In Timaeus and Critias, Plato’s account of Atlantis (written in 360 BC), the island nation, was said to have sunk around 9600 BC after millennia of history. In the seventeenth century the Bishop of Ireland, James Ussher, published a biblical chronology declaring that the creation occurred on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC (Julian calendar). Today mainstream natural historians insist that Earth is between four and five billion years old, and that the first humans like us arrived about one hundred thousand years ago, which, they argue, doesn’t allow enough time for us to have risen to our present ‘lofty height’ more than once.
They can’t all be right; and so the argument over who has the most credible timeline still rages and will do so, apparently, for as long as people have calendars. There is more to be gained here, however, than scholarly bragging rights. At stake is the authority, which goes with being proclaimed society’s virtually official custodian of truth, and reaping the perks, which go with that. Indeed most debates over such timelines are really as much about who is in charge as who has the schedule right.
Take the claim that Atlantis was actually, a Mediterranean volcanic island Santorini, which blew up during the Bronze Age. The theory reconciles itself with Plato by claiming a place error had been made in the numbers he provided. Even though he said 9000 years, what Plato really meant was 900. Or so they say. The latter number, of course, is much more convenient for academia, conforming closely to the standard academic paradigm for the development of civilization. The conventional view is that in the time actually referenced by Plato, humans were but primitive hunter-gatherers incapable of civilization. Of course the curious fact remains that the 9600 BC date just happens to coincide with the well-documented end of the last great ice age, an event of which Plato was supposedly ignorant. Moreover, new discoveries at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey make it clear that we could do civilization at least as long ago as Plato claimed.
The powers that be, it seems, whether in church, state or academia, understand well the importance of controlling which timelines are accepted by the public; and they fully comprehend the perils of losing control of that argument, so woe betide anyone who might challenge the conventional wisdom.
The arguments over many such timeline controversies are regularly reported in these pages, and we want to make sure that you take note of several in this issue. Michael Cremo’s column deals with the case of archaeologist Virginia Steen-McIntyre and her controversial dating at a site in Mexico of human artifacts many thousands of years older than is considered possible by conventional science. Elsewhere, Mark Andrew covers evidence that our familiar moon may have arrived at its present station long after most academics believe it could have. And John Chambers explores the way that arguments over chronology have shaped the history of civilization itself.
Whether in war or debate, history, it has been said, is written by the victors which might go far to explain the gap between what passes for history today and actual truth.