The legend of Atlantis, the country that disappeared under the sea, may be more than just a myth. Research on the island of Crete suggests Europe's earliest civilisation was destroyed by a giant tsunami.


Until about 3,500 years ago, a spectacular ancient civilisation was flourishing in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ancient Minoans were building palaces, paving streets and installing sewers, whilst most Europeans were still living in primitive huts. But around 15th century B.C. the people who spawned the myths of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth abruptly disappeared. Now the mystery of their cataclysmic end may finally have been solved.


A group of scientists have uncovered new evidence about Crete being hit by a massive tsunami at the same time that Minoan culture disappeared. The geo-archaeological deposits contain a number of distinct tsunami signatures. Minoan building material, pottery and cups along with food residue such as isolated animal bones were mixed up with rounded beach pebbles and sea shells and microscopic marine fauna. These items can only be scooped up from the sea-bed by one mechanism - a powerful tsunami, dumping all these materials together in a destructive swoop. These deposits have been found up to seven metres above sea level, well above the normal reach of storm waves. It must have been such a ferocious force that hit the coast of Crete all that time ago.


The Minoans were sailors and traders so they built most of their towns along the coast. One of their largest settlements and port was at Palaikastro on the eastern edge of the island, one of the sites where Canadian archaeologist Sandy MacGillivray has been excavating for 25 years. The settlement is dominated by its elegant main street flanked on either side with prosperous town houses. Other blocks of large and airy houses lay nearby. The wealth of the town derived from the excellent agricultural land round about and is clearly visible in the architecture and the design of the wide streets with drains running along them. Surprisingly, no palace has ever been identified at the site.


Here, MacGillivray and his colleagues have found other tell-tale signs such as buildings where the walls facing the sea are missing but side walls which could have survived a giant wave are left intact. "All of a sudden a lot of the deposits began making sense to us," says MacGillivary. "Even though the town of Palaikastro is a port it stretched hundreds of metres into the hinterland and is, in places, at least 15 metres above sea level. This was a big wave."


But if this evidence is so clear why has it not been discovered before now? The answer is simple, the study of ancient tsunamis has never really been looked into as no one really knew what to look for. Most scientists believe that these waves would have only blasted material away and would not leave much in the way of deposits behind.


However, the Asian tsunami of 2004 changed all of the differing ways of thinking.  With today's technology people were able to take video footage of that terrible day. Further investigations showed tonnes of debris being carried along by the wave and most of that was deposited far inland. Based on highly accurate and specialised software, Kostas Sinolakis, a tsunami expert  managed to reconstruct and enact the way that this tsunami travelled across the Aegean building a full picture of its scale and impact.




The Minoans were very confident in their navy that most of their cities were unprotected. After the tsunami of Asia it lead to the loss of over 250,000 lives. If you were to look at a similar mortality rate in circa 1600 B.C. The whole Minoan race on the island of Crete you would be looking at the demise of a whole Civilisation.


It has long been believed that the volcanic eruption of Thera - today's Santorini 70 km north was the cause of the destruction of Crete at that time. However, no real evidence has come about to prove that theory. Archaeologist Stuart Dunn suggests that the volcanic ash from Santorini obviously shadowed Crete for a few days, but under no circumstances destroyed the Minoan Civilisation. Recent scientific work has established that the Santorini eruption was up to 10 times more powerful than the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. By examining echoes from volcanic deposits on the ocean floor, researchers have shown that the Aegean eruption of 'Thera' around 3600 years ago may have propelled 60 cubic km of magma out of the volcano's crater. The new estimates suggest that the blast was half as large again as had earlier been supposed. 


Ash would have plunged much of the Mediterranean into darkness. During ash fallout, an area of at least 300,000 sq km would have been plunged into total darkness. It caused massive climatic disruption and the blast was heard over 3000 miles away. The collapse of Santorini's giant volcanic cone into the sea during the eruption was the mechanism that generated a wave large enough to destroy the Minoan coastal towns. It is not clear if the tsunami could have reached inland to the Minoan capital at Knossos, but the fallout from the volcano would have carried other consequences - massive ash falls and crop failure. With their ports, trading fleet and navy destroyed, the Minoans would never have fully recovered.


The legend of the City of Atlantis, that was lost beneath the sea, was first mentioned by Plato over 2000 years ago. It has held peoples imagination for centuries. But this is one myth that in time might be proven to be true. Atlantis is a legendary lost city, possibly an entire continent. It is said to have been submerged beneath the sea, possibly as a result of volcanic activity or a huge earthquake. According to Plato who wrote an account of an ancient City long forgotten, it was a thriving, wealthy, and for most of the time a peaceful Civilisation known as Atlantis. The land was said to have been very fertile, with abundant food, water, animals, wood, and flowers. But, as the legend explains, after several generations of ruling the leaders became increasingly greedy and corrupt, and started to wage war on their neighbouring countries. 


They conquered parts of North Africa and Europe and were about to attack Egypt and Athens, when the Athenian army valiantly drove them back and defeated them. However, shortly after a failed attempt to invade Athens, the entire island was said to have disappeared into the Atlantic ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune" after fierce earthquakes and floods along with the resulting tidal waves which also destroyed the Athenian army.  Ever since this first account was written, people of all ages and from all walks of life have been fascinated by the Legend. According to Plato this happened circa 9,700 B.C. Unfortunately other than Plato's account of Atlantis written in 360 B.C. there are no other ancient report of Atlantis, which means every other account on Atlantis relies on Plato in one way or another. What makes the idea of Atlantis so appealing is that it wasn't just any city - it was, so Plato's story goes, "the rich heart of a great Civilisation".


Did Atlantis ever really exist?  Was it just a folk tale that captured the hearts everyone's dream city, as being a living utopia? Or perhaps just a metaphorical setting invented by Plato?  No-one knows. If there was indeed a civilisation as advanced as the Atlantean one was reputed to be, then it is surprising that no confirmed traces have ever been found. However the oceans of the world are very large and there's a great deal down there that we have yet to explore.

Whatever the truth behind the legends, the allure of possible vast riches and ancient wisdom will probably mean that people continue to search for Atlantis for many years to come.




Plato, also known as Aristocles, was born in Athens approx 427 - 428 B.C. and died peacefully in 347 B.C. at around 80 years of age. He was a respected Greek philosopher, and a student of Socrates, the Grandfather of Western Philosophy. When Socrates was executed in Athens in 399 B.C. Plato was deeply affected and spent several years travelling and learning, before returning to Athens at age 40 to set up a school of philosophy, which remained in operation for over 900 years (until the Christians closed it down, suspecting it would undermine their religion). It's most famous student was Aristotle.


Plato would have been aged about 68 when he wrote two works pertaining to Atlantis, the 'Timaeus', and the 'Critias'. Written in the form of dialogues between four main characters who were real people of the time. Socrates, a Greek philosopher and Plato's teacher. Critias, a poet and historian. Timaeus an Italian astronomer, and Hermocrates a general from Syracuse. The Timaeus includes only a passing reference to Atlantis, but the second writing, the Critias, has a much more in depth description of Atlantis leading up to it's downfall. Plato never completed Critias.................


The story was pass on by the character Critias, who was possibly Plato's maternal great-grandfather. Critias had heard the story as a child from his own Grandfather, Critias the Elder, who had heard it from his father Dropides, who had heard it from his friend Solon, a great Athenian Law-giver reputed to have been an honest and true man.

Solon had been told the story of Atlantis during his stay in Sais, Egypt, by an elderly Egyptian priest who claimed to have acquired the knowledge directly from ancient records in his keeping. After hearing of the account, Solon had intended to record it himself, for posterity's sake, but for one reason or another he never did. Solon really did visit Sais, Egypt, although the date Plato gives for this differs by about 20 years. The Egyptian records that the priest was referring to, have to this day never been found.


Most of the historically proposed locations are in or near the Mediterranean Sea. Islands such as Sardinia, Crete and Santorini, Sicily, Cyprus and Malta. Other places are land-based cities such as Troy, Tartessos in Spain and Manisa in Turkey. The Thera eruption dated to the 17th or 16th century B.C. This may have been the catastrophe that inspired the story with time scale most certainly being distorted, and by an error in translation, probably from Egyptian into Greek, which produced 'thousands' instead of 'hundreds' this same error would rescale Plato's Kingdom of Atlantis to the size of Crete, while leaving the city the size of the crater on Thera. 

So, let us finish where we began..............900 years before Solon would be the 15th century B.C.






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