Satellite images 'Show Atlantis'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff
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 destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC.
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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 told BBC News Online.
Dr Kuehne, of the University of Wuppertal in Germany, 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 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.
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.
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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.
The features were originally spotted by Werner Wickboldt, a lecturer and Atlantis enthusiast who studied photographs from across the Mediterranean for signs of the city described by Plato.
"This is the only place that seems to fit [Plato's] description," he told BBC News Online. Mr Wickboldt 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, UK, told BBC News Online: "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.
"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.
"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 11,000 years ago.
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.
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 People.
As a result, he proposes that the Atlanteans and the Sea People 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.