Finding Atlantis

This is Doug Johnson. And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today we tell about efforts to find and prove the existence of the ancient lost city of Atlantis.

A French scientist believes he has identified the mysterious ancient city of Atlantis. Jacques Collina-Girard says it probably was an island near Spain that sank about eleven-thousand years ago. He says he made the discovery while studying levels of the Atlantic Ocean in ancient times.

For thousands of years, people told of the highly developed ancient civilization of Atlantis. The island-city became a legend -- a story repeated over time. The Greek writer Plato wrote about it more than two-thousand-three-hundred years ago. Today, scientists are trying to find evidence of Atlantis and prove it existed.

Jacques Collina-Girard says Atlantis was an island called Spartel. He says it was about thirty-two kilometers southwest of what is now Tarifa, Spain and about nineteen kilometers northwest of Tangier, Morocco. The scientist says Atlantis' remains now are sandy areas on the ocean bottom. He estimates that these remains could be as deep as one-hundred-twenty-five meters below the surface of the ocean.

Mr. Collina-Girard published his research in the "Proceedings of the French Academy of Sciences." The magazine "New Scientist" also reported his findings. Mr. Collina-Girard works for the University of the Mediterranean in Aix-en-Provence, France. He is an expert in the history, structure and development of the Earth.

Mr. Collina-Girard studied levels of the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and Morocco. He says this area contained seven islands during the last Ice Age about twenty-thousand years ago. He believes the sea level at that time was about one-hundred-twenty meters lower than it is today.

The French scientist says the seven islands were at the west end of the Strait of Gibraltar. This is very similar to where Plato placed Atlantis. Plato wrote that Atlantis was in front of what he called the Pillars of Hercules. Mr. Collina-Girard says the Pillars of Hercules now are known as the Strait of Gibraltar.

Plato wrote about Atlantis in his works "Timaeus" and "Critias." He wrote that the people of Atlantis had a highly developed civilization for many centuries. The island was a center for trade and business. He described the people of Atlantis as powerful and intelligent. Their rulers governed areas of Europe and Africa in addition to their own island.

Plato described a land of beautiful mountains, valleys and rivers. The people enjoyed rich harvests and grew many kinds of herbs, fruits and nuts. Many animals lived on Atlantis, including a large population of elephants.

Plato wrote that the society was a happy one for centuries. In its last years, however, the people were guilty of great wrongdoing. The gods punished them by destroying their city.

Ice covered large parts of the Earth during the Ice Age. When the Ice Age ended, the Earth warmed. Much of the ice melted. Mr. Collina-Girard says this caused the sea level to rise for about fifteen-thousand years. At first it rose slowly. Then it rose faster as time passed.

Toward the end of the melting period, the ocean covered all but Atlantis and one other island. Mr. Collina-Girard reports that the sea rose an average of two-point-four meters during each of the last three-hundred years that Atlantis existed. About eleven-thousand years ago, the scientist says Atlantis disappeared under the water.

Plato wrote a different ending for Atlantis. He wrote that volcanoes destroyed it. However, Mr. Collina-Girard says Plato may have been trying to add interest to his story. Mr. Collina-Girard also says Plato was wrong about the size of Atlantis. Plato wrote that it was bigger than Asia and Libya together. Mr. Collina-Girard says it was much smaller. The scientist says it was only about fourteen kilometers long by five kilometers wide.

Mr. Collina-Girard says an accident led him to find where he believes Atlantis existed. He says he made the discovery while doing research about another ancient civilization. This caused him to investigate changing sea levels in the ancient world.

Other scientists say there is only one way to find out if Atlantis was near Spain. They say scientists must explore the bottom of the ocean. Jacques Collina-Girard plans to dive in the area next summer. Finding objects from a human society would provide more evidence for his discovery.

Over the centuries, scientists, historians, writers and sailors all have searched for Atlantis in many places. Today, however, one of the commonly accepted beliefs is that Atlantis was an island called Thira about one-hundred-thirteen kilometers north of Crete in the Aegean Sea.

Some people believe Thira was Atlantis because a volcano destroyed the island about three-thousand-five-hundred years ago. However, Mr. Collina-Girard says this idea does not take note of Plato's writings. Plato wrote that the gods destroyed Atlantis nine-thousand years before his time. That would mean Atlantis sank about eleven-thousand years ago.

Some people believe the Azores Islands are the mountain tops of the sunken island of Atlantis. More than one-hundred years ago, a former United States Congressman, Ignatius Donnelly, said Atlantis probably was in the Azores Islands. These Atlantic Ocean islands are about one-thousand-three-hundred kilometers west of Portugal.

Mr. Donnelly believed this because of studies of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Eighteen-Seventies. The ridge is one of the Earth's largest line of underwater mountains. It extends almost ten-thousand kilometers in the center of the North and South Atlantic Oceans.

American, British and German ships made deep-sea soundings in the ridge. The soundings showed parts of sunken land near the Azores. Mud raised from the sunken land contained lava material that had flowed from volcanoes.

Over the years, people have claimed that the lost city of Atlantis existed in other areas around the world. They include South America, the Middle East, the coast of Western Africa, the Sahara Desert and Iceland. Another popular theory says the remains of Atlantis are in Antarctica in the most southern part of the world. Many people believe the city lies under many levels of ice.

This belief developed partly from very old maps. Sailors made one of these maps in Fifteen-Thirteen. A Roman Catholic clergyman made another map in Sixteen-Sixty-Five. It appeared to have placed Atlantis in the north Atlantic Ocean. But the clergyman had written "north" on the bottom of the page. Scientists in more modern times say both maps showed the same piece of land. Some people say this land was warm enough in ancient times for people to have lived there.

Many scientists say Atlantis never existed anywhere. But others now accept the possibility of a real Atlantis because of the science of plate tectonics. Earth scientists say continents are continually moving. They say the continents float on pieces of the Earth's outer layer or crust.

New crust is created as melted rock pushes up from below the ocean floor. Old crust is destroyed as it rolls down into the hot area and melts again. In the Nineteen-Fifties, American researchers studied the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. They used modern equipment to investigate the ocean floor. Their research helped prove that continents move.

For many years, scientists believed continents separated over millions of years. They believed that continents divided by moving from side to side. Plate tectonics science suggests that land separates from continents as Earth moves up and down.

It suggests that such separation takes place when volcanoes explode. This results in the creation of islands. Plate tectonics science also suggests that seas can cover and destroy islands. Scientist Jacques Collina-Girard believes that is how life may have ended for the people of Atlantis.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Doug Johnson. And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - January 22, 2002: Finding Atlantis
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2002-01/a-2002-01-18-3-1.cfm?renderforprint=1