Atlantis in Spain

A National Geographic Documentary Tries to Make the Case, but Does It?

Atlantis has, at last, been found! That, at least, is the view of American archaeologist, Richard Freund, whose research was highlighted in a March National Geographic Channel special. “Finding Atlantis” follows Freund’s international team of field researchers to an extensive region of mud-flats just north of Cadiz and south of Seville, Spain. Beginning in 2009, Freund employed satellite photography, ground-penetration radar, and digital mapping of the vast marshlands which, he believes, conceal the lost city in Doñana Park, one of Europe’s largest swamps.

The site in question had been discovered six years earlier when a German aerial surveyor was intrigued by satellite imagery of what appeared to be the outline of an expansive and curiously circular formation in the Parque National Coto de Doñana. Headed by geophysicist Paul Bauman from Worley Parsons in Calgary, Canada, Freund’s expedition used electrical resistivity tomography—a virtual MRI of the ground—to quickly and efficiently map subsurface targets and provide instantaneous results for archaeologists. They are convinced that, indeed, Atlantis has been found there, because both satellite photography and electronic surveying indicate an artificial arrangement of concentric circles conforming with Plato’s description of the imperial capital as described in his fourth century BC dialogue, the Critias. They believe the location under consideration was a harbor city buried by the water and mud of a great and ancient tsunami, long since turned to marshland.

Professor Freund, the driving force behind the Doñana Park investigations, is Director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at Connecticut’s University of Hartford, and has conducted recent archaeological work across Israel. Interesting as his work in Spain appears, however, Freund’s assertions seem somewhat premature. To date, no excavations have been undertaken at the site which he proclaims to be Atlantis. Without thorough, systematic digs of the archaeological zone, nothing certain can be known about it. Moreover, a chronological frame to help determine the site’s place in prehistory is missing. Freund’s conclusions are based almost entirely on aerial photography and a pair of figurines his team-members recovered from the area. Unquestionably significant finds, these small ceramics are, however, clearly identifiable as Phoenician representations of the fertility goddess, Astarte, and must date no earlier than 800 BC, when the Phoenicians began colonizing Iberia. They cannot, therefore, be associated with Atlantis, which, by all accounts, perished centuries earlier.

Dating the lost city has been and remains among the most hotly contested topics among Atlantologists. Plato stated that the capital was destroyed 9,000 years before an Egyptian temple-priest shared his account with Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, who visited the Nile Delta during the mid-sixth century BC. In other words, Atlantis was supposedly lost some 11,560 years ago. Advocates of a literal interpretation of Plato’s dialogues point out that this date coincides with the close of the last glacial epoch, when catastrophic flooding occurred throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Whole island chains disappeared beneath rising seas, and vast coastal territories of Western Europe were inundated.

Opponents point out that Plato’s detailed portrayal of Atlantis—its citadel, fleets of ocean-going ships, metallurgy, chariots, statuary, monumental architecture, urban planning, codified laws, agriculture, distribution of labor, organized religion, political hierarchy, etc., etc.—describes a characteristically Late Bronze Age civilization (1500 to 1200 BC), and could not have, therefore, flourished during the Lower Paleolithic era, when the wheel, like virtually every other material detail associated with Atlantis, had not yet been invented.

Freund opposes both camps, placing the capital’s final destruction before 2800 BC, a date based on several “memorial cities” built in the image of Atlantis throughout south-central Spain. Their very real existence actually demonstrates, however, that his Doñana Park find is by no means unique.

During the late twentieth century, soon after Spanish archaeologists began excavating the ruins of an ancient metropolis outside and at least partially covered by Andalusia’s modern city of Jaén, they were surprised not only by the prodigious extent of the buried site but its configuration, unlike any they had seen before. The pre-Classical urban center had been laid out in concentric circles of alternating canals separating artificial land-rings with a smaller, central island large enough to accommodate a village but more likely used as a sacred acropolis, a mirror image in virtually all but size of Plato’s Atlantis. Moats were of varying width and depth, larger as they move outward from a ceremonial hub. An innermost canal surrounding the central island is approximately 12 feet wide and nine feet deep, while the next outer moats, respectively, are 40 feet long and 66 feet across, and about 21 feet deep.

The ruined bases of towers at Jaén are spaced at regular intervals around the perimeter, their circular and semicircular designs similar to examples at another Andalusian location, the Neolithic fortress of Los Millares, dated to circa 3025 BC. In their original condition, the towers must have been particularly lofty affairs, judging from their broad foundations and an abundance of rubble resulting from their collapse. The entire archaeological zone displays advanced construction techniques in the application of mortared stonework extensively combined with adobe brick.

While mainstream scholars may be baffled by the subterranean find at Jaén, its unmistakable resemblance to Plato’s description of Atlantis is reinforced by more than obvious physical comparisons. Carbon-14 testing of human skeletal remains found in the sixth canal helped time frame the city’s earliest construction between 2470 B.C. and 2030 BC, with a probable mean date of 2200 BC. The Jaén location was badly damaged and entirely abandoned with great suddenness sometime before 1500 BC. Rebuilding began after the next 300 years, when a new population took up residence— survivors, it would appear, from the final destruction of Atlantis in 1198 B.C., at least as the interpretors of a Bronze Age Atlantis would have it.

Jaén’s five, artificial islands and six moats incorporate the sacred numerals of Atlantis, as mentioned by Plato. Yet, this site was not the first of its kind but preceded by Los Millares, more than 500 years earlier. “The plan did not develop gradually,” Florida Atlantologist, Kenneth Caroli, points out, “but instead was present from the beginning, as if working from a known model since lost.” The Romans knew this strange place as Auringis, from the Greek Ouringis, although neither Romans nor Greeks were its builders. Nearly 200 miles from Jaén with its enigmatic “City of Golden Rings,” the famous “Lady of Elche,” La Dama de Elche, was found in Alicante province, on the banks of the Rio Vinalopo, not far from the town of Elche. It was here that the magnificent, polychrome masterpiece emerged during an archaeological dig in 1897. On permanent display at Seville Archaeological Museum, the artwork represents an aristocratic or royal woman wearing precious jewelry and elaborate headgear. Stylistically, she resembles nothing similar but has suggested Atlantean provenance to many researchers, including the leading archaeologist in Spain of the 1920s.

The U.S.-born director of the prestigious Anglo-Spanish-American School of Archaeology after World War One, Elena Maria Whishaw was widely respected by her peers as one of the outstanding archaeologists of her time. At least until she went public with the results of her findings following extensive excavation of a pre-Classical site near the Andalusian town of Niebla. Dr. Whishaw declared that evidence in the form of monumental, concentric walls and Bronze Age metallurgy clearly defined an important cultural impact made in Andalusia by civilizers from Atlantis, where they established a rich colony throughout south-central Spain. She was undecided if the ruins at Niebla belonged to one of Freund’s “memorial cities” or the Atlantean kingdom of Gadieros. The name appears in Plato’s dialogue, the Critias, where an Atlantean king, Gadieros, ruled over a region of coastal Spain. To be sure, the modern city of Cadiz is the same ancient Gades known to the Romans and, before them, the Phoenicians, who did not build the city but occupied it, and the Greeks called “Gadira.”

Plato is not the only source for information about Gadieros in Iberia. The Gauls themselves spoke of their first chiefs arriving at the mouth of the River Tagus, in or very near present-day Lisbon. There, they settled for a time, naming their first town “Port of the Gauls,” the Latin Porto Galli, from which derived the modern name of “Portugal.” Eventually, they moved into the Continent to become the earliest leaders of Western Europe’s Gallic tribes. Their monarch who led them from the sunken Turris Vitrea, or “Island of Glass Towers,” according to the early twelfth Century AD cleric and compiler of Welsh myth, Geoffrey of Monmouth, was the “Chieftain of the Peoples,” Hu-Gadarn, likewise claimed by the Druids. They told their Roman conquerors that the Celts were partly descended from refugees of a drowned land in the Far West.

Legend begins to merge with history at this point, when Celtic origins began in the early twelfth century BC. Tumulus Culture—the same period that supposedly witnessed the dispersal of Atlanteans from their engulfed homeland. Hu-Gadarn is mentioned in the Hanes Taliesin, the “Tale of Taliesin,” a Welsh epic anonymously composed around 690 AD but derived from much older, oral folk tradition subsequently Christianized to save its “pagan” content from proscription by Roman Church officials. Hu-Gadarn is still popularly regarded in Wales as the first ancestor of the Cymry, the Welsh people, but his Atlantean identity is no less apparent: “I have been fostered in the Ark,” he confesses. The Hanes Taliesin reports, “He had been fostered between the knees of Dylan and the Deluge,” arriving in Wales after a worldwide flood whipped up by a monstrous serpent. “Dylan” was Dylan Aldon (“Dylan of Atlan[tis]”?), the Celts’ own sea god and counterpart of Poseidon, the mythic builder of Atlantis in Plato’s account. “Hu” was not part of the Welsh hero’s name but rather a title referring to his royal lineage.

The Greek Gadir, Welsh Gadarn and pre-Phoenician Gades self-evidently derive from Gadieros, Plato’s Greek-language version of the Atlantean original, from which they all phoenetically derived.

Dr. Whishaw was neither the first nor last to detect influences from Atlantis across south-central Spain. She was independently preceded in her conclusion during the 1890s by the renowned German archaeologist, Adolf Schulten (1870 to 1960), and long after credited by L. Sprague de Camp (1907 to 2000), the famous American science and sci-fi writer, formerly a staunch disbeliever in Atlantis, later convinced it did indeed exist in south-coastal Iberia. That same opinion is shared by Dr. Freund, whose find at Doñana Park seems related to the other, ancient, concentrically laid out urban centers of Los Millares, Jaén and Niebla, each one suggestive of Atlantis. But these sites are not unique to Iberia, or even Europe.

In the northeast section of Louisiana may be found the remains of North America’s oldest city, known today as Poverty Point. It, too, was laid out in alternating rings of dry land and excavated canals, whose numbers correspond to the sa­cred numerals—five and six—Plato writes were observed by the Atlanteans. Moreover, Poverty Point was built by a people unknown to archaeologists around 1500 BC—the zenith of the European Bronze Age—and experienced a powerful population surge 300 years later, coinciding with the abrupt, catastrophic end of the Late Bronze Age, linked by some investigators to the final destruction of Atlantis.

Stylistically-related sites, such as Poverty Point, Los Millares, Jaén, Niebla, and now Professor Freund’s discovery, cannot all be Atlantis, but are more likely, as he has termed them, “memorial cities” raised by survivors after the loss of their original capital. Since the site in question still awaits excavation, he has been unable so far to obtain any reliable dates for it. If they should prove even slightly later than or roughly contemporaneous with those “memorial cities,” the location must be disqualified as a candidate for Atlantis herself. Acceptance of his claim in that regard is made additionally difficult by the Doñana Park site’s position 100 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Plato clearly defined Atlantis as the first city of “a large island lying beyond the Pillars of Heracles,” out into the Atlantic Ocean. He distinguishes its whereabouts from an affiliated kingdom mentioned earlier—Gadieros—in Spain.

None of this is to deprecate Professor Freund’s work. On the contrary, he is pursuing what seems to be a significant lead with apparent connections, however postdiluvian, to Atlantis—connections that may go far to help establish the lost city’s prehistorical reality. He has already positively contributed to the age-old debate by shifting its focus away from the Aegean Sea, where it has for far too long been sidetracked and misidentified with Minoan Crete or Thera (today’s island of Santorini), and, to the delight of investigators arguing for a Bronze Age interpretation, directed attention away from the last ice age. He has also sufficiently impressed directors of the influential National Geographic Society to abandon their traditional hostility concerning any serious discussion of Atlantis, allowing for a freer consideration by both the public and, at long last, his scientific colleagues. As such, he is the first academic scholar in recent decades to boldly declare himself on the side of a credible Atlantis.

Although he may not have actually found Plato’s sunken capital itself, Professor Freund is unquestionably investigating an area of the world potentially rich in great, related finds. While searching for the lost city, he is almost certain to uncover something almost equally valuable in its own way. Until then, those who share his passion for the premiere discovery of all time closely follow his expeditions into Spain’s Parque National Coto de Doñana with anxious anticipation.

BY FRANK JOSEPH

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