Tuesday, 21 August 2007

An Atlas of Imaginary Worlds 6: Atlantis and Lemuria/Mu

It is funny to think that I really only got led down this route of seeking out imaginary maps, initially by looking up counter-factual history images and then finding out about how people are trying to censor things on the internet. I think it has also revealed a kind of geek side to me as well, now going round looking for images and comparing different maps. One thing that has struck me, especially with all the Hollow Earth stuff, is that there are maps of places from stories, like Narnia or Middle Earth, ones that are related to fantasy computer games or role-playing games (whether on paper or 'live action' - some of these will feature in a future posting) and then there are maps of places that some people feel are equally as fantastical and yet other people believe they show real places or at least ones that actually once existed. The most prominent of these are Atlantis and Lemuria (also known as Mu). Searching for maps of such places is complicated by the fact that authors, notably of the Conan stories, and role-players, often put these continents on their own fantasy maps. However, as with the Hollow Earth, there are numerous websites of people who believe that there were these continents on our world at some stage, that they have numerous incidences of historical evidence to back them up and that these lands were inhabited by advanced races that have now died out or gone somewhere else.

The location of these continents is disputed among even those who believe in them, but generally, because the ancient Greek philosopher wrote of Atlantis as being beyond the Pillars of Hercules (i.e. the Straits of Gibraltar) it is thought to have been somewhere in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, with varying interpretations of how close it was either to Africa or South America as you can see from maps below. Plato believed Atlantis had been destroyed 9000 years before his time (Plato lived in the 4th-3rd centuries BCE so this timescale fits with the end of the last Ice Age) and had been as big as Libya and 'Asia' (probably in the sense of Asia Minor) combined with influence stretching right through the Mediterranean to Egypt. Though his views of Atlantis as a continent disappearing (it is now felt to have existed covering what is Indonesia and the mainland of South-East Asia) his description of the culture is more like that of Santorini as I discuss below.

Spot how many inland seas appear in these maps. I am beginning to think that inland seas are to imaginary worlds as airships are to alternate history.

This one has North at the bottom of the map.  The convention of having North at the top (as opposed to the direction of Jerusalem) only came to Western Europe from 1400 onwards when Ptolemy's 'Geography' again became available as part of the Renaissance recovery of Classical works which had been maintained in Islamic libraries and universities after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The locating of Atlantis in the Black Sea:

I imagine seeing Atlantis here is because the Bosporus Straits can be likened to the Pillars of Hercules.

Despite the Asian location this is also thought to be Atlantis:

Another inland sea noted!

For Lemuria/Mu which is supposed to have been around at the same time and may have been a rival to Atlantis, it is generally shown as being in the Pacific with many of the islands North-East of Australia seen as being parts of it. James Churchward (1851-1936) writing in 1926 felt it was a continent which housed 64 million people and stretched from Hawaii to Fiji and to Easter Island. However, some feel it may have been smaller and located South of India, centring on what is now Sri Lanka. There are texts in both Hindu and Tamil writings talking of lost continents and from these people have derived Lemuria. Again it is supposed to have housed an advanced civilization, which begs the question, why did they not move to those continents which we have now? Why did they stay on two continents which for some reason have disappeared beneath the sea? What seems most likely is that writers in historic times were picking up on legends that had been transmitted orally about the end of the Ice Age and the great changes it had brought to the climate. Of course any lost civilization has to have been a golden one, what point is there in recounting the legend of a mundane place? In addition, unlike civilizations around you, no-one can disprove whatever you might say about a lost one.

Two phases of the Lemurian Empire:

Sea levels do fluctuate; 5 million years ago the Atlantic was lower and the Mediterranean a desert. They have continued to fluctuate in far more recent (in geological terms) In Roman times there was the flooding of the Zuider Zee which has been subsequently reclaimed as land. There was a land bridge linking Britain to France. Once the last ice age ended 12-14,000 years ago the sea levels rose across the world. Beneath the North Sea must be loads of remains of animals and human existence from that period that will probably never be found. So it is possible that large areas of land could now be beneath the sea.  A world with extra continents as large as the ones speculated upon in these maps would have been a far drier place, which is the fact during ice ages when far more water is held in ice sheets.  However, if the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans had been this full of land, let alone both, I believe the who climatic system of Earth would have differed greatly.  Having a planet which is predominantly water-covered is important for life.

In about 5600 BCE, the Black Sea which had been a freshwater, inland sea, something like the Caspian Sea is today, then the Mediterranean Sea which was some 130 metres higher and rising in level broke through. The break through is still apparent from the currents that flow throw the straits between the seas. The land around what is now the Crimea and the Sea of Azov, very fertile, was submerged, about 155,000 Km2 was inundated. The change in level of the seas at the time moved the East coast of North America back by 75-150 miles (120-240 Km). This geological event is the background for the Deluge or Great Flood which features in the Bible and in many other legends of the Middle Eastern region notably those of Gilgamesh of Babylonia.

As you can see from one of the diagrams above , people think 'Atlantis' might have existed somewhere on what is now the northern edge of the Black Sea and the Pillars of Hercules were rather the Dardanelles or Bosporus Straits rather than the Straits of Gibraltar.  The straits into the Black Sea were later the 'clashing rocks' in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts when Jason travelled to what is now northern Turkey to take back metal-working techniques as 'the Golden Fleece' (fleeces with their greasy hair were used to trap gold particles flowing down streams much in the way the American and Australian prospectors of the 19th century panned for gold).

Amazon Basin also as an inland sea.

One thing that should be noted is that we now know about plate techtonics which means that whilst areas of continents may go below or rise above sea levels and volcanic activity can lead to large areas of ground sliding (such as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah both of which existed and slide into the Dead Sea on a surface made slick by seismic and volcanic activity) who could not lose a whole continent into the sea unless the Earth was basically cracking apart.

A possibly more feasible explanation for Atlantis rather than being a huge continent is what actually happened on the island of Santorini (also known as Thira or Thera) in 1640BCE. This seems to have supplied the model for the culture of Plato's Atlantis, if not the geography. We now know that Santorini was part of the rich Minoan civilization, most easily seen in the wonderful palaces of Crete remains of which are visible today. Santorini is built on a volcano which erupted very violently in 1640BC on a scale to rival Krakatau (also known as Krakatoa) in Indonesia in 1883. It threw so much debris into the atmosphere that it affected the sunsets in London. We have seen how much damage tsunamis can do, in 2004, to modern civilizations. From the remains of Santorini which is about a third of the size of the island as it was before the eruption, immense wealth has been discovered and remains of expensive houses that rivalled or probably excelled the Minoan settlements on Crete.

Santorini sat at the crossroads between Greece, Asia Minor, the Levant and North Africa, particularly Egypt. It seems the Minoan civilization, a naval based empire, was centred there until it was literally blown to pieces in an eruption. Even those who escaped by boat may have been overtaken by the tsunami that followed the eruption and which brought sea water far inland on Crete (70 miles; 112Km away) damaging crops there and smashing their ships. The Minoans on Crete went into steady decay over the next decades as their capital was effectively gone, their trade routes disrupted, coastal fields infertile and a climate suffering colder weather due to the cloud of dust thrown into the atmosphere (think of a kind of 'nuclear winter' of the kind predicted in the case of even a limited nuclear war). This destruction of a rich, wealthy civilization seems to match what we 'know' about Atlantis.

There are other connections too. The city of Atlantis often portrayed as having a structure of concentric circles, well, Santorini even today has the partial outer ring of the caldera with islands in the centre. It is thought that at its height the bulk of the population lived on a flatter island in the centre of the caldera rather than on the outer rim where there are remains and that there was a break in the caldera rock allowing ships into the centre and providing a naturally very safe harbour in terms of both severe weather and any attack. It is difficult to know what pre-eruption Thera looked like because so much was changed though much debris settled back into the base of the caldera and that may have been roughly in the same place. Undersea contours ring out from this area. Traces of the pre-eruption island are in the South-East corner of Santorini and volcanic activity remains both on the Kameni Islands and there is the undersea Columbo volcano to the North-East too. However, there are some speculations below of how it may have appeared assuming that the caldera was in the area it is now and this gives an image which may fit Plato's description. The channel at the northern end is much deeper: 300m+ compared 100m-200m around the rim elsewhere.

Plato lived 427-347BCE, so 1250 years after the explosion at Santorini. He mixed up Santorini as it was reported in his time with Santorini as it had been before the explosion. Of course, sitting on a caldera it may have looked pretty similar with a flooded bowl shape with islands in it. It probably would have been a little more to the South-East of the current island as that is where the remains of that previous island remain. Certainly the economy of Santorini was very wealthy and sophisticated even when compared to the rich civilisation on Crete of which it was probably part, so it is easy to see why someone could easily envisage something like Atlantis out of those memories.

The time gap between the event and Plato writing about it is like me commenting today accurately on an event that occured in the early 8th century before the time of the Viking raids on England. There is no wonder he got some details wrong. The trouble is that people have focused on what he got wrong, i.e. the location of Atlantis in the Atlantic, rather than what he got right, was a recounting of geological changes when the ice age ended, something he got accurate in saying it had happened 9000 years before him and also he mixed in with it historic memory of a very rich and cultured civilization living in a unique setting. It is a perfect package for any writer looking to stimulate people's interest. Bear in mind Plato also wrote 'Republic' which outlined a 'utopian' world of social justice and without crime, so it is clear that Plato had an interested in such societies and Atlantis as somewhere already lost in the mists of time in his era provided an opportunity; the bulk of his writing on Atlantis is about its culture rather than its geography. It is very much like when people in the UK today refer to the Victorian period or the 1950s, they are not aiming for an accurate history of those times, rather using them as an example of how people should behave now which in theory carries more legitimacy than just saying 'this is what you should do because it is a good way to behave'. To some degree the modern believers in Atlantis with their emphasis on its peaceful existence, justice, etc. of the people of Atlantis, have it right, it was always a conceptual thing rather than an actual place.

As for Lemuria/Mu, off the coast of Okinawa and Yonaguni in Japan, since 1985, remains of eight ancient cities with terraced stone buildings and roads visible, have been found. Japan is renowned for earthquakes and volcanoes and the sites are thought to have been submerged around 8000 BCE (though some think it is closer to 10000 BCE), so at the time of civilizations of similar sophistication in the Indus valley (now in Pakistan) and Mesopotamia (now Iraq). They sit 20-33 metres beneath sea level.

To some degree the idea that these were somehow specially advanced or even alien cultures is patronising to our ancestors. You only have to think of the original Seven Wonders of the World to think what they could build basically for ornament let alone for practical purposes, though I guess the Lighthouse at Pharos fell into both categories. Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) in his voyages in boats built on the lines of ancient craft such as the Kon-Tiki which sailed 4,300 miles (6,880 Km) across the Pacific in 1947, the two papyrus Ra boats 1969-70 to sail between America and Morocco and back, and then in 1978, the Tigris, to prove that there was the possibility of links between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. It also seems likely that there was some trade between Ancient Egypt and South American civilizations bringing tobacco and coca (as in cocaine rather than chocolate) to Egypt. None of this needed any technology beyond what we know people of the time had. There was no need for advanced races to help out, humans are that advanced race.

P.P. 06/10/2010: I have just watched a very convincing documentary in the 'Timewatch' series shown on BBC2, about Santorini/Thera and its relationship to Plato's portrayal of Atlantis.  Interestingly, from archaeological excavations on Santorini (which so far have unearthed 10,000m2 of city, but it is believed this may only be 1/30th of the total)  it has come to light that some of the detail that Plato includes in his descriptions of the city of Atlantis, notably the use of white, red and black stones in the architecture, have been uncovered in Santorini just as he described.  We also know from excavations on Crete that the Minoan civilisation there, which was in contact with the Theran one and shared a lot of common culture in terms of customs, dress, artwork and culture worshipped the auroch (a cattle that stood 2m tall at the shoulder, which is now extinct) and men performed ritualistic dancing with them; vaulting the auroch bulls.  Plato describes something similar happening on Santorini. 

It does seem now that we need look no further than Santorini for Atlantis.  It had a vast seaborne, economically very wealthy empire centred on a island on top of a volcano, that by Plato's time probably looked like the concentric-ringed settlement that he portrayed in his story and perhaps looked pretty similar before, given that it may have been in the crater of previous eruptions.  The volcanic eruption was vast, we now know, throwing up 60Km3 of ash compared to 6Km3 at Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE which covered Pompeii or the St. Helen's eruption in the USA in 1980 which threw up only 0.5 Km3.  The tidal wave that hit Crete ended the Minoan civilisation there over the following years.

This story of the loss of actual civilisations that were incredibly advanced for the Bronze Age (you only have to visit the Palace of Knossos on Crete to know that) is a fascinating one in itself.  Plato used a mix of fact and fiction to provide a homily about the demise of maritime-based economies that became too proud to warn the Greeks of his era about making the same mistakes especially in a region that even today is prone to earthquakes and has passive rather than inactive volcanoes such as on Nisyros.  It is annoying that rather than pursue the truth of the real Theran civilisation, people have spent years and probably millions of pounds fantasising about vast continents and in some cases searching for them.  Perhaps our world would seem less magical without Atlantis, but if this effort had gone into exploring Thera and other lost civilisations we would know a lot more about our real world.  I hope now that a line can be drawn under all these maps, however wonderful they might be.  They should be left to fiction and people should not try to make them appear fact.

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