Bettany Hughes brings Atlantis to the surface in style

“From the moment Atlantis was set down in Athens,” says Bettany Hughes, “it has never once left the human radar.” In 'Atlantis – The Evidence, an hour-long Timewatch special aired last night on BBC Two, renowned classical historian Hughes grapples with a legend that has baffled and fascinated us for thousands of years. Far from an ancient wives' tale, was Greek philosopher Plato's Atlantis based on a real-life civilisation, which suffered an awful fate at the hands of mother nature?

First off Hughes lists the myriad crackpot theories that have both served to fuel the flames of public interest, and demolish any sense of archaeological credibility surrounding the tale. We're shown Eric Von Daniken, and his 'wizards from outer space', British PM William Gladstone's attempted voyage to Tibet and the Nazis' macabre quest for the Aryan race.



Hughes, however, sees echoes of the Atlantis myth in Thera, better known today as Santorini: an ancient volcanic island in Greece which fell to a gigantic volcanic eruption around 1650 BC. Stunning shots of the island show how Thera's topography resembles that of Plato's Atlantis, while Hughes' approachable manner and unflinching austerity means her point isn't lost, like so many modern documentaries, in a flood of high-octane hyperbole.



Hughes dismantles the Atlantis myth stage-by-stage, first by getting a VIP look at artefacts being excavated from Thera today which show the splendour of a great nation, wiped out by a disaster ten times the size of Vesuvius. First discovered in 1967 this 'Pompeii of the Aegean' could be the great maritime city-state Plato mentions. “It is a buried city that is slowly being brought back to life,” says Hughes. However the historian in her is never far from the storyteller, and she's quick to note her evidence is circumstantial, if compelling.



But while Thera's own Bronze Age inhabitants are being kept largely under wraps, Crete's are a bona fide tourist attraction. Hughes travels to the hallowed Palace of Knossos, a great ancient complex unearthed by Arthur Evans, who saw fit to recreate it. Colin MacDonald, former curator at Knossos, explains how prosperous and cultured this civilisation, dubbed the Minoans after the legend of King Minos and his labyrinth, became before suffering at the hands of Thera's great eruption. 1650 BC Crete, we're told, would have loosely resembled Sri Lanka following the Boxing Day Tsunami.



As well as Hughes' disarming persona, the show happily fails to suffer any documentary pitfalls. We're not inundated with reams of pointless B-roll; experts are succinct and believable; and cut-scenes, whilst shot in 300-esqe chrome, do not steal any thunder from the history. Instead they show the greatness of the Minoans, their odd obsession with 'bull-leaping' and the terror of a people running from an inescapable fate.



Hughes inspects underwater archaeology and geology for signs of pumice strewn across the region – a sure sign of the eruption, while the murkier aspects of Plato's story are handed over to British Museum expert Dr Irving Finkel, who agrees Atlantis could have been based on the handed-down knowledge of the Theran eruption. Overall this is a must-see for anyone interested in classical history, let alone Atlantis. And while Hughes admits she “still wants to see the evidence in black and white,” this show just might be the next best thing.

The Knossos Palace: Discovery and Renovation

Top 10 Minoan Treasures to See at the British Museum

The Minoan Civilisation: Is their Empire of Trade and Art Atlantis?

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape