Deep-sea divers tell of strange, man-made walls beneath the waves. Underwater explorers have spotted flights of steps carved in the sea bed. All of them believe they may have stumbled on the Lost City of Atlantis. But does the real clue lie in the breeding grounds of the freshwater eel?
It was in 1948 that Jürgen Spanuth, a German pastor, finally decided, after much reflection, that the remains of the lost city of Atlantis, ‘the royal isle of the Atlanteans’, lay beneath the North Sea, some six miles east of Heligoland, the island naval base of two world wars. After all, had he not heard local fishermen talking to each other of a ‘golden land’, with mysterious stone walls, on the seabed? Behind these stories, Spanuth felt, there must be some substance. So he resolved to search for the ruins of the fabled lost city of Atlantis.
To raise money for his expedition, he gave lectures on his theories. And in July 1950, after waiting for a storm to pass, he and his colleagues set off.
Later a diver began reporting his first observations by sea-to-ship telephone. And then, suddenly — disaster. A British bomber squadron on a training flight decided, since the weather was so fine, to do a practice bomb-drop in the area.
Soon explosive clouds were shooting up into the sky. The underwater pressure of the blasts was putting the diver’s life at risk. He returned to the surface, and the ship set off back home.
The Lost City of Atlantis — An Underwater World
But Spanuth was not to be defeated. Exactly two years later his little ship set forth once more. Down again went the diver, and soon he was reporting over the telephone:
“I can see in front of me a high stone wall. I am approaching it. At the foot of the wall are gigantic stones. I am measuring one stone. It is six feet long and three feet wide… I shall try to climb the wall… Now I am on top. I can recognize a second wall, parallel to that I am standing on. I am walking along the top of the first wall.”
After a short while, he was reporting again:
“This is the end of the wall. There seems to be a crater in the wall. I am descending. At the foot of the wall towards the crater there is a particularly big stone… In the bottom of the crater there is white sand, and small stones. Now I can see the continuation of the wall on the other side of the crater.”
Diving continued for several days, during which it was discovered that the walls, in which the ‘crater’ was evidently a gap, stretched for half a mile.
Afterwards the diver declared:
“It is impossible that these walls, which are so symmetrical and parallel, could have been formed by natural means, and I have no doubt that they were built by human hands. In several hundred diving expeditions in the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the North Sea and in many lakes of Europe, reaching depths of 125 feet, I have never found similar formations.”
Spanuth was convinced that the diver had discovered ramparts which had once surrounded the royal castle and temple of the lost city of Atlantis. In his book, Atlantis — The Mystery Unraveled (Arco Publications, London, 1956), he added that a diver, during a later survey, found, beneath the sea, a street covered with cobblestones, which he followed for 150 feet. This, Spanuth claimed triumphantly, must have been built by man. And, in his view, by Atlantean man.
Since the story of Atlantis has for centuries aroused such curiosity and fascination throughout the world, it is hardly surprising that men should dream of discovering it for themselves.
Even the stern, no-nonsense British prime minister of Victorian times, William Ewart Gladstone, once suggested an expedition should be mounted to find the lost city of Atlantis. Unfortunately, his Parliament declined to vote funds for an exploit it considered so outlandish.
Lava Traces and the Lost City of Atlantis
But from time to time discoveries are made which revive the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.
In 1898 the crew of a ship laying submarine cables near the Azores were trying to locate with grappling hooks a cable they had lost in water some two miles deep. When the hooks were pulled up, they had to be cleaned of bits of matter from the jagged rocks at the ocean bottom. On microscopic examination, the matter proved to be lava. Since lava decomposes considerably in 15,000 years, the area from which it had been hauled must, scientists said, have been above the water within that period.
Sixty years later freshwater plants were discovered two miles below the surface of what is known as the Submarine Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is a mountainous ridge, nearly two miles high and hundreds of miles wide, that runs down the Atlantic midway between the Americas and Africa and Europe. The find was taken as evidence that part of the ridge was once above sea level.
In 1925, a British explorer, Colonel Percy H. Fawcett, set off with his eldest son John Fawcett and a friend into the Mato Grosso region of southwest Brazil on his latest expedition.
On previous expeditions Fawcett had come across a map, said to be 150 years old, and to have been drawn by a man who had found, in the Mato Grosso, a lost city, surrounded by a wall. Fawcett was set on finding this city, which he was confident would prove to have links with the lost city of Atlantis. His expedition disappeared into the jungle and was never seen, nor heard from again.
As the years passed, evidence accumulated that seemed to give credence to the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.
In 1959 the journal Military Engineer reported that during hydrographic surveys sink-holes up to half a mile in diameter and 500 feet deep had been found in the straits of Florida 14 miles offshore from the Florida Keys. They were assumed to have been freshwater lakes in an area that had been subsided.
On July 19, 1967, a headline appeared in the Norfolk Ledger-Star: ‘ATLANTIS BELIEVED DISCOVERED BUT IN THE AEGEAN NOT ATLANTIC.’ On the same day the New York Times published and identical story under the heading: ‘MINOAN CITY, FOUND AFTER 3400 YEARS, IS LINKED TO ATLANTIS.’
A Sudden End
Both stories told of the discovery of a Minoan city buried under 30 feet of volcanic ash, on the island of Thira in the Aegean Sea. In charge of the excavations that led to the finding were Dr James W. Mavor of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Mrs Emily Vermeule, a professor of art and Greek. Both connected their discovery with the lost city of Atlantis because of the evidence that the city they had found had been an advanced civilization that came to a sudden and violent end.
According to Charles Berlitz, author of The Mystery of Atlantis, the Russians have explored an underwater building complex covering more than 10 acres of the sea floor north of Cuba, and a French bathyscaphe has reported sighting flights of steps carved in the steep continental shelf of northern Puerto Rico.
Whether such findings help to prove that the lost city of Atlantis once existed is bound to be the subject of interminable argument. But can it be proved that there never was a lost city of Atlantis?
The greatest skeptics are probably geologists, who believe in the theory of gradual change. They see no way in which a catastrophe of the sort that would sink a continent could have occurred within the last 10 to 20 thousand years. In her book America Before Man, Elizabeth Chesley Baity wrote: “At the rate normal movements of land take place it would have required millions of years for so large an island to subside into the depths of the sea.”
In 1949 the magazine Science Digest carried an article by Dr Maurice Ewing of Columbia University, who announced that he had “mapped, probed, sounded and visited the ocean depths since 1935.” He had taken undersea photographs as deep as 18,000 feet and found no evidence of buried cities. But in 1968 Edgar Evans Cayce, son of Edgar Cayce, the American clairvoyant who claimed that many of his clients were reincarnated citizens of the lost city of Atlantis, wrote in a book on his father:
“At first glance this [Ewing's investigation] might be taken as proof against Atlantis ever having existed, but a moment’s reflection shows otherwise. Suppose the United States were racked with earthquakes and volcanic action for a few months — or years. Our cities collapse in rubble, and are then buried under layers of ash and lava. Immense tidal waves sweep over the land, scattering and destroying any remaining structures and all evidence of man’s handiwork. Finally the whole land settles under the ocean, and for 13 thousand years tidal currents scatter and ocean sediment covers any residue of our civilization. In the year 14,967 someone takes a picture of a few square feet of the ocean bottom, or drills a four-inch hole in the sea floor. Do you think he will see any cities or bore into an automobile, airplane or power plant? The chances against it… he would doubtless feel justified in concluding that America never existed.”
So the controversy rolls on. And one thing is certain. Those who are convinced that the lost city of Atlantis once existed can be relied on, at times, to adduce the strangest evidence. Perhaps the oddest of all is the case of the macabre honeymoon of the freshwater eels.
When these eels are ready to reproduce they come down to the sea and swim out into the Atlantic: the European eels travel westwards, the American eastwards. They make their way to the Sargasso sea, where, after laying their eggs, they die.
There are people who believe that the ancestors of these eels once lived in the fresh waters of the lost city of Atlantis, whose great river flowed into a region that is now the Sargasso sea. At the delta of this river there was a huge marsh which was an ideal breeding ground for the eels. When the lost city of Atlantis was finally submerged the eels took refuge in the continents on either side of the ocean. But, ever since then, as those continents do not offer suitable breeding ground, the eels slither their way back to the more favorable site of the lost city of Atlantis, guided by an age-old instinct.