Commotion in the ocean ... Belgian artist's idea of Atlantis from the 1950s
FOR thousands of years the mystery of Atlantis has remained as deep as the ocean covering the fabled city itself.
Despite lying lost beneath the waves since the dawn of civilization, the mythical home of an ancient utopian society has never been forgotten.
Indeed, interest in the legend is very much alive today — as has been proved by the global shockwaves created by the mysterious picture in yesterday’s Sun showing the possible location of Atlantis off the coast of Africa.
Since the Greek philosopher Plato first mentioned Atlantis in 360BC it has been obsessed over in scientific study, scholarly research and popular culture.
Plato described what he said was a translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs telling of a large island — bigger than North Africa and modern Turkey put together — beyond “the pillars of Hercules”. That was the ancient name for what we today call the Straits of Gibraltar.
Atlantis had smaller islands nearer it, so travellers could easily reach the mainland of Europe and Africa.
According to historian Lewis Spence in his 1924 book The Problem Of Atlantis, the Canary Islands and Madeira could be what was left of Atlantis after it was destroyed by a huge earthquake.
This very much fits in with the Google Ocean pictures in yesterday’s Sun, as they were taken almost an equal distance west of the Canaries and Madeira.
The Egyptian records described Atlantis as mostly mountainous in the north with a great oblong plain in the south.
That is almost an exact description of the Sun’s picture — mountains on the left and a plain on the right.
Plato’s sources described Atlantis as a great naval power that conquered North Africa and what is now Spain, southern France and parts of Italy.
But the Atlanteans may also have been doomed by natural phenomena.
Plato says that soon after a defeat by Athens the island was destroyed by a series of huge earthquakes and a flood.
Scientists have speculated that the flood was caused by a tsunami.
The Canaries were off the map of the known world for hundreds of years until they were rediscovered by the Spanish in the 1300s.
Intriguingly, the natives found living there have been shown to have strong genetic links to the Berbers of North Africa and the Nile Valley, leading to speculation that today’s Berbers are descended from the Atlanteans who were said to have conquered the region more than 11,000 years ago.
A Dutch map of 1669 shows an improbably large Atlantis stretching from south of the Canaries to north of Spain.
Many seekers of Atlantis have looked even farther north — to the British Isles. A team of Russian scientists claimed 12 years ago to have identified Atlantis off the south west coast of England. About 100 miles off Land’s End is a relatively shallow area of sea known as Little Sole Bank.
Between it and Britain are the Scillies, which could be the islands Plato said provided stepping stones from Atlantis to the mainland.
Tales of King Arthur tell of a land called Lyonesse, which some stories say lay beyond the Scillies. Tristan, one of the Knights of the Round Table and a nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, was said to have come from there.
The Cornish Trevelyan family’s coat of arms shows a white horse rising from the sea. This fits in with a local legend that “when Lyonesse sank beneath the waves, only a man named Trevelyan escaped by riding a white horse”.
The Atlantis story has fascinated people across the ages. Even the Nazis got in on the act, believing that Atlanteans were a master race who were the ancestors of modern Germans, Scandinavians and the English. SS chief Heinrich Himmler organised an expedition to Tibet in 1938 in support of a theory that Atlanteans were supermen who originated from near the North Pole.
The story is fictionalised in Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Accounts of Atlantis have been popular with many authors including Sherlock Holmes’s creator Arthur Conan Doyle, horror writer Stephen King and JRR Tolkien.
One of the most famous accounts comes in Jules Verne’s 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, which sees Captain Nemo’s submarine Nautilus visiting the underwater ruins of Atlantis. The island also featured in the 1959 film Journey To The Center Of The Earth and, as Atlantica, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
In the 1970s Patrick Duffy played the island’s only survivor in TV’s Man From Atlantis.
For now, the Google Ocean pictures cannot be said to prove the Atlantis legend — as there is much more exploring to do.
A Google spokesman said last night that while many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth — among them a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species, a coral reef off the coast of Australia, and the remains of an ancient Roman villa — there may be a more scientific explanation for the regular lines on the sea floor.
He went on: “Bathymetric, or sea-floor terrain data, is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.
“The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. But the fact that there are blank spots between these lines is a sign of how little we really know about the world’s oceans.”