First described by Plato, Atlantis and its catastrophic downfall
is one of popular science's most enduring controversies - the
original location of the vanished civilisation is still hotly
Quite why a story written 2,500 years ago by the Greek
philosopher Plato continues to capture the public imagination is a
mystery in itself - a mystery fed by countless books, films,
articles, web pages, and now a Disney cartoon. It has spawned a rich
populist sub-culture (much of it internet-based) which pits the
passions and imaginations of committed 'Atlanteans' against the
orthodox analysis of the scientific mainstream.
Part of the contemporary appeal of the Atlantis story has no
doubt been fed by scientists. Historians, archaeologists and
geologists have also entered the debate to contest the various
literary, historical or geographical elements of the story.
So what do we actually know about Atlantis and its demise?
The answer is not much. Plato's story comes to us from two short
pieces, Tinnaeus and Critias, believed to have been written in the
decade or so before his death in 348 BC.
In these, he presents an apparently true account of an ideal
society that existed many millennia before the Classical Greek times
in which he was writing.
According to Plato, Atlantis was a great island (larger than
Libya and Asia combined) in the Atlantic Ocean, but its control
extended beyond the 'Pillars of Heracles' (the Straits of Gibraltar)
into the Mediterranean as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia (Italy).