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Search for "Lost" Atlantis Centers on Strait of Gibraltar

The Record, Bergen County, New Jersey
January 4, 2002
 
It was Plato, around 360 B.C., who first described an ancient, exotic island kingdom catastrophically buried beneath the sea when its once-virtuous people angered the gods with their pronounced tilt toward sin and corruption.

Since then, creative souls ranging from Jules Verne to Kirk Morris, Maria Montez, Fay Spain, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Michael J. Fox, and Walt Disney have sought to explain and exploit the terrible fate that befell Atlantis.


Scientists and scholars, meanwhile, for 2,000 years have mulled the tale recounted by Critias in Plato's Dialogues in hopes of finding clues as to whether Atlantis actually existed, and, if so, where it was, and how exactly it vanished.

This fall, French geologist and prehistorian Jacques Collina-Girard presented research suggesting that Atlantis was a real place—a small mid-channel island sitting in what is now the Strait of Gibraltar.

Lost Cities and Floods

Its doom was sealed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, when rising seas swamped it along with six other nearby islands, Collina-Girard said.

Today the islands are shoals crouched anywhere from 175 feet to 410 feet (53 to 125 meters) below the ocean's surface along the coasts of Spain and Morocco.

Collina-Girard said the legend of Atlantis likely grew as storytellers embellished it on its way to Plato and Athens 9,000 years later. He compared the story to Noah's flood, an idea that he said probably arose after the rising Mediterranean overran the Bosporus 7,600 years ago to cascade into what is now the Black Sea basin.

"It is the same thing," Collina-Girard said. "Everywhere in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia people have stories that speak of the time when the sea came in.

"Atlantis is another discrete story of the flood."

End of the Ice Age

The world has not lacked for theories about Atlantis, whose location has been placed anywhere from the Atlantic abyss to waters off the Americas or even the South China Sea. The most popular current view among scholars is that Atlantis was probably the Aegean island of Thira, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Crete, destroyed by volcanic eruptions in 1470 B.C.

The flaw here, Collina-Girard said, is that the Thira story ignores Plato. "The trouble up to now has been that geologists are not generally interested in Atlantis, while the people who are interested in Atlantis are not geologists."

Reporting this fall in the Proceedings of the French Academy of Sciences, Collina-Girard instead suggested that Atlantis can probably be found where Plato said it was: "An island situated in front of the straits which are by you the Athenians called the Pillars of Hercules Gibraltar," as Critias tells Socrates.

Oceanography shows that sea level at the height of the ice age about 20,000 years ago was more than 400 feet (122 meters) lower than it is today, Collina-Girard said. For the next 15,000 years, the sea rose as ice melted as little as 2 feet (0.6 meters) per century at first and as much as 12 feet (3.7 meters) per century later on.

When the thaw began, there were seven islands at the western end of the Strait and a bit further west, framing a section of the Atlantic in an "inland sea" described by Plato. Atlantis was in mid-channel, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of modern-day Tarifa, Spain, and 12 miles (19 kilometers) northwest of Tangier, Morocco, according to Collina-Girard.

As time passed, the rising sea consumed the islands one by one, until only Atlantis and one other remained. And for its last 300 years, Collina-Girard calculated that sea level at Atlantis was rising about 8 feet (2.4 meters) per century. "A man with a 50-year lifespan would notice it," he said.

From a geological point of view, the Collina-Girard theory is "plausible, depending on the accuracy of sea level measurements," said marine geophysicist John Diebold, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. "Of course, you really won't know until you get down there." Collina-Girard said he plans to dive in the strait in the summer.

Most of his theory fits comfortably with the Dialogues. What does not is Critias' estimate that Atlantis was "larger than Libya and Asia put together," and his assertion that Atlantis succumbed to volcanic eruption.

Copyright 2001 The Record, Bergen County, New Jersey
 

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