Two journalists once ranked the discovery of lost Atlantis as potentially the most spectacular sensation of all times. Now, the question what or where Atlantis might have been has disappeared. Why?
The Greek philosopher Plato, the only source for Atlantis, incorporated an extensive description of this legendary city into a mundane summary of contemporary (4th century BC) scientific achievements and knowledge of prehistory. Nobody attributed much attention to the account during subsequent centuries. In Medieval times, scholarly interest focussed on Aristotle, while Plato was neglected. When archaeology and history finally assumed the shape of scientific disciplines ‹ after the middle of the 18th century AD ‹ science still was under the influence of Christian theology, its Medieval mother discipline. The first art historians, who were brought up in a creationist world, consequently interpreted western culture as an almost divine concept which first materialized in ancient Greece, without having had any noticeable predecessors. Accordingly, any ancient texts referring to high civilizations, much older than Classical Greece, had to be fictitious by definition.
During the 20th century, dozens of palaces dating to a golden age a thousand years older than Plato's Athens have been excavated around the eastern Mediterranean. Atlantis can now be placed in a historical context. It is an Egyptian recollection of Bronze Age Troy and its awe-inspiring war against the Greek kingdoms. Plato's account and the end of the Bronze Age around 1200 BC can now be seen in a new light. Why was this connection not made earlier? Four Egyptian words, describing location and size, were mistranslated, because at the time Egypt and Greece used different calendars and scales. And, in contrast to biology, where, after Darwin, the idea of creationism was dropped in favor of evolutionism, Aegean prehistory has never questioned its basic premises.
Geoarchaeologist EBERHARD ZANGGER is Director of Corporate Communications at KPNQwest (Switzerland) and the author of The Flood from Heaven : Deciphering the Atlantis Legend and Geoarchaeology of the Argolid. Zangger has written a monograph, published by the German Archaeological Institute, as well as more than seventy scholarly articles, which have appeared in theAmerican Journal of Archaeology, Hesperia, the Oxford Journal of Archaeology,and the Journal of Field Archaeology.