Atlantis in the Azores

Could a Newly Discovered Underwater Pyramid Resurrect an Old Hypothesis?

Dr. David Zink (1927–2008) was among the very few world-class scholars in the United States with personal courage enough to publicly state that Atlantis was real. His years of research at the Bimini Wall, a 1200-foot-long stone structure lying under 19 feet of water 55 miles east of Miami, not only established its man-made provenance, but strongly suggested an Atlantean identity. Although he persuasively argued on behalf of the wall’s original function as a harbor facility, Dr. Zink concluded that Bimini was only an outpost, not Atlantis itself. The sunken city was out of place in the Bahamas, but must lie, he believed, among the Azores.

These are a collection of nine, volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic, 850 miles west of Portugal and 1,196 miles southeast of Newfoundland. Their mid-ocean position was to him a more likely location for an ancient power that, according to Plato’s account, extended its colonial reach to continents on either side of the imperial capital. Dr. Zink based his preference for the Azores on more than geography, however. They are still officially recognized today by Portuguese governing authorities as os vestigios dos Atlantida, “the remains of Atlantis” and not without cause. The oldest known reference to the Azores appears in Homer’s Odyssey, where he refers (probably) in its Latin translation to São Miguel—largest in the island group—as umbilicus maris, or “the Navel of the Ocean,” the name of an Atlantean mystery-cult (see “Atlantis, Navel of the World,” in A.R. #101).

The name, “Azores,” supposedly derives from Portuguese for “hawks,” or acores. The late Hungarian specialist in comparative linguistics, Dr. Vamos-Toth Bator, believed instead that “Azores” is a corruption of “Azaes,” the monarch of an Atlantean kingdom, as cited in Plato’s account, the Kritias. The islands were uninhabited at the time of their discovery by Captain Diego de Sevilha in 1427, but a few important artifacts were found on Santa Maria, where a cave concealed a stone altar decorated with serpentine designs, and at Corvo, famous for a small cask of Carthaginian coins dated to the fifth century BC.

A more dramatic find was an equestrian statue atop a mountain at São Miguel. The 15-foot tall bronze masterpiece comprised a block pedestal bearing a badly weathered inscription and surmounted by a magnificent horse, its nude rider stretching forth a right arm and pointing out across the sea, toward the west. King John V ordered the statue removed to Portugal, but his governor’s men botched the job when they accidentally dropped the colossus down the mountainside. Only the rider’s head and one arm, together with the horse’s head and flank and an impression of the pedestal’s inscription, were salvaged and sent on to the king. These items were preserved in his royal palace, but scholars were unable to effect a translation of the “archaic Latin,” as they thought the inscription might have read.

They were reasonably sure of deciphering a single word—“cates”—although they could not determine its significance. If correctly transcribed, it might be related to cati, which means, appropriately enough, “go that way,” in the language spoken by the Incas, Quechua. Cattigara is the name of a Peruvian city, as indicated on a second century AD Roman map, so a South American connection with the mysterious São Miguel statue seems likely. Cattigara was probably Peru’s Cajamarca, a deeply ancient, pre-Inca site. Indeed, the two city names are not even that dissimilar and derive from the Atlanto-Quechua root-word, cates/cati. Moreover, the Incas themselves told how the founding father of their civilization was Kon-Tiki-Viracocha (literally, “Sea Foam,” a reference to his overseas origins), described as a tall, red-haired culture-bearer who arrived in the Andes after surviving the destruction of his distant homeland, overwhelmed by a catastrophic flood.

In 1755, however, all the artifacts taken from São Miguel were lost during a great earthquake that destroyed 85 percent of Lisbon. While neither Santa Maria’s altar in the cave nor São Miguel’s equestrian statue were certifiably Atlantean, they unquestionably evidenced an ancient world occupation of the Azores, and the bronze rider’s pointed gesture toward the west suggests more distant voyages to the Americas. Roman accounts of islands nine-days sail from Lusitania (Portugal) describe the contemporary sailing time to the Azores. The first century BC Greek geographer, Diodorus Siculus, reported that the Carthaginians and Etruscans contested each other for control of Atlantic islands, which were almost certainly the Azores. We recall Corvo’s cache of coins, while the Etruscans were extraordinary and prolific bronze sculptors who favored equestrian themes, such as the example at São Miguel. Both the Phoenicians and Etruscans were outstanding seafarers. Atlantologists hold that the Etruscans did not discover the islands but learned of them from their Atlantean fathers and grandfathers.

The Azores’ lack of human habitation at the time of their Portuguese discovery, and their paucity of civilized remains, may be explained in terms of the Atlantis catastrophe itself which forced their evacuation and, over the subsequent course of centuries of geologic turmoil, buried most of what survived under lava flows, which are common in the seismically active islands. São Miguel, for example, boasts numerous active volcanoes, one of which is known as Sete Cidades, the “Seven Cities,” for as many vents. Its caldera is more than three miles across, with walls some 1500 feet high. Sete Cidades has erupted at least eight times since 1444. São Miguel’s largest, most dangerous volcano is Furnas. With a summit caldera nearly four miles in diameter and 1000 to 120 feet deep, Furnas generated a week-long eruption in 1630 that claimed the lives of more than 200 persons, mostly in boiling, swift-running mud flows. An unspecified group of pyroclastic cones in the Azores experienced a single, historic eruption in 1652, but Agua de Pau erupted 89 years earlier for almost a month. Just off shore, the Monaco Bank submarine volcano blew up in 1907, and again four years later. Millennia of such volcanic activity would have been unquestionably capable of burying whole cities under rivers of molten lava.

In any case, Santa Maria’s subterranean altar, Corvo’s Carthaginian coins, and fragments of São Miguel’s equestrian statue have been missing for so many years that most mainstream scholars doubt they ever existed, resulting in textbook histories describing the islands as uninhabited until the Portuguese arrived during the mid-fifteenth century. As recently as 2011, however, this conventional version of history was invalidated with the discovery of numerous, prehistoric sites throughout the archipelago.

“We have found a rock art site [at Terceira] with representations we believe can be dated back to the Bronze Age,” Nuno Ribeiro announced at a symposium of local scholars at the University of the Azores, on São Miguel, in July 2011. “We have an epigraph from Roman times, according to two scientists who were invited to interpret the inscription, a cave art site, megalithic structures, and an important set of structures scattered throughout the islands that need to be interpreted in new ways.” Ribeiro established the Center of Rock Art Interpretation in Vide-Seia, Portugal, in 1998, when he and his colleague, Anabela Joaquinino, field archaeologists from Lisbon-based Portuguese Association of Archeological Research, began investigating physical evidence for prehistoric occupation of the Azores.

“In some cases, we believe that there are temples and hypogea [subterranean temples]. We have no doubt that there are sanctuaries.” Foundation structures resembling those of early fourth century BC temples dedicated to Tanit were uncovered at Monte Brasil, Angra do Heroismo at Corvo. Tanit was the Carthaginian mother goddess and divine nurse associated with war, healing, and fertility. Her earliest symbol was a trapezoid closed by a horizontal line at the top and surmounted in the middle by a circle. The horizontal arm was often terminated either by two, short, upright lines at right angles to it, or by hooks. In a later development, the trapezoid was replaced by an isosceles triangle, but it always represented a woman raising her hands. It is this later version that Ribeiro and Joaquinino have found in the Azores.

They first presented their findings at the Mediterranean Archaeology Congress of March 2011, followed shortly thereafter before scientists at the University of Catania in Italy, and the annual SEAC Congress in Évora, Portugal. According to a leading article in the Portuguese American Journal, a structure located at Monte do Facho features in-built sink, together with “carvings linked to water conduits for libations. There are ‘chairs’ carved into the rock, a ceremonial tank covered by vegetation, and dozens of postholes indicating the existence of a shelter over the area. The temples carved inside the hypogea structures are large and very well preserved and were drawn almost in a triangular shape,” suggestive of Tanit worship. “In the first temple,” Ribeiro stated, “there are four sinks linked to conduits to collect fresh water associated with ritual libations, probably for sacrifices purposes.” The second and third shrines are located in the area of Forte de São Diego, on Terceira, and were discovered in late June 2011.

Although these finds complement the Carthaginian coins found on Corvo more than 100 years ago, more spectacular are the 140 pyramids which have even more recently come to light in the Azores, mostly throughout the Madalena area of Pico Island. Although they vary in ruinous condition, some are over roughly 43 feet tall, but all were made of lava rock, and at least a few appear to have been oriented to the summer solstice. “Others,” according to Ribeiro, “have internal chambers not yet explored. Some of the mounds, known by locals as maroiços, seem related to similar pyramids found in the Canary Islands,” where the Guanche natives preserved oral traditions of Atlantis. Lava-rock structures in both island groups are self-evidently unrelated to either Carthaginians or Romans, who arrived in the Azores and Canaries many centuries after the maroiços were built.

Hard on the heels of their discovery, a vacationing veternarian was enjoying a fishing trip between São Miguel and Terceira in May 2013, when the screen of his sonar suddenly lit up with the image of an unusual feature on the ocean floor, 130 feet beneath the keel of his yacht. “It was a perfectly squared pyramid,” Dr. Diocleciano Silva told Diário Insular, the Azores’ leading newspaper, “with a base of around 24,000 square feet—larger than a football field—and oriented to the cardinal points. The apex rises to 40 feet beneath the surface of the sea, giving the structure an overall height of 90 feet.”

According to Portugal’s Terra News Service, “oceanographers at the Portuguese Navy’s Hydrographic Institute are currently analyzing the data to determine whether it is in fact man-made or not. Admiral Fernando Pires, commander of the Maritime Zone of Azores, said there is not enough information about the pyramid at this time to say what exactly it is. Pires said the navy has not ruled out the possibility that the pyramid could have been formed by a volcano,” although that would be a first: precisely how any volcanic activity might result in a perfectly squared pyramid defies current geological sense.

Silva’s pyramid does, however, lie close to a large, dangerous, submarine volcano—the Dom João de Castro Bank, named after the hydrographic ship that identified its position and cataloged its morphology in 1941. Eight years later, Dr. Maurice Ewing, aboard the National Geographic Society vessel Challenger, used the first sonar survey of Dom João de Castro to determine its original condition as a large, volcanic island standing more than 1000 feet above sea level, until it suddenly fell to its present depth. That cataclysmic event transpired within the last ten thousand years, within the postglacial period associated with Atlantis.

The underwater pyramid is perched on a relatively shallow lip of the Hirondelle Deep, where Dom João de Castro is located. The subaqua volcano’s earliest historical eruption occurred in spring 1718, when it sank a pair of ships. Two years later, it disgorged enough magmatic material to form a circular island rising 800 feet above sea level and a mile across. Within 24 months, however, Ilha Nova (the “New Island”), as it had come to be known, vanished back into the ocean. Today, Dom João de Castro peaks at 39 feet beneath the surface. Its geologically violent temper, collapse into the sea during pre-classical times, and proximity to an apparently man-made pyramid all suggest Plato’s lost city, just where the late Dr. Zink predicted its ruins would someday be found.

Silva was reluctant to discuss his underwater find with anyone for fear of ridicule, as often befalls accidental discoverers of potentially paradigm-shattering clues. He increasingly felt compelled by the possible significance of the sunken structure, however, to share its position and sonar data with Portugal’s Ministry of Culture in September, last year. Since then, Portuguese naval authorities have supposedly undertaken a closer examination of the target, but no further public announcements have been forthcoming, and inquiries by this writer to obtain any pertinent information from Portugal’s Terra News Service, The Iberia Times, Diário Insular, or Portuguese American Journal have come to nothing.

Perhaps the scientific authorities there, as elsewhere, are attempting to kill the discovery with silence, because its natural identity, if proved, would have deserved at least some media coverage after so many persons around the world—particularly via YouTube—were alerted to and were subsequently fascinated by Silva’s claim. If, on the other hand, the sunken structure is verifiably artificial, far too many academic apple carts would be overturned and mainstream reputations compromised by the emergence of such a truth. By way of cogent comparison, the abundantly documented discovery of an entire ancient city under the Gulf of Cambay, off the coast of northwestern India, by university-trained, professionally certified field investigators has been entirely ignored by archaeologists in the outside world. Over the last 13 years since this major find was made, it is still virtually unknown throughout the West. We should hardly expect a physically smaller, if no less revolutionary, discovery in the mid-Atlantic Ocean to win better recognition. Dr. Silva’s story does not end here, however. Our own investigation has just begun.

By Frank Joseph