Atlantis: Did it Exist?

Everyone loves a good legend. They exist all over the world in one form or another, but perhaps none have captivated the imaginations of the western world quite like the fabled lost city of Atlantis.  People have been fascinated with Atlantis since it first appeared in the works of Plato.  According to Plato, the island city was destroyed in a massive earthquake somewhere around four hundred years before Christ, maybe a few decades later.

Plato’s work is not first hand.  He is telling a tale that had been told to numerous others before it ever was passed down to him. However, the bare facts of his account seem at least broadly accurate. Based on his narrative, it seems that Atlantis was a post-flood civilization founded by someone named Atlas, who was one of the twin sons of Cronus in Greek mythology. While mythology may immediately bring up skepticism, Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis has demonstrated in his excellent Tower of Babel book that many figures in mythology are real people mythologized by later generations. For example, he believes Cronus is one of the mythologized names of Kittim, one of the great-grandsons of Noah who was one of the possessors of the islands of the Gentiles according to Genesis 10:5.  This makes sense given one of Kittim’s other names according to Hodge is Cyprus, from which we get the name for the island in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Plato, Kittim’s grandson Atlas founded Atlantis.  The exact location is subject to dispute.  Plato’s account talks about the Pillars of Hercules and the Atlantic Ocean so we know that, if Atlantis existed, it would have been located somewhere in the vicinity of what is today the Straits of Gibraltar. Further, in northern Africa across from Gibraltar is a mountain range called the Atlas Mountains. It could be these were named for the founder of Atlantis.  According to Plato, the island occupied the area of about 77,000 square miles, translating from the Greek unit of measurement into modern measurements.  For reference, that’s bigger than many Midwestern US states.  However, it is much smaller than many of the world’s largest islands, being slightly smaller than the combined landmass of Britain, Scotland, and Wales. Plato’s reference to it being an island rules out the possibility that it was on the African mainland, despite some modern conspiracy theorists claims to the contrary. However, the Atlantians may have had colonies in northern Africa.

Plato claims that Atlantis was destroyed by a massive earthquake which caused it to sink into the ocean. He claims that the sea was made impassable as a result of all the mud and debris. The cause of this destruction could have been an earthquake, but other options are available. Considering that the Ice Age would have probably been in the process of ending and massive runoff from the land would have been occurring in the decades and century prior to Atlantis being destroyed, rising sea levels may have overwhelmed the island. In either case, finding the location of where Atlantis sat could be possible based on what we know.

If the island city sank into the ocean or was submerged, we would expect that a few of the highest points would remain above water as islands.  There are a few island chains just off the coast of Africa which are possibilities. The Azores, the Canary Islands,  the Cape Verde islands and Madiera are all possible, though both the Azores and the Cape Verde islands can probably be dismissed as too far north and south respectively.  That leaves the Canary Islands and Madiera as possibilities. Both are possible but the Canary Islands seem more likely.

The reason I prefer the Canary Islands over Madiera is threefold. First, the islands have been continuously inhabited since antiquity according to Pliny the Elder, who documented a Mauretanian excursion to the island about 50 BC.  According to Pliny, this expedition found the islands inhabited and with large ruins much greater than the civilizations living there.  This would seem to imply a much more advanced civilization had inhabited the islands in the past.  Finally, the language and mtDNA of the aboriginal inhabitants of the islands, the Guanches, has been confirmed to most closely resemble the north African Berber tribes. Given that Atlantis undoubtedly had colonies on the mainland, this finding makes sense.  Madiera has none of these advantages, which leads me to think the Canary Islands are the most likely spot for Atlantis if it existed.

I want to point out here, that I am in no way taking a dogmatic stand that the Canary Islands must be the location of Atlantis. However, if Plato’s account is accurate, which is an assumption, then the Canary Islands seem to tick all the boxes. They are in roughly the right location and are inhabited by a people who even secularists believe had been there since 1000 BC. There were ruins there much grander than the people who lived there, hinting at a great past civilization.  It is expected that a society that suffered through the catastrophe Atlantis did would revert to a more savage lifestyle as the Guanches did in the aftermath., often out of necessity.  Further, both the language and the heritage of the Guanches match North African tribes, which live in regions likely colonized by Atlantis. If it existed, these are all things that we would expect to find. While this does not prove Atlantis existed or if the Canary Islands are its modern remnants, it is interesting to consider the possibility that the Canary Islands are the location where the lost city once stood.

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