Atlantis revisited

First Published: 2005-09-10

In May, Tough Call reported the findings of one of the latest discoverers of Atlantis in the Bahamas.

A 23-year-old mechanic from Peterborough, Canada claimed to have found the concentric ring canal system of Atlantis just south of Andros by looking at satellite photos on the Internet .

“It’s never been proven, so who’s to say that I didn’t find it,” he told Tough Call at the time.

This led to a review of Atlantean myths, and of the several claims that have been made over the years for evidence of the lost land in the Bahamas. The most famous was in 1933 when Edgar Cayce, a Kentucky salesman turned mystic, said Atlantis would be found off Bimini in 1968 or 69.

And since then a number of archaeological finds have been reported in the shallow waters of the Bahama Banks, although little scholarly work has been undertaken to verify these claims. Most mainstream scientists avoid the subject like the plague to protect their reputation.

Cayce died in 1945, but his “psychic readings” are preserved and promoted by the Virginia-based Association for Research and Enlightenment. This group describes itself as “a network of individuals who offer conferences, educational activities, and information around the world.” It maintains a large library of writings on the Atlantis theme.

Shortly after the Tough Call article ran, we received an email from Dr Greg Little, a certified psychologist affiliated with Lousiana State university who is an ARE member. He has published books evaluating Cayce’s “psychic history” of the ancient world.

“This May,” Dr Little wrote, “we spent 11 days at Bimini and Andros with archaeologist Bill Donato. I thought you might like to see our updated story. It is certainly an important one for Bahamas archaeology.

“At least four archaeologists believe that what is known as the Bimini Road is an ancient harbour. We don’t assert that it is from Atlantis. It is virtually identical to several ancient Mediterranean harbours, including the inverted “J” shape.

“On our trip we found definitive human artifacts. We also found massive blocks sitting on the top of at least four other blocks. In some places, stacks of smooth, perfectly rectangular blocks were found under massive blocks, which served as leveling stones. We also found a dozen cut rocks, which were tightly wedged under a huge block. These have already been tested by a commercial geology lab. They are grey marble.”

Dr Little included references to an email exchange with Dr Eugene Shinn of the US Geological Survey. Dr Shinn is one of several geologists who have described the underwater discoveries in the Bahamas as either natural features or ship ballast.

In 1968 Florida biologist J. Manson Valentine investigated the so-called Bimini Road, a series of rectangular stones laid out in two straight parallel rows in less than 15 feet of water off the western shore of north Bimini. The formation became linked to the Cayce prediction and is cited as evidence of Atlantis.

“This audacious interpretation has attracted an enthusiastic following of believers from the world’s community of alternative thinkers,” retorts Dr Shinn.

Last year he wrote an article for the Skeptical Inquirer: that recalls a study of the site in the mid-1970s: “It was one of the more unusual phases of my career. We cored two of the huge stones and demonstrated to our satisfaction that they were indeed beachrock.”

Beachrock forms near mid-tide level beneath the sand on tropical beaches. It is a very distinctive rock that forms rapidly. In his Inquirer article, Dr Shinn described the process:

“Tidal fluctuation forces calcium carbonate-rich waters through the sands where evaporation and off-gassing of carbon dioxide probably help stimulate precipitation of calcium carbonate. Within a few years, crystals of aragonite, a common marine form of calcium carbonate, precipitate between the grains, welding them together to form a very hard limestone.

“There are beach rocks around some Pacific islands that contain human skeletons and shell casings from World War II. At Bimini and along other Bahamian islands, many swimming beaches are lined with beachrock that is forming today. They contain embedded Coke and beer bottles.

‘When sea level rises, as it has done during the past 18,000 years, any beachrock that formed several thousand years ago becomes submerged. Such is the case with the supposed Atlantis stones off North Bimini.”

But this argument led inevitably to the suggestion that the natural beach rock had been used as a building material by the ancient Atlanteans. Bimini, of course, lies within the fabled Bermuda Triangle, and was the home of the legendary fountain of youth, so stories abound of paranormal or mystical occurences that some say could be linked to Atlantis.

Although most scientists consider these sensational claims long disproved, there is still much interest among ARE members like Dr Little. He recently led another expendition to perform detailed underwater investigations at both Bimini and Andros. A documentary is being produced on the trip, which will be released at the ARE’s Annual Ancient Mysteries Conference in October.

Dr Little reports finding man-made artifacts at Bimini, including ancient stone anchors. At Andros he identified a submerged stone platform: “Overall, the evidence pointed to an obvious conclusion we have previously put forth – both the Bimini and Andros formations appear to be the remains of ancient harbours.

“During this trip, the evidence we found for human hands being involved with the formation of the Bimini Road is overwhelming and irrefutable (but) we do not assert that the timeframe for their use as harbours was 10,000-years ago. I doubt that the Bimini Road has anything to do with Atlantis. But it may relate to a circa 1,000-BC harbour.”

In fact, the latest candidate for the location of Atlantis is a submerged island just beyond the Straits of Gibralter (which the ancient world referred to as the Pillars of Hercules) in the Gulf of Cadiz, off Spain.

A French geologist recently published the results of a sea floor survey that found sedimentary deposits left by a tsunami that occurred around 12,000 years ago – roughly the age indicated by Plato for the destruction of Atlantis.

Sedimentary records reveal that events like the earthquake that devastated the city of Lisbon in Portugal in 1755, generating wave heights of up to 30-feet, occur every 1,500 to 2,000 years in this area. But a recent mapping of the submerged island failed to turn up any man-made structures, and also showed it was much smaller than previously believed.

Some say satellite photos indicate that a salt marsh near the Spanish city of Cadiz is the location of Atlantis. The images show two rectangular structures and part of the concentric rings that may once have surrounded them. This has led some scientists to suggest that the “island” of Atlantis referred to a region of the southern Spanish coast destroyed by a flood between 800 and 500 BC.

This is a more plausible theory, because (assuming there is some factual kernel to the story at all) if Plato’s timing was right, he was wrong about all the other characteristics of Atlantis, as archaeologist Kris Hirst points out.

“Simply put, 12,000 years ago, there were no stratified societies (ranking is in evidence no earlier than 8,000 BC), there were no cities (the first was Catalhoyuk, 6300 BC), there was no monumental architecture (megalithic tombs, 5000 BC). There were no domesticated cattle (southwest Asia, 6000 BC), there was no bronze production (5000 BC), there were no domesticated horses (Ukraine 4000 BC) or wheels (Mesopotamia, 3000 BC). No roads (Sweet Track, 3000 BC), certainly no canals, aqueducts or bridges. No ships (Egypt, 2600 BC).

“In fact, according to all the archaeological evidence gathered to date, 12,000 years ago every single person on the planet was a hunter-gatherer living in an egalitarian band.”

Yet the Atlantis myth describes an advanced society with a social hierachy that conducted both commerce and warfare. Plato said he got the story from the writings of the 7th century BC Greek statesman Solon, who supposedly heard it from Egyptian priests. The account was already said to be 9,000 years old when it was relayed by Plato.

A scientific conference at Milos, Greece in July brought together experts in several fields to exchange ideas about the Atlantis hypothesis. And a similar conference will be held again in three years to review what progress has been made in research about the lost land.

As Dr Shinn said in his Inquirer article: “In spite of all the evidence, the reader should not expect to see the demise of Atlantis stories. Do not be surprised when you pick up the newspaper and see a small article that says, ‘Russian expedition finds what may be the true location of Atlantis.’ It happens at least once a year.”

The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.

This article was first published in The Tribune on Wednesday, September 7, 2005.

The column ‘Tough Call’ by Larry Smith is published in The Tribune every Wednesday and is reprinted here as a courtesy. Mr. Smith founded and successfully grew an advertising agency over 20 years. Under his direction Media Enterprises diversified into short-run commercial printing and publishing, and is now the largest non-fiction book wholesaler in the Bahamas. He has 30 years experience as a journalist and publicist and has contributed numerous articles and columns to the Bahamian press. A former reporter at the Nassau Guardian, local correspondent for Reuters and editor at the Bahamas News Bureau, he conceived and edited the Bahama Almanac (published 2000 by Media Enterprises), wrote the commentary for Mike Toogood’s Portrait of an Archipelago (published 2004 by Macmillan Caribbean), and edited the Bahamas Environmental Handbook (published 2002 by the government). In 2003 he took a year’s leave of absence from Media Enterprises to lead a transition management team at the Nassau Guardian after the paper was acquired by local investors. After leaving the Guardian he was contracted by the Tribune as online manager/editor and columnist. He has a degree in political science and journalism from the University of Miami.

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