Prague, 15 November 2004 (RFE/RL) – By the time Plato wrote about Atlantis around the year 360 BC, all traces of the ancient civilization had long since vanished.
According to the Greek philosopher, Atlantis was a highly advanced island society that existed some 9,000 years before. Its territory was “greater in extent than Libya and Asia,” with luxurious palaces, abundant gold and silver, and the best soil and climate in the world. Ruled by 10 wise princes, life was so bountiful on Atlantis that few of its inhabitants had to resort to physical labor. But then, Plato wrote, the Atlanteans were defeated in war by other tribes. Soon afterward on one cataclysmic day, disaster struck.
Sonar scanning of the seabed off the Mediterranean island revealed a buried city with what appear to be extensive man-made walls and trenches, matching Plato’s description of the Acropolis fortress that once dominated Atlantis.
A series of devastating earthquakes and floods engulfed the island, which sank beneath the sea without a trace. Atlantis disappeared, but thanks to Plato, a legend that has survived across the millennia was born.
Along with the hunt for the Holy Grail and Noah’s Ark, the search for Atlantis is one of Western civilization’s most enduring quests. The Ancient Greeks who succeeded Plato wrote about it, 18th-century English poet William Blake believed England had been founded by its descendents and explorers over the years have named the Azores, the Canaries, Iceland, Crete, Tunisia, Sweden, the coast of Western Africa and even the Sahara as possible locations for the sunken island.
American researcher Sarmast told a news conference in Cyprus yesterday that the quest might be finally over. Sonar scanning of the seabed off the Mediterranean island revealed a buried city with what appear to be extensive man-made walls and trenches, matching Plato’s description of the Acropolis fortress that once dominated Atlantis.
"As far as the scientists are concerned, they are not able to explain these anomalies on the sea floor," Sarmast said. "There are trenches, there are walls, there are river paths, a mile below the waves very, very defined, very visible,
on and around a hill that matches the description of Atlantis with perfect accuracy."
Sarmast, a 38-year-old architect from Los Angeles, has devoted the past 2 1/2 years to trying to locate Altlantis. He said he and his team found more than 60 points that are a perfect match with Plato’s detailed description of the layout of the Acropolis. If more research confirms that what lies beneath the waves is indeed the famed Acropolis, then Sarmast will have hit the ultimate bull’s eye in archeology.
"In the middle of Atlantis city you had a low mountain called the Acropolis Hill and this hill was the most protected and special place on the island because it's where all the most sacred temples and buildings were located, so this was really the epicenter of the island, the most important spot," Sarmast said.
While journalists met Sarmast’s discovery with enthusiasm, others remain more skeptical. Rival Atlantis seekers note that Plato put the position of the island opposite the “pillars of Hercules,” which is how Gibraltar -- at the other end of the Mediterranean -- was known at the time.
Other scientists believe that despite Plato’s detailed description of the island, there never was an actual Atlantis. They interpret Plato’s writing as a parable on the ideal society -- a utopian legend that can be found in different variations across many of the world’s cultures.
Archeologist Tony Wilkinson, a specialist on Near East civilizations at the University of Edinburgh, told RFE/RL that Sarmast and other Atlantis enthusiasts might be missing the forest for the trees.
As Wilkinson explained, there are many ancient temples and towns buried under the seas due to our changing climate over the past several thousand millennia. That is a fact.
"We know that when the ice sheets melted from the northern continents, starting 18,000 years ago, huge areas of the Continental Shelf were flooded and the sea level was initially 120 meters below the present sea level," Wilkinson said. "And in 8,000 BC, the sea level would have been between 20 and 10 meters below its present level. And so, therefore, there must be a significant number of drowned settlements out there."
Wilkinson said he believes Sarmast and his team might have stumbled on one such settlement, which would make his discovery significant. But it does not mean they have found Atlantis. And that, to him, is the point.
"I think there tends to be an obsession by some people to just look for Atlantis when there are much more interesting and significant things out there," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said it is a shame that people have become so caught up in the Atlantis legend that unless underwater archeological sites are advertised as such, there is little interest among the public about any new finds. But that might just be human nature. The quest for paradise lost is unlikely to end anytime soon – even if the Holy Grail, Noah’s Ark, and the lost city of Atlantis are all found this century.