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James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici’s “Atlantis Rising”

 

 

César Guarde-Paz

Ph.D., Philosophy, University of Barcelona; Lecturer, Nankai University (Tianjin, China).

 

Antonio Morillas Esteban

B.A., Philosophy, University of Barcelona.


[Article published on March 8, 2017]

 The story of Atlantis has captivated scientists and dreamers alike for over two thousand years, since Plato’s first account of the war between the Atlanteans and the Athenians and the final collapse of both empires under the forces of nature. For centuries, Atlantis has been placed in numerous locations, on and outside of the Earth, within the realms of imagination and scattered across the meadows of philosophical reflection, but rarely have modern scholars pay attention to the important, plentiful clues provided by Plato himself in his two late dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. Now, presented by director James Cameron and journalist Simcha Jacobovici, a new documentary tries to find answers by conducting systematic research on some of the most fascinating, down to Earth theories out there.

 

The first theory under review is the identification of Atlantis with the eruption of Santorini and the collapse of the Minoan civilization. Charles R. Pellegrino, author of “Unearthing Atlantis,” believes that the advanced Minoan civilization was Plato’s major inspiration for his story of Atlantis –as do, in fact, most scholars who accept the historicity of Plato’s account. There are, however, a number of important problems with this theory, problems that should be apparent to anybody visiting the ruins of the city of Akrotiri and the museum in the island. For instance, Akrotiri was not a circular city. It doesn’t match the design set out by Plato. Likewise, Plato mentions elephants but this species was never autochthonous to Santorini; neither was the bull, sacrificed by the Atlanteans, an important animal according to the archaeological remains preserved in the collections. Serpents, dolphins, and octopuses march in sacred formation through amphoreus and small figures. But if you are looking for bulls, the nearest example would be the island of Crete. Simcha, who is also a philosopher himself and knows his Plato pretty well, smartly brushes Santorini away on very strong grounds: Minoans did not come from the West, they were a peaceful civilization, and they were destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Plato’s Atlanteans came from the West, were a warrior civilization, and were wiped out by earthquakes and tsunamis.

 

Simcha then moves to the next appealing theory: Malta. I have always felt surrounded by nostalgia when walking across the megalithic temples of Malta and its mysterious car ruts. Somehow, I have the sensation of being magically transported into the dream worlds of Robert E. Howard and the vanished age of his notorious character Conan the Cimmerian. But as the Spanish poet Calderón de la Barca once said, “even dreams themselves are dreams,” and thus we shall regain consciousness and accept with fairness that Malta’s resemblance with Atlantis, as uncanny as it may seem, is as unconvincing as that of Santorini: no circular cities, no sacred bulls, and no sunken island.

 

From Malta we move to Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, home of the forgotten Nuragic civilization. The main argument behind the identification of Sardinia with Atlantis is that Plato’s Pillars of Hercules, beyond which Atlantis is said to have been, were located at the Strait of Messina, between Sicily and Italy and in front of Sardinia. As I have explained elsewhere, all, absolutely all ancient sources clearly state that the Pillars of Hercules were located at or near the Strait of Gibraltar. They were, according to Greek lore, the result of the separation of Europe and Africa by Hercules, and thus could never been located at Messina. Plato is even more explicit: he even mentions Atlas and Gadeiros, a couple of names which refer to the Maghred’s mountain range, the Atlas Mountains, and to the Spanish city of Cádiz, which was called Gadeira in Greek and Latin sources.

 

There are also numerous ancient maps, such as the Roman Tabula Peutingeriana, where one or two islands called Gadeira are placed in front of the Strait of Gibraltar. There is no doubt that, regardless of its historicity, Plato situated Atlantis beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, in the Atlantic Sea, and never within the limits of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

There are additional problems with this theory, wisely pointed out by James Cameron himself: Although the Nuragic civilization employed a “circular architecture” in their temples, it is far beyond the neat, Pythagorean perfection of the concentric circles that Atlantis was. Sardinia’s ruins are a complex, disorganized labyrinth of interwoven circles with no harbor. Also, the Nuragic civilization did not collapse under the sea, but against the Romans in 238 BC, one century after Plato’s death. The timeline simply doesn’t match, as Plato could never have heard of the destruction of the ancient cities of Sardinia. Furthermore, the Nuragic Sanctuary compared with Poseidon’s temple in the documentary was neither associated with a sea god –but a goddess–, nor related in any way with the sacrifice of bulls.

 

Simcha’s next move to the West brings him to the Atlantic coasts of Southern Spain, in what can be called the central part of this documentary. There he joins Richard Freund and Georgeos Díaz-Montexano, who has spent a life advocating a literal reading of Plato’s dialogues and taking into consideration what the ancient geography and the primary sources tell us about Atlantis: that it was an island, not a continent, located beyond the Pillars of Heracles, nearby well-known regions such as modern Mt. Atlas and Cádiz (Gadeira). Georgeos takes Simcha to different locations in South Spain, examining ancient rock art with modern technology and visiting new unearthed archaeological sites which may be related to the Atlantean civilization. One of his many discoveries that spectacularly corroborate Plato’s story is the presence of a very curious motif in numerous stelae with warriors, ships, and, more importantly, three concentric circles around a central mark with a canal connecting it with the outer circle. This symbol could be a schematic representation of Atlantis, whose capital was, according to Plato, surrounded by three canals of water and connected to the sea by a central one. Indeed, we also find this symbol in other apparently unrelated artifacts, such as a pottery from Jaén housed at the National Museum of Archaeology (Madrid, Spain), for which the producers were unable to obtain permission to film and record.

 

And unlike any other archaeological remains inspected by the team in other locations, there is a recently discovered old city that matches Plato’s description of concentric circles design: Marroquíes Bajos, Jaén. Marroquíes Bajos flourished at least five thousand years ago. It was designed as a village organized in a concentric pattern of alternate rings of water and land. It is, up to this day, the only ancient city or village whose design matches almost perfectly Plato’s urban layout of Atlantis, with perfect concentric circles that seemed to have been scribed with a compass –as Plato’s dialogue Critias tells us. Paul Friedländer, one of the most relevant Platonic scholars of the 20th century, believed Plato’s design of Atlantis had been inspired by tales of marvelous cities in Asia –despite the fact that these cities did not have alternated circular trenches with land and water, a characteristic of Jaén’s Calcholithic citadel. At that time, archaeology had found no city like Marroquíes Bajos in the Western corners of Europe and, thus, the idea that Plato may have been influenced by Herodotus’s description of the Persian Empire was not impossible. Now, however, archaeology has shown that Plato was right and scholars were wrong: such cities did actually exist, and they were located on the West side of the ancient world, in the same place were the Atlantean civilization had settled, near the Pillars of Hercules and the region of Gadeira.

 

But the most relevant finding of the team came after Georgeos showed them a petroglyph in Laja Alta Cave, Southern Spain, where he believes ancient people carved a port representation of Atlantis’s maritime civilization, as it is described in the Timaeus and Critias, and whereto, according to the Critias, ships from all nations arrived. As Georgeos explains in the documentary, there are at least seven ships with different designs, something relatively strange even for civilizations of the late Iron Age. The renowned scientist who James Cameron hired to review Georgeos’s hypothesis discovered a harbor and a holding area for ships, both with oars and sails. These carvings have been dated by experts from the University of Granada whose findings, published just after the completion of the documentary, indicate that these ships sailed 6,000 years ago. This would make them the oldest sailboats in the world.

 

After failing to locate any concluding archaeological evidence underwater –possible tambours, columns or millstones, and a curious yet highly deteriorated rock formation that seems to have been modified by men–, the team takes into consideration the aforementioned rock carving and, following the instructions of Díaz-Montexano regarding the area where that harbor or docking area, under the sea for thousands of years, their flagship Atlantic Explorer sails to the island of Sancti Petri. This small island is not only located almost in the exact location of the Atlantean city of Gadeira, according to Plato and Strabo, but was also the site of the Temple of Melqart (the Roman Hercules) in ancient times. This important site could have been a docking area or even a harbor if we accept Plato’s description of a sunken city in front of the Strait of Gibraltar. Could it be the final location of Atlantis?

 

Against all odds, and some kilometers south from Sancti Pietri, in the open sea, Simcha’s team finds, after diving twice and in less than one hour, not one, but six stone anchors at a depth of 40 meters, all close together, with the exception of a huge stone anchor isolated from the others (as it is explained in detail in Georgeos Díaz-Montexano’s book, Atlantis Rising. National Geographic and the Scientific Search for Atlantis (2017)). These anchors could be traced back to the Bronze Age. In any case, the typology of these stone anchors, and the depth and distance from the coast, indicate that they are, at least, from these period, but before the arrival of the Phoenicians. They could also be from the Calcholitic or Neolitic, just like the ships with oars and sails at Cueva de Laja Alta. In that case, the stone anchors could belong to these same ships, whose design suggests a highly advanced maritime civilization. The size of some of these anchors also indicates the presence of big ships in the Straits of Gibraltar. Are these remains predating Tartessos? Remains of the same maritime civilization described by Plato and which Solon called with the Greek name of Atlantis? Or could they be, after all, one and the same, a flourishing maritime civilization that conquered the Mediterranean from the West, destroyed and rebuilt again, and known to history and legend with different names?

 

We can only hope that further research is taken by such an important and prepared team in order to clarify the origin of these and other findings.