Atlantis: The Land Beyond The Pillars
If Atlantis had truly existed, then we should be able to make a reasonable assessment of its current location. After all, contrary to popular belief, this is not a needle in a haystack proposition. The biggest misconceptions propagated about Atlantis pertain to size and location. An inside-the-box approach among historians and archaeologists, which restricts advanced seafaring civilizations within the near confines of the Mediterranean, has necessitated enormous disregard for Solon’s clear and concise description of Atlantis contained within two of Plato’s dialogues, Critias and Timaeus.
While some choose to totally dismiss these dialogues as works of fiction meant to argue Plato’s view on differing political ideals, the extensive detailing and dimensioning of geographical features seem a bit too excessive while adding little to nothing to the argument. Others wishing to believe that the story may have its roots in an actual historical event, like many legends, find it necessary to reconcile the Atlantis account within a constrained framework, choosing to believe Plato grossly exaggerated a cataclysmic event occurring within the Mediterranean. This of course has lead some to regard ruins on Santorini and Crete as possible evidence that the islands may have once been locations for Atlantis. In truth, these locations can never be linked positively to Atlantis because the sites only comply with Plato’s account of a cataclysmic event while failing to meet the bulk of criteria provided by Plato which defines the geographical size, location and configuration.
When we approach Plato’s works as a recounting of genuine dialogues and adhere more closely to Solon’s detailed description therein, postulated sites lying within the Mediterranean are entirely eliminated. Solon described Atlantis as the following:
“A mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean” from “an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles.” (Timaeus by Plato; translation by Benjamin Jowett [BJ])
Solon could hardly be clearer, not only does he locate Atlantis beyond the Pillars of Hercules—an ancient term for the Strait of Gibraltar—but he also places its location in the Atlantic Ocean. Still some have persisted and have somehow managed to ignore Solon’s Atlantic location, focusing instead on redefining and relocating the Pillars of Hercules within the Mediterranean to bolster the credibility of such sites as the islands of Sardinia and Malta, but Solon introduces another key element that further prohibits this notion. Solon declares Atlantis to have been a large continent-sized landmass:
“An island larger than Libya and Asia put together.” (Timaeus [BJ])
While the Greeks had limited and varying perceptions of the size of Asia and Libya, a term then applied to the African continent, they viewed the two combined equal to or larger than Europe. Hence, Atlantis was perceived larger and therefore separate from both the combined continents of Asia and Libya and by extended logic separate and larger than Europe as well, thus narrowing our search for Atlantis to a continent-sized landmass beyond the confines of the Mediterranean that excludes the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia.
One popular theory holds that Atlantis still lies beneath the watery depths of the Atlantic. This is based on the following passage in Plato’s Timaeus:
“There was an island situated in front of the straits…In a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.” (Timaeus [BJ])
In his 1664 work titled Mundus Subterraneus, Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar, documented his support of this theory of a large sunken continent and incorporated a map depicting Atlantis positioned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the Americas (Fig. 1). An inscription in the top left corner makes clear the island’s current location, “Site of the island Atlantis now beneath the sea, according to the beliefs of the Egyptians and the description of Plato.”
Figure 1 - A southern oriented map of Atlantis from Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus. The map places the lost continent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the Americas.
One may wonder whether Kircher acquired his design of the continent from an ancient source map. This would depend on how loosely you define ancient, as the design appears to have been borrowed from maps of the South American continent being produced just a few decades earlier. The overall shape of the continent is virtually identical to South America's depiction on the 1592 Typus Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius (Fig. 2). Both maps correctly depict a recessed southeastern coastline interrupted by the Rio de la Plata, but both also present erroneous depictions of a perfectly straight and slanting western coastline as well as a blunt west to east rising southern tip. Kircher's Atlantis even precisely mimics the directly southward pointing orientation found on Ortelius' version of South America as opposed to South America's actual southwesterly orientation.
Figure 2 - 1592 Typus Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius (left), which shares an uncanny likeness with Kircher’s Atlantis (right, reoriented with north toward the top). They correctly depict a recessed southeastern coastline interrupted by the Rio de la Plata (E,F), but both also present erroneous depictions of a straight western coastline (C) as well as a blunt west to east rising southern tip (D). Both also depict an almost identical transition to a double scalloped coast in the northwest (A,B).
We might be tempted to entertain the possibility that Kircher's map was based on an ancient map of South America, while Ortelius and other cartographers of his time were also generating some maps of South America partially based on ancient maps of the continent. After all, we already confirmed that at least one 16th century cartographer used similar methods in generating maps of the Antarctic continent. There is, however, no clear evidence to substantiate that ancient maps of Atlantis were in existence. To even be a legitimate consideration, the South American design would have had to appear on maps charted near or before 1492, in order to negate contemporary exploration as the true source and inspiration of the design.
And in fact it seems very possible that Kircher's rendering of the continent of Atlantis may have been the result of a prank. Kircher was renowned for being "highly susceptible to suggestion" and was subsequently subjected to several pranks. In one notable prank, Kircher, having convinced himself he could read Hieroglyphics, was sent a forged Egyptian manuscript which he 'successfully' translated while never suspecting it was nothing more than gibberish. (Athanasius Kircher by Paula Findlen, pp. 7) Kircher fancied himself an expert Egyptologist and it appears this may have made him an easy mark for a forged Egyptian map of Atlantis.
American politician Ignatius L. Donnelly, another Atlantis theorists sharing the view of a submerged Atlantis in the Atlantic, also includes a map (Fig. 3) in his 1882 book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. Interestingly, Donnelly's Atlantis continent like Kircher's also bears a similar resemblance to South America, but Donnelly relocates the continent nearer the Strait of Gibraltar to buoy his theory that the Azores Islands were the tops of mountain peaks; the only remaining portion of Atlantis rising above the surface of the Atlantic.
Figure 3 - A map by Ignatius L. Donnelly which places Atlantis over the Azores Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. Donnelly believed the islands might be the tops of mountains rising up from the sunken continent.
But locating an undersea continent in the middle of the Atlantic is a bit problematic. Research aided by technological advancements throughout the 20th century has allowed us to chart highly detailed maps of the Atlantic seafloor. What we have found is a pattern of uninterrupted seafloor crustal spreading extending away from a central longitudinal expansion ridge, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Fig. 4). There are no excessively large sunken plateaus or evidence of a submerged or subducting continent anywhere in the Atlantic, only a few relatively small plateaus associated with undersea ridges and a few small islands including the Azores that originated from ruptures in the oceanic crust. And in fact there are absolutely no signs of large sunken continents lying beneath any of the world's oceans.
Figure 4 - Topographical map of the Atlantic seafloor, which is devoid of sunken continents. Horizontal fracture zones extending out from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge reveal an uninterrupted path of seafloor spreading formed as the Americas broke free and moved away from the continents of Europe and Africa.
This restricts our identification of Atlantis to only a few large landmasses currently breaching the surface of the ocean: Australia, Antarctica, South America, and North America which includes Greenland.
Location wise, Australia would seem too far flung a base to orchestrate an expansive campaign inside the Mediterranean:
"For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end." (Critias by Plato; translation by Benjamin Jowett) "Nine thousand was the sum of years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Heracles and all who dwelt within them." (Timaeus [BJ])
There is also no way to reconcile Australia's location with Solon's assertion that Atlantis was situated "in front of" (Timaeus, translation by Benjamin Jowett) or "opposite the Strait of Gibraltar" (Timaeus, translation by Desmond Lee). This also renders Greenland and Antarctica less likely candidates as well, not to mention that Solon offered climatological information that suits neither location. According to Solon the climate was conducive to two seasonal harvests, something reserved for much warmer regions, not glaciated landmasses located in the Arctic and Antarctic climatic zones.
"Twice in the year they gathered the fruits of the earth—in winter having the benefit of the rains of heaven, and in summer the water which the land supplied by introducing streams from the canals." (Critias; translation by Benjamin Jowett [BJ])
Even if we were to imagine a warmer global climate in the past, it would be hard to fathom year-round warm weather in these arctic zones capable of providing more than a single annual harvest.
Atlantis in South America
The most likely candidates for Atlantis are North and South America, not only because they are the only continental landmasses lying directly "in front of" or "opposite" the Strait of Gibraltar, but they also have regions that fall within climatic zones enabling biannual harvests and the proximity of the Americas would prove much more practical as a base from which to launch a military campaign against the inhabitants of the Mediterranean. Of course in order to validate a landmass as being Atlantis we would have to begin by identifying defined geographical features matching Solon's account. While Solon does not provide details on the overall specific shape of Atlantis, he does provide dimensions for one rather prominent feature on the continent, a large plain very unique in shape and composition.
"The country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction 3,000 stadia, but across the centre inland it was 2,000 stadia. This part of the island looked towards the south, and was sheltered from the north…I will now describe the plain, as it was fashioned by nature and by the labours of many generations of kings through long ages. It was for the most part rectangular and oblong, and where falling out of the straight line followed the circular ditch. The depth, and width, and length of this ditch were incredible, and gave the impression that a work of such extent, in addition to so many others, could never have been artificial. Nevertheless I must say what I was told. It was excavated to the depth of a hundred feet, and it breadth was a stadium everywhere; it was carried round the whole of the plain, and was 10,000 stadia in length. It received the streams which came down from the mountains, and winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea." (Critias [BJ])
Jim Allen, a British cartographer, contends that the continent of South America was Atlantis based on the Altiplano in the Andes Mountains. Analyzing satellite maps available at the time, Allen set out in 1978 to locate a rectangular plain matching Solon's description. He determined that the Altiplano was that rectangular plain, even though it falls far short of the dimensions specified by Solon. (Fig. 5) To reconcile the disparity in size, Allen contrives a theory that the stadium measurement was at one time half the size we currently know it to be; 300 feet versus 606 feet. Most perplexing, Allen implies that within his account, Solon vacillates between the two versions of the stadium, leaving it up to Allen to pick and choose which variant helps his site fit Solon's parameters. Thus he applies the half-size stadium to Solon's plain in order to conform to the limiting confines of the Altiplano, but adopts the full-size stadium for other dimensioned features. It is understandable that discrepancies in Solon's account may have occurred, but switching between two separate standards of the stadium is an enormous leap in logic, especially when we consider that there has only ever been one advocate of the 300-foot stadium: Jim Allen.
Figure 5 - Highlighted in light green is the Altiplano, a large rectangular plain high up in the Andes Mountain Range. British cartographer Jim Allen contends that this is the Atlantis plain and South America the island of Atlantis.
Solon also informs us that the military officers of Atlantis dwelt on the plain. The logistics of mobilizing manpower from over 12,000 feet high atop the Andes down to the coast would have been a treacherous and logistical nightmare taking several days to several weeks depending on whether ships set sail for the Mediterranean from the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. Realistically, if the Atlanteans were the great seafaring nation Solon purported them to be, then it is much more likely that the plain described by Solon was far lower in altitude and much nearer the ocean. In fact Solon not only stated that the plain was "near the sea," but he also claimed oceangoing vessels were at the very least able to navigate to within 6 miles of the plain while the sea or ocean sat no more than 15 miles from the plain. The Altiplano sits 100 miles east of the nearest ocean, the Pacific, and due to the precipitous coastline absolutely no oceangoing vessel ever sailed nearer than 100 miles of the plain.
Part of Allen's error in choosing the Altiplano as the plain in Plato's narrative is due to Solon's assertion that the "plain was surrounded by mountains." Allen assumes that the surrounding mountains defined the plain's shape, but Solon clearly maintains that the flat plain of Atlantis was defined by a rectangular ditch or waterway "carried round the whole of the plain, and was 10,000 stadia in length." This rectangular waterway forming a 10,000 stadia (roughly 1,150 miles) perimeter around the plain had sides measuring 2,000 stadia (230 miles) wide by 3,000 stadia (345 miles) long, roughly the size and shape of the state of North Dakota.
A rectangular waterway defining a flat plain of this size has very few places to exist on a planet the size of Earth. In searching the entire globe, examining all landmasses that are not buried under thousands of feet of ice and snow, there is only one flat rectangular plain defined on all four sides by flowing waterways which approaches these parameters, there are absolutely none larger and there are none approaching even a quarter of its size. The plain, located in Northern Argentina, is called Mesopotamia (Fig. 6), appropriately borrowing from its namesake in the Middle East a name meaning "land lying between two rivers." How well does South America's Mesopotamia match up to the Atlantis plain?
Figure 6 - The Mesopotamian Plain located in northern Argentina is the world’s largest rectangular plain that is defined by waterways in accordance with Solon’s description.
Mesopotamia forms a slightly leaner rectangle with approximate dimensions of 1,550 x 3,700 stadia (180 miles x 425 miles) compared to Atlantis' 2,000 x 3,000 stadia (230 miles x 345 miles). However, this discrepancy can easily be attributed to the measurements having been rounded to the nearest thousand. The plain's perimeter is rounded to the nearest thousand and doing likewise with its length and width while ensuring they still form a 10,000 stadia perimeter leaves only two available options: 1,000 by 4,000 and 2,000 by 3,000-both bracketing, but neither being more accurate than the other when applied to the Mesopotamian plain. Perhaps Solon took it upon himself to flesh out the length and width, opting for the 2,000 by 3,000 measurement as a well proportioned rectangle. Of course this argument is moot if Mesopotamia's perimetric measurement does not closely conform to Solon's specification of 10,000 stadia, or roughly 1,150 miles.
The two rivers that define Mesopotamia are the Parana and Uruguay Rivers. Both drop out from the Brazilian Highlands in the north, landing some distance apart where they flow onto Argentina's northern plain. The foothills between them effectively seal off and define a 70-mile portion of the plain's northern border (Fig. 7). From this point the Uruguay River flows 410-miles southward forming the eastern edge of the plain before eventually converging with the Parana River in the south. Where the Parana River drops onto the plain in the north, it immediately veers westward roughly 150-miles, forming the remainder of the northern border then drops 420-miles southward forming the plain's western border. The Parana finally veers to the southeast 150-miles to meet up with the Uruguay River fully enclosing the plain at its southern end and defining Mesopotamia's rectangular perimeter. All these measurements combine to form a 1,200-mile perimeter, placing South America's Mesopotamia within a mere 50-miles of matching the plain of Atlantis. While the world's largest rectangular plain having a perimetric measurement very closely matching that of the Atlantis' plain may be impressive, it is only the first of several very meticulously detailed parameters laid out by Solon.
Figure 7 - Topographical map of Mesopotamia with the inclusion of measurements in miles, which total up to a 1,200 mile (10,455 stadia) perimeter, only 52 miles (455 stadia) off from Plato's perimetric measurement. Note that all four sides of the rectangular plain are defined by waterways, with only a small 70-mile portion in the north defined by foothills. There are no other rectangular plains in the world larger or remotely close to approaching this size, which are defined by waterways on all four sides.
Solon's placement of the plain "at the centre of the island near the sea" (Critias, Desmond Lee) is one of these additional parameters. Not only is this an accurate description of Mesopotamia's location on the South American continent, the plain's orientation in relation to the continent also fits Solon's description: "Extending in one direction three thousand stadia, but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia." (Critias [BJ]) Mesopotamia's longer dimension runs near parallel to the eastern coast while its shorter dimension extends inland from near the center of the continent exactly as Solon specified. It should also be noted that Mesopotamia is a region of the Americas which meets Solon's climatic parameter discussed earlier, enjoying a climate capable of supporting two annual harvests.
Another very interesting aspect of Plato's narrative is our introduction to the continent:
"The whole country was said by Solon to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain." (Critias [BJ])
The most likely and practical sea route from the Mediterranean to South America's Mesopotamia would have closely mirrored the route traveled by Ferdinand Magellan and other 16th century expeditions. Magellan stayed near the western coast of Africa as far as the Cape Verde Islands at which point he set a course south-southwest across the Atlantic for Brazil (Fig. 8). After traversing the Atlantic and making landfall along the eastern coast of South America at Cape St. Augustine, Brazil, the journey southward toward Mesopotamia was set along a lofty and precipitous coastline. The Brazilian Highlands form nearly half of Brazil's topography and extend out to the eastern coast creating a precipitous backdrop for a few scattered slivers of low-lying coastal regions. Approaching and entering the Rio de la Plata midway down the coast, the terrain does indeed transform dramatically into a flat plain.
Assuming South America is Atlantis, Solon not only correctly described the transition in landscape, but more importantly his description accurately portrays how someone who was extremely familiar with traveling to Atlantis would describe to people within the Mediterranean the location of the plain. Viewing Magellan's route in Figure 8, Magellan might have described traveling to the Rio de la Plata in similar fashion, "The whole country was…very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding" the Rio de la Plata "was a level plain." In comparison, someone who regularly visited South America by making landfall south of the Rio de la Plata would be compelled to describe a trip northward to a city such as Sao Paulo in a reversed fashion, "The whole country was said to be a level plain on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding the city of Sao Paulo was said to be lofty and precipitous."
Figure 8 - Magellan's route to South America's Rio de la Plata and the Mesopotamian plain would have provided a description of South America matching Solon's description of Atlantis. Making landfall at Cape St. Augustine Magellan would have found, "The whole country was…very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding" the Rio de la Plata "was a level plain.
But all the preceding points are only valid if we overlook one very glaring issue: South America is not actually an island. Solon maintained that Atlantis was a large island, and although South America comes very close to meeting this requirement by being surrounded on all sides by water, it still remains tethered to North America by a narrow strip of land, the Isthmus of Panama. The word Plato's narrative uses for 'island', the Greek 'nesos', does however have a broader meaning, one that appears to be very appropriate in describing the South American continent. This is easily confirmed by looking at a smaller yet similar geographical feature in the Mediterranean. At the southern extremity of the Grecian Peninsula lies Peloponnesus (Fig. 9), a landmass almost entirely surrounded by water, but similar to South America connected by a very narrow isthmus to a larger landmass, the Grecian Peninsula. While today we classify Peloponnesus a peninsula because it is a small landmass extending off a larger landmass, the Greeks were apparently comfortable referring to it as an island. The name Peloponnesus, which contains the root 'nesos', translates "Island of Pelops," acknowledging the peninsula's conquest by the mythical Greek hero Pelops while also demonstrating that ancient Greece referred to the landform as an island.
Figure 9 - Peloponnesus, which contains the root ‘nesos’ and translates, “Island of Pelops,” confirms that a ‘nesos’ can be a landmass surrounded by water on all sides, yet tethered by a very narrow isthmus.
Assuming we are correct in identifying South America as Atlantis, it is of interest to note that South America is being referred to as an island rather than a continent even though it was considered larger than the two continents of Libya and Asia combined. It would appear that Solon was using contrasting terms for North and South America that convey their geographical relationship, recognizing that South America is not entirely independent but is actually connected to the larger landmass of North America (Fig. 10) in much the same fashion that Peloponnesus is a 'nesos' or island dangling off the continent of Europe.
Solon also recounted that Atlantis "was the way to other islands and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent." The Caribbean Islands fill this role well, forming a very well defined path from South America over to the North American continent lying on the opposite end. The fact that the string of Caribbean Islands and not the Isthmus of Panama are mentioned as a route to the continent implies their importance to a seafaring people such as those of Atlantis as it is a much more direct route to the North American continent for people sailing out from the vicinity of the Rio de la Plata. Solon also claimed:
"In this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island (South America) and several others (the Caribbean Islands), and over parts of the continent (North America)." (Timaeus [BJ])
The islands may have been home to communities actively involved in trade with Atlantis, making the string of islands an efficient trade route between the two continents.
Figure 10 - The Atlantis ‘nesos’. Like Peloponnesus, South America is tethered to a continent by a narrow isthmus, in this case the Isthmus of Panama. Also like Plato’s Atlantis, a path of islands—the Caribbean Islands—lead to the continent on the opposite end, North America. The Caribbean Islands would have proved a very efficient route to North America for a seafaring people dwelling in the vicinity of Rio de la Plata.
Some confusion does arise in Solon's description of the 'opposite continent', at least as it might apply to North America. The account reads:
"And from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent." (Timaeus [BJ])
This passage actually adds an interesting sense of authenticity to Plato's dialogues. While Plato firmly believed in the sphericity of the earth, many of his contemporaries and predecessors such as Solon adhered to a world view proposed by Greek philosopher Anaximander. Anaximander (c. 610 BC-c. 546 BC), one of Solon's (c. 638 BC-558 BC) contemporaries, postulated that the earth was of a cylindrical design suspended in space. Resting in the center of one of its flat surfaces was the known world in disc form comprising Europe, Asia and Libya surrounded by a circular sea called Oceanus which in turn was bordered by a ring of mountainous land, or outer continent (Fig. 11).
Therefore it seems the passage reflects Solon's reconciliation of this contemporaneous Grecian concept of the world with the original Egyptian account. Oceanus was considered a vast circle of sea, devoid of any major landforms. Within this limited construct, Solon could conceive of Atlantis resting beneath Oceanus, but Solon would have had difficulty reconciling the existence of a raised 'opposite continent' still sharing space in Oceanus. This seems to have led Solon to equate what should have been North America with the only other known raised landmass of significant size, the mountainous ring of land that 'surrounded the true ocean'. This explains Solon's extended clarification in the passage contrasting the relatively small Mediterranean Sea with the much larger Oceanus. Solon is emphasizing that the Mediterranean, surrounded by three continents, is "only a harbour, having a narrow entrance" leading out to the much larger Oceanus. In comparison Oceanus is "a real sea" or the ultimate sea as there are none beyond it; unlike the Mediterranean there are no straits or entrances leading from it to a larger body of water, as Oceanus was believed to be entirely enclosed by a large landform that "may be most truly called a boundless continent" lacking any such opening. (See extended commentary, Atlantis: The Continent That Solon Sank)
Figure 11 - Solon's Atlantis. Solon, along with many of his contemporaries, seems to have adhered to a belief promoted by Greek philosopher Anaximander which maintained that the disc shaped landmass comprising Europe, Asia and Africa was centered atop a floating cylindrical world surrounded by a large circular sea devoid of any other major landforms. In turn this ringed sea which was named Oceanus was fully encircled by a mountainous outer edge on the cylinder. In order to reconcile into this limited construct two new landmasses introduced by the Egyptians, Solon presumed the whole island continent of Atlantis to be sunk beneath the sea, thus explaining its apparent absence from Oceanus. Meanwhile the continent opposite a path of islands could only be reconciled to the outer edge of the great cosmic cylinder. This construct explains Solon's contrast of the two known major bodies of water: 1) The Mediterranean Sea which has an opening and is only a mere harbor in comparison to 2) Oceanus, which is a 'real sea' entirely surrounded by an immense unbroken, boundless continent.
Returning to the island of Atlantis and its topography, Solon described the plain as being surrounded on three sides by mountains while being open toward the south. Fittingly, Mesopotamia sits in a pocket of mountains which opens up toward the sea in the south. As Plato recounts it, the plain was:
"Surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape...This part of the island looked towards the south, and was sheltered from the north." (Critias [BJ])
Mesopotamia is bracketed in this manner by the Andes Mountains sitting off in the distance to the west and the Brazilian Highlands bordering the plain to the north while also dropping down in reduced elevation along the eastern side of the plain. Both of these mountain ranges are coastal, so this may explain why Solon described the surrounding mountains as descending towards the sea. But the inclusion of the surrounding mountains in the narrative serves a much greater purpose than providing a glimpse of the plain's outlying topography; their inclusion establishes the significant role they and their associated tributaries played in bolstering Atlantis' thriving economy and trade.
"The island itself provided most of what was required by them for the uses of life. In the first place, they dug out of the earth whatever was to be found there, solid as well as fusile, and that which is now only a name and was then something more than a name, orichalcum, was dug out of the earth in many parts of the island, being more precious in those days than anything except gold. There was an abundance of wood for carpenter's work."
"The surrounding mountains were celebrated for their number and size and beauty, far beyond any which still exist, having in them also many wealthy villages of country folk, and rivers, and lakes, and meadows supplying food enough for every animal, wild or tame, and much wood of various sorts, abundant for each and every kind of work."
[The ditch] "was carried round the whole of the plain, and was ten thousand stadia in length. It received the streams which came down from the mountains, and winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea... and by them they brought down the wood from the mountains to the city, and conveyed the fruits of the earth in ships." (Critias [BJ])
From the dawn of civilization, major rivers like the Indus, Euphrates, Tigris and the Nile all served as important transportation arteries and trade routes, spawning increased trade and the advancement of ancient civilization. The mountains surrounding the Atlantis plain were believed to be rich in resources ranging from various metals to timber, and unsurprisingly the mountains surrounding Mesopotamia have likewise proven very rich in these resources. More importantly the tributaries flowing down from the Andes and Brazilian Highlands feed the Parana and Uruguay Rivers surrounding the plain exactly as Solon described (Fig. 12), providing a highly efficient means for transporting various resources from the mountains as well as produce harvested biannually from the plains down to a central location where all the waterways ultimately flow to a point near the sea. Solon's location of the city in this area would have established it as an ideal center of trade, where the vast and varying riches of South America could be loaded onto ocean-going vessels for export to nations across the Atlantic.
Figure 12 - Mesopotamia (center) pocketed in on three sides by mountains, but open toward the sea in the south per Plato’s description. According to Solon the plain, "received the streams which came down from the mountains, and winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea... and by them they brought down the wood from the mountains to the city, and conveyed the fruits of the earth in ships."
The City By The Sea
As for the city's location, Solon claimed that the waterway "winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea," and he also provides cumulative dimensions which can be used to deduce more precisely its location near the sea.
Solon first specifies a distance of 5.7 miles from the plain to the small mountain or hill from which was formed the concentrically zoned city:
"Near the plain again, and also in the centre of the island at a distance of about fifty stadia (5.7 miles), there was a mountain not very high on any side Poseidon breaking the ground, enclosed the hill, making alternate zones of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre." (Critias [BJ])
Solon also specifies a distance of 5.7 miles between the city and the sea, the length of a canal connecting the two:
"Beginning from the sea they bored a canal of three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty stadia (5.7 miles) in length, which they carried through to the outermost zone, making a passage from the sea up to this, which became a harbour, and leaving an opening sufficient to enable the largest vessels to find ingress." (Critias [BJ])
The concentrically zoned city itself measured 27 stadia or 3.10 miles across (Fig. 13):
"Moreover, they divided at the bridges the zones of land which parted the zones of sea, leaving room for a single trireme to pass out of one zone into another they covered over the channels so as to leave a way underneath for the ships; for the banks were raised considerably above the water. Now the largest of the zones into which a passage was cut from the sea was three stadia in breadth, and the zone of land which came next of equal breadth; but the next two zones, the one of water, the other of land, were two stadia, and the one which surrounded the central island was a stadium only in width. The island in which the palace was situated had a diameter of five stadia." (Critias [BJ])
Figure 13 - The concentrically zoned city overlain with zone widths in stadia. Zones combine to form a 27 stadia or 3.10 mile overall diameter. Combining this diameter with the 5.7 mile distance from the plain to the city and the 5.7 mile distance from the city to the sea establishes that the plain was located no further than 14.5 miles from the sea
Combining the distance of 5.7 miles from the plain to the city, 3.10 miles for the diameter of the city, and 5.7 miles for the length of the canal connecting the city to the sea, we reach a total of 14.5 miles separating the rectangular plain from the sea. This is an extremely significant and stringent qualifier which may be more fully appreciated when we consider other plains like Mesopotamia's namesake in the Middle East. The convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers marks the plain's closest approach to the sea, but is over 100 miles away from where the waters empty into the sea. Obviously the 85-mile discrepancy would immediately disqualify the original Mesopotamia as a contender for the title of Atlantis Plain.
So even given the overwhelming similarities existing between Atlantis and South America:
- A continent sized island (South American 'nesos')
- Opposite the Pillars of Hercules (The Strait of Gibraltar) and
- Located in the Atlantic Ocean with
- Associated islands (the Caribbean Islands)
- Forming a disitinct path to a continent (North America) at the opposite end.
- Having a lofty precipitous coastline (South America's Brazilian Highlands) transitioning to
- A flat even rectangular plain (Mesopotamia)
- Located at the center of the island (center of South American 'nesos') that is
- Delineated on all four sides by channels of water (the Parana and Uruguay rivers) with
- A perimeter of approximately 10,000 stadia (10,455 stadia or 1,200 miles actual. Only 50 miles longer than the specified 10,000 stadia or 1,150 miles.) and
- Oriented with its narrower width extending from the coast inland, and also having
- A climate conducive to biannual harvests.
- Pocketed in by mountains to the west (Andes), north, and east (Brazilian Highlands), but open toward the sea in the south with
- River ways from the surrounding mountain ranges feeding the rivers that flow around the plain, converge, and then empty into the sea in the south. (Rio Pilcomayo, Rio Bermejo, Rio Salado and Rio Dulce flowing down from the Andes in the west. The Parana and Uruguay Rivers dropping down onto the plain from the Brazilian Highlands in the north and the Rio Ibicui, Rio Arapey Grande, and Rio Queguay sourced from smaller mountains in the east, to name just a few.)
All of these would be completely meaningless if the Mesopotamian plain were not located within 14.5 miles of the sea. Like its namesake, Mesopotamia comes nearest the sea where the two surrounding rivers the Parana and Uruguay converge. And while it is a bit difficult to determine the precise transition points between the waters of the confluence and the sea, we can determine that the distance from Mesopotamia to the sea falls within the 14.5-mile range at between 8 to 12 miles (Fig. 14).
Figure 14 - The original Mesopotamian plain in Iraq (left) lies over 100 miles inland, coming nearest the sea where the two outlying rivers converge. This places it well outside Solon’s 14.5 mile qualifier, easily negating it as a possible site for the Atlantis plain. Argentina's Mesopotamia (right) however lies within 12 miles of the sea, like its namesake, being closest to the sea where its outlying rivers converge. This places South America’s Mesopotamia within the range of Solon’s 14.5-mile qualifier.
By meeting this last crucial qualifier, it becomes extremely clear that South America and its Mesopotamian Plain far exceed all other posited sites for Atlantis in adherence to Plato's geographical specifications. Perhaps we can discount for the time being the existence of an advanced civilization of Atlanteans, but the mathematical probability of Plato accurately dimensioning the world's largest rectangular plain defined by waterways, accurately locating it on a continent opposite the Strait of Gibraltar, accurately relating its vertical alignment in the middle of the continent, accurately defining the placement of surrounding mountains that provides an opening to the south, and finally accurately detailing its placement within 14.5 miles of the sea argues overwhelmingly against coincidence and strongly in favor of an ancient seafaring civilization having had explored the South American continent and quite extensively.
And as if meeting all of these parameters were not enough, there is one last offering, an item of further intrigue. Solon tells us that the surrounding waterway "winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea." We might suppose that the city had once lain in the middle of the waterway extending between the convergence of the rivers and the Rio de la Plata, but that is not necessarily the case. First we need to consider what Solon means when he claims that the waterways met 'at' the city. We know that the waters did not meet 'precisely' at the city, because Solon held that the city was located 50 stadia (5.7 miles) from the plain, and locating the city immediately at the convergence would place the city squarely on the plain's border. Perhaps acknowledging and reconciling the passage within this context, R.G. Bury offers the following translation:
"It received the streams which came down from the mountains and after circling round the plain, and coming towards the city on this side and on that, it discharged them thereabouts into the sea." (Critias; translation by R.G. Bury)
This translation allows that the waters converged then emptied into the sea in the general vicinity of the city. Viewing the passage in this light, we can extend the possible site of the city to an array of locations within a defined arc extending from the Parana River to the confluence of the Parana and Uruguay rivers.
We established that the city was the same distance from the plain as it was from the sea. This would center the city 7.25 miles, half the total 14.5-mile distance, between the plain and the sea. An array of lines 14.5-miles in length representing channels extending between various points along the plain and the sea allow for multiple locations of the island city along an arc designated ABC in Figure 15. The most extreme placements of the channel place the central city along the Parana River at point A, and atop the confluence of the Parana Uruguay Rivers at point C. Fitting the channel between the Parana River and the confluence so that the center point is equidistant from both waterways, finds center point B lying atop an intriguing and unique formation.
Figure 15 - Lines A, B, and C represent 14.5-mile channels extending between the plain and the sea with a center point at 7.25 miles representing the center point of the island city. Lines A and C represent extreme channel placements where the island city would lie closest to the Parana and the confluence of the Parana and Uruguay rivers. Line B aligns the channel so that the center point is equidistant from the Mesopotamian plain and the sea. Multiple other channel placements would find the city's center located between these three points along or near arc ABC. Equidistant point B mysteriously sits atop a circular landform while line B itself lies near channels of similar overall length leading from the plain to the sea. Could this be the site of Atlantis’ island city?
The center point lands atop a very curious circular landform in the Parana Delta. A small distributary channel breaking off from the Parana River flows eastward alongside line B before splitting into two waterways creating a river bifurcation. The split waterway flows almost entirely around the circular formation, but veers away suddenly toward the sea just before completely enclosing a circular island with the lower waterway running immediately under line B. The resultant landform consequently appears as a three-quarter circle with a triangular extension leading off to the east. Now there are several levels of intrigue here because 1) It is the only landform in the Parana Delta approaching a circular form, 2) It just happens to fall precisely in the limited range afforded the circular city of Atlantis per Plato's narrative, and 3) And this is perhaps the most amazing aspect to consider, the circular portion of the landform conforms very, very closely to Solon's dimensions for the circular city (Fig. 16).
Solon's combined measurements for the multi-ringed city establishes the overall diameter at 27 stadia, or 3.10 miles. Solon claimed however that this first outermost ring was composed of a 3-stadia wide channel of water giving the next concentric ring of the city, which was land, an overall diameter of 21 stadia, or 2.41 miles diameter for the largest ring of land. Both diameters match up very closely with the circular portion of this Parana Delta landform. Could this circular formation possibly be the site of the legendary city?
Figure 16 - Satellite image of the circular landform in the Parana Delta (top). Same image (below) with a 2.50-mile dimension set with Google Earth™ to establish scale. The yellow overlain rings conform to the concentric rings of Atlantis and have been scaled to the image. While the circular landform does not appear to have any demarcations suggesting the existence of inner zones, the outside diameter of Atlantis’ outermost land zone at 2.41 miles (21 stadia) is an extraordinarily close match with this Parana Delta landform. In fact a 2.41 diameter circle happens to be the largest circle that can be fit within the confines of the landform. The waterway surrounding the landform also conforms closely to Atlantis’ outer zone of water, which was to have had an outside diameter of 3.10 miles (27 stadia).
Solon describes the city as being formed from a circular mountain, in which the god Poseidon excavated three concentric channels of water:
"There was a mountain not very high on any side Poseidon breaking the ground, enclosed the hill, making alternate zones of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre." (Critias [BJ])
If the city had been formed in a delta on a naturally occurring circular feature similar to the one in question, it may be more reasonable to suppose that the site was originally similarly flat, with the inhabitants having excavated the channels and depositing the excavated material from each successive ringed channel inward toward the island's center, thus elevating each subsequent land zone. Even if we were to suppose that the ringed waterways were naturally formed we can still speculate that the catastrophe believed to have befallen Atlantis, which included quakes and flooding, leveled the raised zones and backfilled with sediment the two inner rings of water that are currently undefined. In fact, likely all waterways in the delta would have been filled with sediment, with only time and the continuing flow of the Parana River clearing a path back through the delta and partially exposing the circular landform.
There are still some discrepancies involving distancing of the formation from the plain and the sea. Supposing that Solon's stated 5.7 miles (50 stadia) from the plain to the city was via a channel of water, the existing distributary is .8 miles too long. From the city to the sea, the lower channel, which is the straighter and longer of the two channels leading away from the circular feature, is about a mile short of the 5.7 mile specified dimension. Still, the central circular feature presents a thought-provoking conundrum. Studying the many other deltas throughout the world, which contain hundreds of islands and river bifurcations, none possess landforms nearly as round and none approach this size. Given everything that has been covered thus far with the Mesopotamian plain's proper alignment, size, positioning and distance from the sea, this definitely establishes the landform as a site of significant interest.
The Island Beneath The Sea
Solon's description of the ancient city provides a glimpse at the city's extravagant grandeur:
"Some of their buildings were simple, but in others they put together different stones, varying the colour to please the eye, and to be a natural source of delight. The entire circuit of the wall, which went round the outermost zone, they covered with a coating of brass, the circuit of the next wall they coated with tin, the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum."
"The palaces in the interior of the citadel were constructed on this wise: In the centre was a holy temple dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon, which was surrounded by an enclosure of gold; Here was Poseidon's own temple which was a stadium in length, and half a stadium in width, and of a proportionate height, having a strange barbaric appearance. All the outside of the temple, with the exception of the pinnacles, they covered with silver, and the pinnacles with gold. In the interior of the temple the roof was of ivory, curiously wrought everywhere with gold and silver and orichalcum and all the other parts, the walls and pillars and floor, they coated with orichalcum. In the temple they placed statues of gold: And around the temple on the outside were placed statues of gold of all the descendants of the ten kings and of their wives, and there were many other great offerings of kings and of private persons, coming both from the city itself and from the foreign cities over which they held sway. There was an altar too."
"In the next place, they had fountains, one of cold and another of hot water, in gracious plenty flowing; and they were wonderfully adapted for use by reason of the pleasantness and excellence of their waters. They constructed buildings about them and planted suitable trees also they made cisterns, some open to the heavens, others roofed over, to be used in winter as warm baths; there were the kings' baths, and the baths of private persons, which were kept apart; and there were separate baths for women, and for horses and cattle. Of the water which ran off they carried some to the grove of Poseidon, where were growing all manner of trees of wonderful height and beauty, owing to the excellence of the soil, while the remainder was conveyed by aqueducts along the bridges to the outer circles."
"And there were many temples built and dedicated to many gods. Also gardens and places of exercise, some for men, and others for horses in both of the two islands formed by the zones. In the centre of the larger of the two there was set apart a race-course of a stadium in width, and in length allowed to extend all round the island, for horses to race in."
"Also there were guardhouses at intervals for the guards. The docks were full of triremes and naval stores. Leaving the palace and passing out across the three you came to a wall which began at the sea and went all round: this was everywhere distant fifty stadia from the largest zone or harbour, and enclosed the whole, the ends meeting at the mouth of the channel which led to the sea. The entire area was densely crowded with habitations; and the canal and the largest of the harbours were full of vessels and merchants coming from all parts, who, from their numbers, kept up a multitudinous sound of human voices, and din and clatter of all sorts night and day." (Critias [BJ])
Truly such a city would have been an overwhelming spectacle to experience and behold. One can almost imagine the day-to-day din of thousands of inhabitants working and shopping in the markets, loading and unloading goods at the docks, and shouting and cheering grand events like horse racing which lapped the full length of the city's outer zone. The walls that lined the perimeter of each zone not only provided a defensive shield, but they were overlain with colorful metals to make them aesthetically appealing adding to the city's splendor. And of course the ornate temples built as tributes to their many gods would have provided an awe-inspiring display of their architectural skill and hint at their boundless riches. So what actually befell this grand city, its extensive ringed walls, and extravagant temples?
The Atlantis saga proposes the truly outlandish idea that an entire island the size of a large continent somehow descended into the depths of the sea.
"An island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, afterwards sunk by an earthquake became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean." (Critias [BJ])
Solon is suggesting that sediment from the sunken continent blocked all passage beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, yet there are absolutely no signs that sediment ever created a barricade preventing ships from sailing between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. This passage is most likely a corruption of the original Egyptian account wherein the two main islands in Solon's narrative source had been confused. Consider the following passage from Timaeus:
"There occurred violent earthquakes and floods; in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island." (Timaeus [BJ])
First of all, Solon's skewed perception of the world required, indeed demanded the sinking of the entire island continent beneath the ocean; he had no other interpretative option. Within Solon's concept of the world, no other large landmass existed within Oceanus, leaving Solon no choice, but to assume that the entire Atlantis continent lay at rest beneath its depths.
Had Solon had a better grasp of the true physical world, he would have been able to accept the existence of another continent in the Atlantic, in which case he may have also realized that the cataclysm did not cause the disappearance of an island continent, but rather the more plausible subsidence of the island city. And the passage or waterway that was blocked by a 'shoal of mud' would not have had to have been an unrealistically large portion of the Atlantic Ocean, but could have been applied to a channel between the sea and the island city of Atlantis.
Solon's placement of the island city within 7.5 miles of the sea increases the likelihood that it was located on a sediment rich delta much like our site on the Parana Delta. Were a series of 'violent earthquakes' to have occurred as Solon relates, the impact on a river delta would have been catastrophic with results matching very closely Solon's description. The sediment-based island and surrounding delta would have been subjected to a devastating phenomenon known as liquefaction.
Liquefaction is a phenomenon occurring during earthquakes in which the ground destabilizes transforming the soil into a liquid consistency. The silt and sand composition within a delta would be highly susceptible to liquefaction. Large structures such as those purported to exist on the island city, for example the zonal perimeter walls and temples, would have sunk into the destabilized ground while the agitated soil would have transformed the many distributaries into mudflows likely obstructing the channel leading toward the devastated island city. Liquefaction may also explain why the Athenian warriors are described as having "sank into the earth" as opposed to having sunk into the sea.
It is feasible that an offshore quake, or an undersea landslide, may have also generated tsunamis causing much of the flooding that was believed to have accompanied or followed the quakes. This may explain the island city and much of the delta's final demise of seemingly disappearing "in the depths of the sea."
Although the account relates that "all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth" this would seem to be with the exception of those few that survived to tell the tale. The survivors of this terrible cataclysm might well have been aboard an Athenian vessel sitting beyond the delta, being able to witness much of the devastation and carnage with little to no harm befalling themselves. From this vantage point the crew may have discerned that the great island city had receded into the earth, while the channel leading to the city having become barricaded with mud was likely strewn with partially buried ships and the bodies of combatants from both sides of the conflict.
With the realization that the great city had come to its climatic end as tsunami waves completely washed over the delta, the intrepid crew would have reversed course back to the Mediterranean where their story would eventually reach and be recorded by the Egyptians. But regardless of the wide-ranging emotions that accompanied them on their long journey home, emotions would soon transition to overwhelming grief and horror with the realization that their homeland had not been spared. The catastrophic devastation that befell Atlantis would prove to be only a portion of a much, much larger global cataclysm.
(To comment on this submission go here.)