History Files


Eastern Mediterranean

Satellite Images of Atlantis?

Paul Rincon, BBC News Online, 6 June 2004

A scientist says he may have found remains of the lost city of Atlantis.

Satellite photos of southern Spain reveal features on the ground appearing to match descriptions made by Greek scholar Plato of the fabled utopia.

Dr Rainer Kuehne thinks the "island" of Atlantis simply referred to a region of the southern Spanish coast which was destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC.

The research has been reported as an ongoing project in the online edition of the journal Antiquity.

Satellite photos of a salt marsh region known as Marisma de Hinojos near the city of Cadiz show two rectangular structures in the mud and parts of concentric rings that may once have surrounded them.

"Plato wrote of an island of five stades (925m) diameter that was surrounded by several circular structures - concentric rings - some consisting of earth and the others of water. We have in the photos concentric rings just as Plato described," Dr Kuehne said.

Dr Kuehne believes the rectangular features could be the remains of a "silver" temple devoted to the sea god Poseidon and a "golden" temple devoted to Cleito and Poseidon - all described in Plato's dialogue, Critias.

Temples of the sea god

The identification of the site with Atlantis was first proposed by Werner Wickboldt, a lecturer and Atlantis enthusiast who spotted the rectangles and concentric rings by studying photographs from across the Mediterranean for signs of the city described by Plato.

The sizes of the "island" and its rings in the satellite image are slightly larger than those described by Plato. There are two possible explanations for this, says Dr Kuehne.

Marisma de Hinojos near the city of Cadiz

The imagery may show the former locations of major buildings and rings

View image

First, Plato may have underplayed the size of Atlantis. Secondly, the ancient unit of measurement used by Plato - the stade - may have been 20% larger than traditionally assumed.

If the latter is true, one of the rectangular features on the "island" matches almost exactly the dimensions given by Plato for the temple of Poseidon.

Mr Wickboldt explained: "This is the only place that seems to fit [Plato's] description."

He added that the Greeks might have confused an Egyptian word referring to a coastline with one meaning "island" during transmission of the Atlantis story.

Commenting on the satellite image showing the two "temples", Tony Wilkinson, an expert in the use of remote sensing in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, commented: "A lot of the problems come with interpretations. I can see something there and I could imagine that one could interpret it in various ways. But you've got several leaps of faith here."

Metal trading

"We use the imagery to recognise certain types of imprint on the ground and then do [in the field] verification on them. Based on what we see on the ground we make an interpretation.

Concentric rings mark where Atlantis might have been

It is claimed that concentric rings surround the temple site

View image

"What we need here is a date range. Otherwise, you're just dealing with morphology. But the [features] are interesting."

The fabled utopia of Atlantis has captured the imagination of scholars for centuries. The earliest known records of this mythical land appear in Plato's dialogues, Critias and Timaios.

His depiction of a land of fabulous wealth, advanced civilisation and natural beauty has spurred many adventurers to seek out its location.

One recent theory equates Atlantis with Spartel Island, a mud shoal in the straits of Gibraltar that sank into the sea in about 9000 BC.

Plato described Atlantis as having a "plain". Dr Kuehne said this might be the plain that extends today from Spain's southern coast up to the city of Seville. The high mountains described by the Greek scholar could be the Sierra Morena and Sierra Nevada.

"Plato also wrote that Atlantis is rich in copper and other metals. Copper is found in abundance in the mines of the Sierra Morena," Dr Kuehne explained.

A representation of how Atlantis might have looked
  We have in the photos concentric rings just as Plato described

Dr Rainer Kuehne  

Dr Kuehne noticed that the war between Atlantis and the eastern Mediterranean described in Plato's writings closely resembled attacks on Egypt, Cyprus and the Levant during the 12th Century BC by mysterious raiders known as the Sea Peoples.

As a result, he proposes that the Atlanteans and the Sea Peoples were in fact one and the same.

This dating would equate the city and society of Atlantis with either the Iron Age Tartessos culture of southern Spain or another, unknown, Bronze Age culture. A link between Atlantis and Tartessos was first proposed in the early 20th Century.

Dr Kuehne said he hoped to attract interest from archaeologists to excavate the site. But this may be tricky. The features in the satellite photo are located within Spain's Donana national park.



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