Monday, March 14, 2011

Shades of Atlantis

The tragic events in Japan this past week and continuing to this day are horrifying and atthe same time fascinating to watch.  In the sapce of the past week, the Japanese home islands have suffered:
  1. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake, one of the most powerful ever recorded, off Honshu;
  2. Multiple 6.0+ magnitude aftershocks from that earthquake;
  3. A giant tsunami, also caused by the quake, that caused perhaps more damage than the quake itself;
  4. Multiple meltdowns of nuclear reactors resulting from a loss of power for cooling, also caused by the tsunami, whose water contaminated backup generators;
  5. Actual tectonic movement of the island of Honshu, ranging in estimates from 8 inches to 10 feet, either of which is massive by geological standards; and now
  6. A large volcanic eruption in the Kirishima mountain range in southern Japan.
My thoughts and prayers go to the Japanese people, who have built an amazing county and a facscinating civilization, from this massive pounding by natural forces.  It's difficult to find precedent for this incredible series of natural events outside the Bible.

Or Atlantis.

The Atlantean legend, first revealed by Plato more than two thousand years ago, sounds remarkably similar to events in Japan.  Short story long, if Plato's moral preaching and supernatural elements can be stripped from the legend, it goes roughly like this:

An island called Atlantis, located on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar from the Mediterranean, was belted by a massive volcanic eruption and a massive earthquake, which created a massive tsunami.  All of this occurred during one day and night, during which the island of Atlantis sank into the sea.

The location of Atlantis has been a Holy Grail of sorts for archaeologists for centuries.  Coincidentally, while Atlantean-like events are happening in Japan, another group of archaeologuists claioms to have found Atlantis in southern Spain:
A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain.


To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain. There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multi-ringed dominion known as Atlantis.

The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology to survey the site.

[Head researcher Richard] Freund's discovery in central Spain of a strange series of "memorial cities," built in Atlantis' image by its refugees after the city's likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said.

Atlantis residents who did not perish in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.
The team's findings will be unveiled on Sunday in "Finding Atlantis," a new National Geographic Channel special.


Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis some 2,600 years ago, describing it as "an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Hercules," as the Straits of Gibraltar were known in antiquity. Using Plato's detailed account of Atlantis as a map, searches have focused on the Mediterranean and Atlantic as the best possible sites for the city.

Tsunamis in the region have been documented for centuries, Freund says. One of the largest was a reported 10-story tidal wave that slammed Lisbon in November, 1755.

Debate about whether Atlantis truly existed has lasted for thousands of years. Plato's "dialogues" from around 360 B.C. are the only known historical sources of information about the iconic city. Plato said the island he called Atlantis "in a single day and night... disappeared into the depths of the sea."

Experts plan further excavations are planned at the site where they believe Atlantis is located and at the mysterious "cities" in central Spain 150 miles away to more closely study geological formations and to date artifacts.
Plato first wrote down the legend of Atlantis, but it did not originate with him.  Elements of the legend that predate Plato have been traced to Pharonic Egypt, which suggests that the story, far from a myth, had more than a kernal of truth to it.

The search for Atlantis has in many ways helped the study of geology, as researchers look all over the world -- literally -- for sites that may fit the description of Atlantis.  And, indeed, there is no shortage of sites.  For instance:
  • A large group of stones resembling a road were found under the waters off Bimini;
  • The Azores are said to be the remnants of a much larger land mass that sabnk into the sea:
  • At least one city in Greece is known to have sunk in the space of one night as the result of an earthquake followed by a tsunami;
  • There is at one site in Turkey near the Aegean coast where a statue, of a type that was usually built to overlook cities, is built into the side of a mountain.  Except the statue overlooks nothing but an empty plain.
My personal favorite theory is the volcanic Greek island of Santorini.  Sometime in the second millenium BC, the Santorini volcano exploded in an eruption so massive that it dwarfed even that of Krakatoa.  One of the largest eruptions in history.  The Greek city of Akrotiri, located on Santorini (then called Thera), was completely destroyed.  Much of the island sank into the Aegean.

The eruption had devastating side effects.  It produced a tsunami that, many believe, destroyed the Minoan civilization on Crete.  Others believe that the Santorini eruption caused the Ten Plagues of Egypt during the Exodus (especially the darkness, rain of fire and the parting of the Red Sea), though there are definite time issues with that interpretation.

My own personal belief is that the Egyptioans heard the stories of an island sinking into the sea from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis; destroying an entire civilization.  They knew that at least one civilization, the Minoans, seem to have disappeared.  They, understandably, garbled the stories and passed them along to the Greeks.  Plato, with a bit of creative license, assembled them into the legend of Atlantis.

Still, I hope the researchers are right in their attempted location of Atlantis.  Legends can distort, mischaracterize, evade, ignore and exaggerate, but they very rarely lie.  This would help prove that principle.

And it may help us to better understand what is going on in Japan today.  And what may come of it.

Which, hopefully, will be much happier than the legend of Atlantis.

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