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Follow executive producer James Cameron; filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici; and a group of archeologists, scientists and historians as they set out to unravel the mystery of Atlantis. Courtesy: National Geographic
TITANIC director James Cameron thinks he’s found Atlantis. His documentary team has stumbled upon a cluster of six 4000-year-old anchors just outside the entrance to the Mediterranean.
Myth? History? Or just a good storytelling opportunity?
The idea of an advanced ancient civilisation lost to history certainly has eternal appeal.
It’s certainly been a favoured subject among documentary makers.
Now Oscar-winner James Cameron joins them.
His National Geographic series Atlantis Rising goes to air in the United States this weekend.
Suitably, he’s got a tantalising find to pin his narrative upon.
Is there more to Atlantis than just an ancient fireside tale?
The idea exploded among the modern popular imagination with pseudoscientific books such as Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods in 1968 and, more recently, the likes of Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock.
Atlantis has been linked to just about everything: The pyramids were really an astral power station to charge its technology. Its survivors seeded just about every ancient civilisation. It was buried under Antarctica’s ice (or off the Bahamas, or Japan, or just about any mysterious place).
There are more plausible, though equally unproven, theories.
It could be a distorted memory of the Black Sea Flood which saw a vast swath of Europe engulfed about 5600BC. Or a memory the Minoan palace vaporised on the island of Santorini erupted, sending tsunamis through the Eastern Mediterranean at some point around 1600BC.
That last one looks particularly enticing.
But the fact remains all we really have is a few throwaway lines included in two moral tales written by the Greek philosopher Plato. Most academics feel this was likely to have been an allegorical warning to the then vibrant city-state of Athens not to turn its back on the gods.
Oceanic explorer Robert Ballard beat Cameron to the Titanic in 1985. Now Cameron’s attempting to go one better.
“We set out to investigate the most interesting theories that argue that there is some kind of history behind the myth of Atlantis,” Cameron says.
Expedition leader Richard Freund (an archaeologist from the University of Hartford) is more ebullent: “This is the world’s most sophisticated and extensive search ever made.”
The plot sounds familiar.
It’s the most “sophisticated and extensive search ever made”. They use ‘cutting edge technology’ to explore a ‘virtual map’ built from Plato’s ancient writings.
While the show travels throughout Greece, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean tracking ‘sightings’ of Atlantis, much is made of the discovery of a cluster of Bronze Age anchors on the Atlantic side of the Strait of Gibraltar — which some believe to be the “Pillars of Hercules’ Plato states the civilisation was ‘beyond’.
“These anchors could be 3500 to 4000 years old and establish a harbour in the Atlantic, where I didn’t even dare dream to find anchors,” filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici said in a statement. “It’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than Bronze Age anchors in the Atlantic.”
The fun part will be linking them to Plato’s 4th Century BC writings.
ANCHORED IN REALITY?
Plato mentions Atlantis in his works ‘Temaeus’ and ‘Critas’, but provides only an outline sketch of this mysterious civilisation.
He describes it as an island, formed of concentric rings. At its heart was a great city. It’s inhabitants were half-god and half-human. They were rich in resources and mysterious metals. They were proficient seagoers.
The story goes that, through their greed, they upset the great god fo the sea Poseidon. So he got rid of them through enormous earthquakes and floods.
There is one historic event that fits Plato’s tale remarkably well.
It’s the story of the eruption of the volcano Thera (now called Santorini) in 1650BC.
Archaeologists in recent decades have uncovered the remains of an ancient settlement there belonging to the then remarkably advanced Minoan civilisation.
Among the ruins they found a map. It shows a palace on an island in the middle of volcanic caldera.
The fallout of the eruption, and its subsequent tsunamis, are believed to have triggered the collapse of the entire civilisation as it engulfed much of northern Crete.
Into the ruins marched tribes of Greeks – the predecessors of the great nations of Sparta, Corinth and Athens.
So the idea that the disaster that destroyed the Minoans may have somehow wound its way through the centuries down to Plato certainly seems enticing. Though unsubstantiated.