Thirty-eight years ago, steel leviathans silently, invisibly stalked each other in the dark, lightless depths of the North Atlantic with nuclear-warhead torpedoes. More than once, their near-miss encounters almost made of the Cold War a hot one, and unofficial accusations of submarines on both sides deliberately sunk with all hands, are still around, nearly four decades later. Into this fearsome arena and time, stealthily cruised the Moskovsky Universitet, ostensibly a research ship, as her scholarly name was meant to suggest. But it was a small part of her deception. Only one-hundred-seventy-eight feet long and capable of just 11.2 knots, the seven-year-old, former fishing vessel wallowed awkwardly in the ocean swells of autumn 1977. Nearest landfall was two hundred sixty-five miles away at Portugal’s Cape St. Vincent, the European Continent’s westernmost tip. Africa lay three-hundred-forty-two miles to the southeast, and the Rock of Gibraltar stood another thirty-one miles due east. To the forty-one men aboard, the seas they entered seemed excessively remote.
Their purpose, according to Russian officials, “was to study the sandbanks in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean Sea and of the Atlantic Ocean not far from northwest Africa. On board the ship as part of the team were geologists and [marine] biologists. The origin, structure and [animal] population of the sandbanks, the peaks of underwater mountains and of the shallows comprised the main scientific interest of the specialists.” But their “scientific interest” disguised covert operations. Among the “specialists” deep inside the 922-ton Soviet Academy of Sciences’ vessel were Red Navy personnel operating state-of-the-art detection instrumentation for monitoring America’s underwater fleet. They suspected that a particular, strategically located, flat-topped, sunken mountain offered natural opportunities for the installation of an enemy submarine base: the guyot’s uppermost portions were less than two hundred feet beneath the surface of the water. Soviet officials had been alerted to the site’s possible military significance the previous decade, when the RV Vema from New York’s Lamont Geological Observatory had been observed prowling the vicinity.
Now, electronic scanning by Moskovsky Universitet radio engineers picked up no transmissions associated with the Ampere Seamount, but side-scan sonar did reveal what could have been possible construction features there, so a submersible “still camera” with directional capabilities went over the side. A report in the Soviet magazine, Znanie-Sila (“Knowledge Is Power”), told how “lighting equipment and special cameras were lowered to a depth of three-and-a-half meters [eleven-and-a-half feet] above the bottom of the seamount’s summit, after which the lights were switched on, and a series of photographs were taken using a simple, automatic device. Each series took about an hour to an hour-and-a-half to complete.” The resulting several hundred images were assembled into a comprehensive panorama of the subsurface underwater mountaintop by “a specialist in underwater photography from the USSR Institute of Oceanography,” Vladimir Ivanovitch Marakuyev.
“While still on the expedition, when I had developed the photographs and made the first prints,” he said, “I realized that I never had seen anything like this before. The Institute of Oceanography of the USSR has a huge archive of underwater photographs that have been taken on countless expeditions over many years in all parts of the world’s oceans. We also have copies of many thousands of photographs taken by our American colleagues. Nowhere have I seen anything so close to traces of the life and activity of Man in places which could once have been dry land.” Marakuyev was referring to a stonewall of cut and fitted blocks mostly covered by weeds and mud, part of its top sections protruding five feet above the silt layer. Comparative analysis determined that the unobscured section was “slightly longer”—less than six feet—and thirty inches wide.
“On the first photograph,” observed Alexander Nesterenko, director of the Fleet Department of the Institute of Oceanography, “we can see this wall on the left side of the photograph. Stone blocks on the upper edge of the mass are clearly visible. Taking into account the foreshortening of the photograph and the height of the wall, it is curious to examine more closely the strip of vertical masonry. Although the lens was pointing almost vertically downwards, areas of masonry can be seen quite clearly. One can count five such areas, and if one takes into account the deformation of scale caused by the nearness of the lens to the object, one may suggest that the masonry blocks of the wall are about seventy-five centimeters [29.5 inches]. The masonry blocks are clearly visible on both sides of the wall. Seaweed is visible on all the photographs, thick, reddish brown in color …”
“Specialists who’ve looked at it,” added Andrei Aksyonov, deputy director of the Institute of Oceanography at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, “say it’s a typical wall from antiquity.”
Other photographs revealed broad, smooth pavement-like areas, plus the tops of regularly spaced, stone steps suggesting a grand staircase. “On an area over which lava has flowed can be seen something that appears to descend by three steps. If one counts the upper and barely visible lower edges, in all we can see five steps. They are broken down, of course, and overgrown with glass-like sponges.” He stated that the structures “once stood on the surface of land, above sea level. I believe that the objects in the pictures once stood on the surface. The catastrophic earthquake in Lisbon, in 1755, caused a tidal wave and a flood that left part of the city forever beneath the sea. Something similar may have happened to an island of which the Ampere Seamount would be the submarine remnant.”
After repeated testing of the Moskovsky Universitet’s camera equipment and consultations with earth-scientists back in Russia, Marakuyev confirmed that imagery of the apparently man-made structures resulted from neither film, nor instrument anomalies or malfunctions, nor were the unusual targets natural, geologic formations mistaken for artificial features. Dr. Sofia Stepanovna Barinova, from the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biology, cited the immense mantle of silt that overlays the ruins like an obscuring cloak, concealing virtually every trace of physical evidence. A constant deposition of decomposed micro-organic materials has been continuously descending on the ruins, not for centuries but millennia, piling up sediment of unmeasured thickness. Accordingly, Marakuyev’s photographs revealed only a tiny fraction of their uppermost portions. Beneath Ampere’s vast blanket of ooze could hide an entire city. But Russian interest in the sunken mountain had not gone unnoticed.
After I recounted the Moskovsky Universitet’s strange voyage during an October 1999 lecture at the Association for Research and Enlightenment, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, my wife, Laura, was approached by a member of the audience. The man in his late fifties earnestly confided in her that he personally verified the underwater structures described in my presentation. He told her that, at the time, he was aboard a U.S. Navy submarine on patrol in the mid-Atlantic, when orders were received to proceed immediately to the Ampere Seamount and determine the intentions of a Soviet vessel lingering there. The Soviets were so engrossed in their discovery that they were taken by surprise and caught with their lights on, probing the muddy summit of the sunken mountain. Although approached in international waters, the Moskovsky Universitet abruptly hoisted camera cables and anchor, then sailed away with neither recognition signal nor a transmitted word of explanation.
The Americans did not pursue her but turned their attention to whatever it was the Russians were so busily doing when interrupted by the submarine. In short order, they found the same stone wall, staircase, plaza and other man-made features Marakuyev documented. After making their own photographic survey of these unexpected finds, the commanding officer announced to ship’s company that discussing them with anyone, unless questioned by superior officers, was prohibited under a security oath each man swore after enlistment. After the anonymous veteran of these events shared his memories with Laura, he disappeared. I never met him. Whether or not he was to be believed, the Soviets thought enough of their subsurface photographs to launch a second Mount Ampere expedition.
“On the 27th of March 1979,” reporter Craig R. Whitney told readers of The New York Times, “the Soviet vessel Vityaz was found at the delta of the Portuguese river Tago. During the same night, journalists from all over the country and abroad would listen to Dr. [Victor] Ascenov’s scientific announcements regarding the results of their research in the Atlantic. After the necessary introduction to the journalists, the Soviet oceanologist announced some peculiar results regarding their research in the Atlantic Ocean,” specifically, the Ampere Seamount. “After extensive research and based on the measurements of our scientific equipment,” Dr. Ascenov was quoted as saying, “we have identified possible ruins of a submerged city. We clearly identified destroyed walls and gigantic stairs. And although all these items are covered with loads of marine plants, we managed to take clear photographs of the area. The photos show symmetrical stone constructions, staircases, and other remains. All this material will be sent to Moscow for further analysis.”
The Soviet Academy of Sciences launched an undisclosed number of follow-up expeditions into the eastern Atlantic during the early 1980s—perhaps one during each sailing season every year since the Moskovsky Universitet’s initial discovery in 1977—but nothing more of their results was made public after 1979 until the mid-1980s. Their last living survivor, Dr. Alexander Moiseevich Gorodnitsky, who chaired the laboratory of marine geophysics at Leningrad’s Arctic Geology Research Institute, described the final, officially known undertakings of their kind.
“In 1984 and 1986,” he told Pravda magazine, “our expedition was working on the slopes of Mount Ampere, when we found very strange constructions at the depth of only one hundred meters [three hundred twenty-eight feet]. They looked like rooms and walls. I went under the water [in a mini-submarine] to see that myself, made some sketches. Other geologists drew altars or walls. That was what they had seen. We could not take any photographs at that time [why, Gorodnitsky did not explain]. At first, it seemed to me that those rooms and walls had been created by Nature, but the rooms were equal in size.”
In September 1985, his colleagues aboard another research vessel, the Academician Boris Petrov, retrieved a large, carved block from 14,764 feet—984 feet above the base of Ampere. “The marble artifact’s sides were smoothened,” Pravda reported. “Its color was yellowish. Its schema [design] betrayed artificial origin. The Soviet scientists mentioned that it was definitely man-made. By chemical analysis they produced paleo-chronological results, showing that this piece of marble was lying at the bottom of the ocean for thousands of years.” Pravda’s “paleo-chronological results” were not explained but may have referred to an ancient, perhaps Paleolithic (i.e., “stone age”) time-scale.
The much shallower depths at which Dr. Gorodnitsky observed Ampere’s sunken “rooms” were revealing, because sea levels hovered around one hundred-meters until the end of the last “ice age,” or glacial epoch. Eleven thousand, seven hundred years ago, the seamount was a sizable island towering between three hundred to three hundred fifty feet above the ocean, when the structures he saw would have been, appropriately enough, on dry land near the shore—beach-front residences.
Like his colleagues, he was shocked by official termination of all on-going and future research at Ampere before the close of their 1986 expedition season. Director Aksyonov had peremptorily declared that re-examination of the photographic surveys proved that all of the seamount’s features were entirely natural, and no similar investigations would be government sponsored. He refused to disclose any alleged counter evidence and was the only scientist who reversed his long-held stance that the underwater features were artificial.
Inexplicable as Professor Aksyonov’s volte-face seemed at first, its origins were less scientific than political. His abrupt termination of Ampere research was issued just days after the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, when Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986. Thirty-one people were killed outright, another three hundred forty died from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia, while hundreds of thousands more across Russia and Europe suffered horrible after effects and premature death. The international reputation of Soviet science was irrevocably damaged, and all academics in Russia were ordered by Kremlin officials to step out of the public spotlight until the disaster sufficiently receded into the past for them to re-emerge. In just five years, however, the USSR collapsed, caused at least in part by Chernobyl.
During the ensuing exposure of mass murder, wholesale incarceration, corruption and incompetence that typified the Communist tyranny for the previous seventy-four years, a veritable feeding frenzy of document destruction consumed post-Soviet society. Disempowered government officials and bureaucrats strove frantically to obliterate all trace of their complicity in the deposed regime. With President Boris Yeltsin’s investigative attorneys aggressively tracking down former career-criminal politicians, whole file libraries were shredded or incinerated to cover their tracks. There was no time for carefully distinguishing between incriminating and innocuous written records, and, in the general fury to escape detection and prosecution, all archives of original reports, papers, films, photographs and artifacts—including the marble block salvaged by the Academician Boris Petrov—accumulated over nine years in the eastern Atlantic—were lost. Since then, researchers at the Russian Society for Studying the Problems of Atlantis (Moscow) have been painstakingly piecing together what scraps from their fellow countrymen’s late twentieth century discovery they can find.
But is Mount Ampere really the most credible candidate for Plato’s lost civilization as they claim? Named after French mathematician, physicist, and father of electrodynamics, André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836), it is one of nine, inactive volcanoes forming the Horseshoe Seamounts, “serrated like a crown,” in the words of German oceanographer Jörn Hatzky, and matches Plato’s description of Atlantis as a large island (nesos in the original Greek, not a “continent”), ringed with high mountains, “outside the Pillars of Heracles,” today’s Straits of Gibraltar. “These seamounts,” Hatzky explains, “are part of the Azores-Gibraltar structure, which marks the boundary between two, major tectonic plates: the Eurasian and the African. The submarine volcanism which formed the Horseshoe Seamounts belongs to the sea floor spread area of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.”
As such, Mount Ampere is subject to irregular bouts of subsidence brought about by the seismic instability of the fault line on which it sits. These caving episodes have combined over the last one hundred seventeen centuries with glacial melt and consequent sea level rise at the end of the last ice age to reduce Ampere from a sizable island, whose base diameter of thirty-one miles exceeds the size of Switzerland’s Mont Blanc massif, to a shallow guyot. Its geologically recent existence as dry territory has been etched into the sunken mountain’s flanks by surviving traces of wind erosion additionally underscored at various levels by large deposits of sand, potentially deposited on a beach, usually the result of coastal wave action in dry-air conditions.
“Are these ‘various levels’ terraces?” wonders American geologist, John T. Parks. “If so, then they could represent still stands of sea level as the sea level rose. These might be able to be dated and correlated to specific stages in the ocean level charts. Sea level curves indicate that, depending on the location, and any isostatic adjustments (not included), then the seamount crest would have been drowned between 10,250 and 12,750 Before Present—making the structures, if they are there, very old indeed. Of course, if the seamount dropped due to tectonic forces—plate movements—then the sea level curves would not be representative.”
Combined, these and the considerations cited above tend to identify the underwater mountain as the most likely location for Atlantis. But further confirmation is necessary before any ultimate determination can be made.
“All you would have to do,” advised Professor Aksyonov, “is take a ship with the right equipment to the Ampere Seamount, go down sixty meters, find the stones and bring them up to see if they are manmade or not.”