was a real place.
Since then, people have searched for the sunken remains of the city. In the most recent example, employees at Merlin Burrows pinpointed, two years ago, what may be Atlantis in Spain, Bruce Blackburn, CEO of Merlin Burrows, told Live Science. The company, based in North Yorkshire, England, uses historical records and satellite data to find archaeological sites.
Blackburn's team used data taken from commercial satellites, such as Landsat 5 and Landsat 8 (which also supply data for Google Earth) to find the site, which is located in the Spanish Doñana National Park. "Obviously, it's a very bold thing to say," said Blackburn, who has a background in business and finance. "Everybody is going to have [one of] two opinions. One is that "This is great." Let's have a look at it, 'and one will be' That's a load of rubbish. '' [The 25 Strangest Sites on Google Earth]
What they found
The company's researchers chose to look for the site in Spain after reading Plato's two dialogues on Atlantis, Blackburn said. They also looked at another text, but Blackburn will not say which one. "We will not share that in a public forum at this stage," Blackburn said, however, adding that he expects that the writing will be submitted for review "in the fullness of time."
The text in these documents included Plato's descriptions that "in front of the mouth which you Greek speak, as you say," Heracles pillars, "there lay a island that was larger than Lybia and Asia together." Such descriptions led by Merlin Burrows to the Spanish coast, near the Gibraltar Strait, Blackburn said. There, the team found several archaeological clues: the large circles that were probably the bases of ancient towers, the ruins of what the team claimed to be the Temple of Poseidon and the greenish-blue patina coating some of the ruins – all the details that Plato included in his dialogues, Blackburn said. [10 Biggest Historical Mysteries That Will Probably Never Be Solved]
Blackburn said that the team also found the remains of a long sea wall, as well as the signs of a tsunami, which could be evidence of a cataclysmic event that drowned the society.
"The Atlantis cities, which are very detailed in Plato's writing, are really there for everyone to see," Blackburn said.
Next, Merlin Burrows took samples of material – which is likely human-made concrete, Blackburn said – from the circle-shaped foundations and the possible temple ruins. The company provided these samples to a materials-analytical laboratory in Italy, which dated them between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, Blackburn said. However, according to the press time, Blackburn had not said which methods the laboratory used to date the concrete.
Merlin Burrows and Ingenio Films have made a 2-hour documentary called "Atlantica" about the finding, and Blackburn said he expects the companies to make more documentaries.
"What we really want to do is we want to franchise the find," Blackburn said. "We want to make an awful lot of money out of it. And with that money, we want to support the archeological community."
Merlin Burrows is not the first group to claim that Atlantis is located in southern Spain. In Atlantis Rising, National Geographic announced that the network had found evidence that Atlantis was located in Doñana National Park, as did the 2004 study in the journal Antiquity. And Elena Maria Whishaw, director of the Anglo-Spanish-American School of Archeology, published the 1929 book Atlantis in Andalucia (Rider & Company) which hypothesized that the region was an Atlantis colony.
It's no wonder southern Spain is a spot of interest, as people have been living there long ago. In a recent study in the December issue of the Journal of Archeological Science: Reports, researchers found that humans lived in what is now Doñana National Park about 5,000 years ago, according to an analysis of pollen and microscopic remains in the area's sediments.
That study revealed that the park was above sea level during certain periods, including the Neolithic and Copper ages. Researchers also found that Doñana National Park sits upon Holocene sediments that began to accumulate about 7,000 years ago. Juan José Villarías-Robles, co-researcher and vice director of the Institute of Language Literature and Anthropology at the Center for Human and Social Sciences in Madrid.
If the dating of the 10,000 to 12,000-year-old concrete specimens reported by Merlin Burrows is accurate, then those samples could be from pre-Holocene formations, Villarías-Robles said. But, at least for this location, that date does not match up with the Atlantis-type society, he said. "However, assuming the material is man-made (which is a big assumption), the date takes us from a culture-history perspective, down to palaeolithic and post-palaeolithic times," Villarías-Robles told Live Science in an email. "These are the times of hunters and gatherers, rather than the creators and rulers of a large agricultural, cattle breeding, maritime policy [like Atlantis]. " [In Images: An Ancient European Hunter Gatherer]
Pick and choose
Meanwhile, Feder (an anthropologist at Central Connecticut State University) questioned why Merlin Burrows had not submitted his findings to a peer-reviewed journal, which would give other scientists the chance to vet the research. "It immediately turns on my bullshit detector," said Feder, who instead of doing that, makes the announcement through a press release, a press conference, a web page or a documentary.
In his book "Encyclopedia of Dubious Archeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum" (Greenwood, 2010), Feder found 53 specific descriptions of Atlantis in Plato's dialogues, including that the city had bridges connecting rings of land as well as a central island surrounded by a stone wall on every side. Descriptions also said that Poseidon's temple in Atlantis had a roof of ivory, walls of silver and pinnacles of gold. Feder said. It's common for amateur scientists to check out some of these boxes, but it's rare for anyone to go through the entire checklist, Feder said. [How Plausible Are These 20 Imaginary Worlds?]
Mark Adams, author of "Meet Me in Atlantis: My Quest to Find the 2,000-Year-Old Sunken City" (Dutton, 2015). Archaeologists have known for years that southern Spain was a maritime-trading hotspot in antiquity, Adams told Live Science.
"Does that make it [this area] Atlantis I can not say for sure, no, but I'm not seeing any new evidence that sways me "to yes, Adams said after watching the new Atlantica trailer. Like Feder, Adams said that some aspects of The site met the Atlantis checklist, including that the region experienced cataclysmic earthquakes and floods, but that other aspects were missing.
Adams said he would take Atlantis's proposal more seriously if it had key details from Plato's dialogues, including the city's unique concentration of circles (like bull's eyes) of sea and dry land. (These concentric circles are different than the polka dot-like circles that Merlin Burrows found on the landscape.) Or, perhaps, archaeologists will find an inscription about Atlantis in an Egyptian temple, where, according to Plato's writing, the original description was found , Adams said.
"What a lot of people do is they will take the parts of Plato's story – and there's tons of information there, which is why it's so fun to play with – it's really like a treasure map – and they take the parts that they will match their hypothesis and they quietly leave out the parts that do not match their hypothesis, "Adams said. [Rumor or Reality: The Creatures of Cryptozoology]
In reality, it is likely that Plato twisted together the elements of the various stories and myths he had heard, sculpting that source material into the most likely fictional story of the Atlantis society, the advanced, yet corrupt society that the gods destroyed. "[Plato] It was not writing this down as a land surveyor's report that people could follow 2400 years later, "Adams said." He was using this to make a philosophical argument. "
Put another way, "People very often claim to have found Atlantis," a classic archeologist in England, who declined to be named, told Live Science. "But if they'd read the text, they would realize that it was a legend, not a place."
Editor's Note: Plato's dialogues describing Atlantis were written sometime around 360 BC, not 330 B.C. as previously stated.
Originally published on Live Science.