You try Cornwall, we'll try Bolivia

Atlantis fever is gripping the world of exploration. Jeremy Atiyah on the rival expeditions seeking out Plato's city under the sea

THIS is Atlantis season again. Now that the Russians are losing their ability to fund space exploration they have decided to search for mythical lost cities instead - in unexpected places. The remains of the city of Atlantis, they predict, will be found a hundred miles off Land's End.

That at least is the view of theMoscow Institute of Metahistory, an organisation formed last year with the intention of proving that conventional ideas about human history are wrong. Their application for permission to dive is currently circulating Whitehall departments.

"An operation such as this is probably going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds," said a spokesman for the Maritime department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "Presumably someone in Russia thinks the project is worth funding."

Their director, Professor Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev plans to lead his Cornish expedition in the summer. He has applied to explore in the area of the Celtic Shelf, an underwater hill in the north Atlantic which, he claims, sank permanently below sea-level during catastrophic floods after the last ice-age.

Oddly enough, at the very moment that Professor Koudriavtsev heads for Cornwall, another explorer, the very British Colonel "Blashers" Blashford- Snell, Chairman of the Scientific Exploration Society, is planning an even less probable Atlantis search: in Bolivia.

Colonel Blashford-Snell is not particularly impressed by his Russian rivals though he is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

"You have to keep an open mind on these things," he says of his own expedition. "I am going to investigate a possible lost city, which may or may not turn out to be Atlantis. Our Bolivian site has about 50 factors which happen to fit Plato's description - for example that it's a rectangular plain of the right dimensions, flat and level and of high altitude. Most interesting of all is an apparent canal - exactly as described by Plato - running down to the inland Bolivian sea of Lake Poopo."

But surely South America was unknown to the ancient Mediterranean?

"So we suppose. But the discovery of cocaine as part of the mummification process used by the ancient Egyptians raises interesting questions. There is an ocean current running from Montevideo to Cape Town and quite primitive rafts could cross that gap. In fact, investigating the possibility of contact between South America and Africa in ancient times is really the serious part of our project. Not Atlantis."

Which is not, of course, how most people would like to see it. We want Atlantis. Ever since the middle of the last century, when the hero of Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea stepped into its sunken ruins, Atlantis theories have grown progressively wilder. In addition to Bolivia and Cornwall, other suggested sites have been the north coast of Libya, ancient Wessex, Antarctica and (from the Japanese) the South Pacific.

These days, lost "secrets" from the dawn of civilisation evoke no end of extra-terrestrial trumpery. Mysterious technologies such as "cosmic crystals" have been dreamt up by mystics and attributed to Atlantis. Latter-day Platos have even claimed that it was misuse of "crystal-power" that caused the destruction of their civilisation, and (to choruses of ethereal angels) have come to see the search for Atlantis as synonymous with the search for the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

But why? Was not the Atlantis story just a standard allegory, rustled up to illustrate the dangers of a society corrupting itself? A story of a once virtuous city, now so eaten up by debauchery that Zeus had no option but to send in the tidal waves?

This is hard to dispute. Take another look at Noah and his flood, the Tower of Babel and Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible, or Irem in the Koran. (A lesser Atlantis, Irem, also has its followers, who search in the sands of the Arabian peninsular.)

Except - and this is where our psychological need for The Big Quest kicks in - the detail makes us hesitate. Plato's descriptions are packed with circumstantial evidence. He describes an island continent "circled by mountains". He talks of a "rectangular plain in the centre of the continent measuring 3,000 by 2,000 stades" with a drainage canal running round its perimeter. He talks of a strange Atlantean metal, orichalcum, which "sparkled like red fire".

Such is the detail that keeps the Atlantis-busters out in force. Blashford- Snell himself, half-Indiana-Jones half-Victorian-explorer, has been keeping his eye on Atlantis for years. In 1978 he discovered the lost city of Acla in the jungles of Panama, with the eminent archeologist Dr Mark Horton. He has also successfully demolished other people's Atlantis theories, including the persistent idea that the vanished land was near the island of Bimini in the Bahamas.

"I was asked to dive the area by an American society who had invested a lot of money in proving that this was Atlantis. In fact I shot the whole thing down. They weren't happy but in the end they accepted my verdict."

Theories spring up with the regularity of pulsating stars. In 1995 a British archeologist, Peter James, published his theory that Atlantis was actually a city called Tantalis in the interior of Turkey, which had been destroyed by flooding in 1400BC. Meanwhile a German scholar, Dr Zangger, has plausibly claimed that Plato's description of Atlantis was based on Homeric Troy, also in Turkey.

Considering that Plato located the islands beyond the Pillars of Hercules (today's Straits of Gibraltar) practically any island or land-mass in the Atlantic becomes a possible candidate. Central America and Mexico are considered promising sites by some.

Most scholars, however, suppose that echoes from a lost civilisation - if that is what Plato's story was - must have come from within the Mediterranean. Minoan Crete was one such lost civilisation: it had abruptly disappeared 1,000 years before Plato, leaving behind sketchy memories in the form of legends of the Labyrinth and its resident Minotaur.

According to Plato, the Kings of Atlantis hunted bulls for sport, and the excavation of Knossos (the Minoan capital) has uncovered pictures of bulls and people at play. To cap it all, the demise of Minoan Crete seems to have been triggered by the Mediterranean's worst ever natural catastrophe: the explosion of the volcanic island of Thera (today's Santorini), blasting four cubic miles of rock into the atmosphere, reducing the island to a fraction of its former size and causing massive tidal waves throughout Greece.

A solution to the mystery? No one can say, and in the mean time we await the upcoming expeditions. If Atlantis turns out to be Cornish, the cost of the search will surely look like the greatest investment ever made by a Russian.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Morrissey pictured in 2013
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices