They make a rational, thoroughly scientific, argument for the existence of Atlantis, located in the Atlantic (right where Plato said it was) destroyed cataclysmically somewhere around 9000 B.C. (apologies to one of my favorite ad campaigns).
I have written before about the likelihood of advanced civilizations that existed long before their so-called beginning around 4000 B.C. But it is so much easier to propound vague ideas then to make a concrete case for a specific civilization, let alone one for which we (seemingly) have no evidence for except Plato’s account in one of his dialogues. And then you realize that one of the more credible arguments for the existence of Atlantis was written by Otto Muck . . . who invented the U-boat schnorkel for the Germans in W.W. II. Yes, he came over to the U.S. like many other former German scientists after the war, but still,it does not help the case that he worked for the Nazis.
But first, Muck reminds us that Plato discussed Atlantis in two dialogues, not one, the Timaeus and Critias. Plato has Socrates relate many myths throughout his work, but he speaks of Atlantis in strictly factual terms. Like many others, I suppose, I had never actually read the full account of Atlantis in the dialogues and Muck makes a good point. Plato, at least, seems to believe in the historicity of Atlantis, or certainly, Critias does, and he gives a lengthy description filling at least 15 pages of its size, location, topography, plants, and the like. Critias talked about how the Greeks first learned of Atlantis from the Egyptians, still considered quite wise by the Greeks even in Plato’s day, via the great legislator Solon–America’s George Washington. Plato invests a lot of heavy-hitters in his account of Atlantis.
It makes perfect sense to me to believe in a cataclysmic flood, as it is spoken of in every major religion of the ancient world. I expect to find, along with Graham Hancock and others, the existence of civilizations that long predate the fertile crescent of 4000 B.C. I delight in Jon Anthony West’s interpretation of Egypt’s history, for example, and find it persuasive. But I cracked the cover of Muck’s book skeptically. I don’t approach questions like this even primarily scientifically, let alone entirely so. Still, with Atlantis, even I needed something to hold onto besides stories. With other sites, you have megalithic architecture, for example. For Atlantis, I need more than Plato’s account.
I give Muck credit. He understands skepticism as a scientist and confronts head-on, piece by piece, in methodical fashion. Some of what Muck wrote I found very intriguing, and others, not so much.
To begin, Muck asks where the Atlantic ocean got its name. Well, obviously from the Atlantis story, but this means very, very little. Slightly more intriguing is Muck’s examination of the very similar phonetics between the god Atlas (apparently spelled out ‘Atlants’), who stood at the middle of the world upholding it, and the name “Atlantis” and its topography, which Plato tells us had a large mountain. Well . . . ok, but . . . ?
He moves on.
If we look closely at Plato’s description of the topography he tells of a huge variety of plants and food that one could find there. It seems almost fantastical. We assume the variety couldn’t really exist, given the size and location Plato mentions. But if we consider the gulf stream moving across the Atlantic, then match it with the mountains described by Plato as well as the location, it matches. You would have warm air from the south-east, with a large mountain in the center impacting the Arctic air, and the variety described by Plato is possible. What makes this more intriguing is that Plato probably did not have the biological and topographical knowledge to make this up.
More interesting is the Gulf Stream itself. If you compare latitudes for northwestern Europe and its overseas counterpart, you know that Europe is a lot warmer than the upper reaches of North America. The Gulf Stream makes this possible. But we also know that thousands of years ago Europe was much colder. Then, around the time of Atlantis’ supposed destruction, it started to warm up. What if the Gulf Stream did not always flow across to Europe, but instead was diverted by a continent in the middle of the ocean? That could account for the temperature difference at first, and the shift after.
Perhaps the most bizarre, yet intriguing, argument Muck makes involves the habits of eels.
Apparently, a breed of eels exists that spawns in the Sargasso Sea (located just to the east of Atlantis on the map above). For the longest time scientists could never understand why these eels undertook a long and dangerous migration across the Atlantic. The females find European rivers, the males sit and wait in the ocean while the female eels fix their hair. Ok, ok . . . observers discovered that the females can only come to sexual maturity in fresh water, hence their need for rivers. But why travel east across the Atlantic. It makes much more sense, from an evolutionary perspective and every other perspective, to go west from the Sargasoo. The existence of Atlantis, however, would explain this. For who knows how long the eels would go east for only a short distance from the Sargasso to the rivers of Atlantis. The destruction of Atlantis did not alter their genetic memory. They still swim east, and no doubt suppose that when they hit the coast of Europe they are back in Atlantis, more or less.
Plato considered Atlantis a bridge of sorts between land on either side of the ocean, and Muck explores some of the connections between the Americas and the world of Plato’s day. He considers possible racial connections, considering that the typical look of the Basque people would fit well for a possible Atlantean type, since that “look” could fit in the western parts of Europe, north Africa, and Meso-America–the old sphere of Atlantean influence. Muck makes you think hard throughout his work, but I think this the most ridiculous of Muck’s arguments. Maybe I am just squeamish when an ex-Nazi helper-guy talks about race, but it seems that if the Atlantis story is true, 10,000 years of post-Atlantis destruction intermarriage would dilute the racial stock.
Perhaps more interesting are the ancient pyramids built by the Egyptians and Meso-Americans. Muck seems to argue that both cultures acted as preservers of some kind of Atlantean legacy even thousands later in the post-apocalyptic reboot of civilization. Perhaps the pyramid shape was meant to recall Atlas and Atlantis’ great mountain. This is more convincing than the racial argument, but I still think it fairly weak. Both cultures built their structures thousands of years apart, and it seems they had different purposes in mind. Muck’s earlier arguments about climate, topography, and the gulf stream stand on much more solid footing. His analysis about the mapping of the ocean floor of the Atlantic indicates the possibility of an Atlantean like form still lying on the ocean floor.
As for the cataclysmic end, Muck has an answer for that as well. Plato’s description has Atlantis lying right around the mid-Atlantic ridge, a potentially volcanic region. The diagram below right shows the ridge shows the newest ocean floor crust in red:
Muck believes that a very large asteroid struck earth right around 9000 B.C., which matches remarkably with the chronology offered by Plato’s account. Here is one of a variety of articles on the subject, with impact dates ranging between 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. Some argue that this asteroid or comet struck the polar ice caps. Muck argues that it struck somewhere around the mid-Atlantic ridge. If Atlantis existed, and if a very large asteroid struck near the mid-atlantic ridge, you could easily have had a gigantically massive subterranean volcanic eruption that literally could have had Atlantis sink into the sea in a single night.
Muck doesn’t need the asteroid to hit the mid-Atlantic ridge necessarily. If it did strike the polar ice-caps, it would have caused the destruction of Atlantis in a global deluge not overnight, but within a week or so at the most.
I have left out a great deal of technical information Muck includes, and must content myself with a general summary.
Muck knows he cannot absolutely prove his case one way or another.
I am a big fan of Jonathan Haidt’s work with Heterodox Academy, which encourages more ideological diversity on campus. Haidt readily acknowledges his liberal beliefs–he has never voted Republican–but even he agrees that the situation has gotten dangerously imbalanced in many departments across many campuses. He has discovered some interesting links, not surprisingly, between religious belief, psychological temperament, and political affiliations. You can take various fun tests at his link here.
Just as political leanings often come from moral and religious beliefs, I think what one thinks of Muck’s book will depend on a variety of factors that go a bit deeper than the evidence itself.
If you look to disagree with Muck, most likely . . .
- You are a committed ‘gradualist’ in all things geological
- You are strictly scientific in deciding about the past and would hardly value Plato’s account as evidence of any kind.
- You probably hesitate in part because you don’t want to be associated with various new age crazy people who believe in the existence of Atlantis for all the wrong reasons.
- You need “hard” evidence like clay tablets, pots with markings, the stuff that archaeologists would find, before you would acquiesece to Muck
If you look to agree with Muck, most likely . . .
- You are a contrarian by temperment
- You weigh lots of different kinds of evidence much more equally than those committed to a particular field
- You think it would be “cool” if Atlantis once existed (an attitude most abhorred by the strict scientific type, who would see this feeling as meaning absolutely nothing. I think they are right, but only about 90% right in their approbation of this attitude).
- You admit the possibility of great catastrophe’s altering the fabric of human history as well as geology.
I fall in the latter category, but hope that I have been fair to the former. Again,some parts of Muck’s book I found nearly persuasive, and others not so much.
To illustrate some of the above differences, we can examine Jon Anthony West’s work in Egyptology. He got famous/infamous for suggesting that erosion patterns on the Sphinx suggested that it was much older than was commonly believed, and was likely built by a civilization that predated Egypt perhaps by a thousands of years. Dr. Robert Schoch, who earned his Ph.D in geology at Yale, analyzed the Sphinx and agreed with him. You can see the video–narrated by Charlton Heston!:)–here.
When Schoch presented his findings at a conference, Egyptologists present could say little about the actual data he presented. But one retorted, “Well, you say that the Sphinx was built thousands of years before, but if another civilization built it, where is the evidence? Where are their tools? Where is their writing?” Schoch could only stare back rather dumbfounded. Hadn’t he just presented evidence in the form of the Sphinx? Perhaps they did not accept the fact of the Sphinx itself as evidence because it did not fit into their preconceived notions of what constitutes evidence, which has to be in the form of writing, pottery, etc. Of course, if a highly developed civilization did exist somewhere around 10,000 B.C., it would have suffered catastrophic collapse as a result of the asteroids that struck Earth around that time. If they did have a written language and if they made pottery, it would have been washed away almost immediately.
We see how these different areas of belief work together.
So I say, let the Germans go nuts. Let them make far-fetched claims. It beats some other avenues they have taken in the past . . .