WAS ATLANTIS IN MOROCCO?

WAS ATLANTIS IN MOROCCO?

By ANDREW GOUGH

December 2018

I have searched for Atlantis far and wide. I have studied Plato and travelled to the Egyptian village of Sais, where the legend of Atlantis was first recounted to the Greek law-giver, Solon. My quests took me to South America, Mesoamerica, the Caribbean, Ireland and across the Mediterranean. I was invested in the belief that Atlantis was in Crete and amended the evidence to support my hypothesis. Then it all changed. I unexpectedly came across some new research, and it soon became clear that if I were to discover Atlantis, I would have to let go of everything I believed it once was.

Over the course of 2017 and 2018 I travelled to Morocco to partake in two network television documentaries that explored the theory that Atlantis was in Morocco. In 2017 I contributed to the Atlantis episode of Mysteries of the Missing, a Science Channel show hosted by Terry O’Quinn, the actor who played John Locke on the TV series, Lost. A year later, in 2018, I took Zachary Quinto, the actor who portrayed Spock in the recent Star Trek movies, around the Agadir region of Morocco for the Atlantis episode of his new History Channel program, In Search Of. Each trip would prove illuminating and would transform my preconceptions of Atlantis in profound ways.

My research for these two shows would transform my thinking about Atlantis

 

Genesis of Plato’s Atlantis

For hundreds of years it was theorised that every submerged island and civilisation that had disappeared in a single day was Atlantis. Similarly, in recent times, every harbour or desert wadi whose satellite images hinted at concentric circles was also deemed to be Atlantis. The truth is, the legend of Atlantis is not unique, for there were many seafaring civilisations that disappeared from history due to war, floods, plague, earthquakes or famine. Atlantis just happens to be the most famous.

There is only one surviving source of Plato’s Atlantis, and that comes from Solon (638-558 BCE), who, in around 590 BCE, visited Sais, an ancient Egyptian town in the Nile Delta, and learned of Atlantis from Egyptian priests who recounted the tale from inscriptions on its temple pillars. Sais became the seat of power during the Twenty-fourth Dynasty of Egypt (732–720 BCE) and the Saite Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt (664–525 BCE), the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BCE. This was the reason Solon visited. From Luxor to Cairo to Alexandria, many Egyptian cities remained relevant during this period, but Sais was clearly the ‘new black’.

Today, the remains of Sais are studied by a small team of Egyptologists, and the now-forgotten kingdom is situated off the beaten tourist trail. However, this has not always been the case. Sais’s resident Egyptologist, Penny Wilson, writes:

Sais was well known to travellers because of its description by Herodotus and also because of its geographical position. Western visitors to Egypt would land at Alexandria and make their way to Cairo down the Rosetta branch of the Nile which gave them the opportunity to stop at places of interest en route. One of the favoured stopping places was the ruins of Sais.

Although largely ignored today, Sais is where the Goddess Neith lived, in the House of the Bee (per-bit). Her son, Ra, cried bees as tears (Salt 825 papyrus lines 5 and 6), symbolising the genesis of beekeeping. Sais is also where Osiris was buried, in the Mansion of the Bee (Hwt-bit).

The multi-faceted symbolism of the bee had been integral to Egyptian kingship since pre-dynastic times, when Min held the title Master of the Wild Bees. One of the Pharaoh’s earliest royal names, traceable to King Den of the First Dynasty, was The Sedge and the Bee (nswt-bjtj), symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively, thus rendering the Nile Delta and the city of Sais as the domain of the bee. The Sealer of the Honey (htm-bjjt) is regarded as one of the most sacred and ancient titles and was in use from the First Dynasty. Further, there was a picture of a bee in the Pharaoh’s cartouche and the King’s death mask was stylised with black and yellow horizontal stripes – like the bee.

My research also suggested that the headdress of Osiris, the White Crown of Egypt, was a symbolic beehive, and that the Red Crown of Egypt represented the King’s constituents, ‘my bee people’, as the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, once proclaimed. Come the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, Egypt’s relationship with the bee was at its zenith and had become increasingly reverential, as images from the tomb of Pabasa, the Ancient Egyptian noble from this period, reveal. This was the backdrop to the era in which Solon visited Sais and learned of the legend of Atlantis. This was the time when bee worship in Egypt was at its pinnacle.

The Tomb of Pabasa. The Egyptian Twenty-sixth Dynasty treated bees with reverence. © UNESCO World Heritage

 

Remarkably, Sais is also where the Rosetta Stone was discovered, the key that led to the breakthrough in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. The black stone slab, which contains the same text in three different languages, was discovered in Rosetta, after having been moved from Sais in the first half of the twentieth century. This was a common practice known as Sebakhin, where farmers removed ancient mud-brick deposits for use as fertiliser. The take-away here is that the city where the legend of Atlantis was spawned is also the place that held the key to the most enigmatic ancient culture in history.

Sais is a fascinating place, although not much remains. New homes have sprung up over the village like moss on a rock, concealing a massive and important archaeological site and rendering any chance of excavation virtually impossible. When I visited Sais in 2013 I was shown around by Penny Wilson, who excitedly pointed out a broken pillar top near the old village cemetery; the first one of its kind to be discovered – not by archaeologists, but by the locals who were preparing a burial. I sat on the pillar top and reflected upon its potential significance. The possibility that the pillar that contained the inscriptions describing Atlantis may have lain beneath my feet has haunted me to this day.

Sitting on the pillar that may contain the legend of Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

The process by which the legend of Atlantis was transmitted from Solon to Plato is murky at best. For a start, Plato wrote about Atlantis two hundred and sixty years after Solon travelled to Sais and learned of the legend. We are told that Solon crafted a poem about Atlantis and, had it been published, it would have been greater than the works of Hesiod and Homer combined. Sadly, there is no record of Solon’s poem – if it ever existed. Instead, Plato confirms that the story of Atlantis, as communicated to Solon by the Egyptian priests in Sais, was transmitted orally through the Dropides family, until it reached Critias, a dialogue speaker whom Plato featured in his works, Timaeus and Critias. Plato’s account of Atlantis is full of rich detail, which is unusual for oral tradition, especially a story that took over two and a half centuries to reach Plato, and which had been preserved for some 9,400 years before that. What could possibly go wrong?

What could have gone wrong with the transmission of the Atlantis myth is that Solon may have been unaware that he was given dates for Atlantis in lunar years, not solar years. That is, many priests in Egypt counted each month as a year, following what was known as a lunar calendar. If that were the case, then nine thousand years before Solon (around 600 BCE) would be 9600 BCE, or approximately twelve thousand years ago, and 9600 BCE becomes 800 years (9,600 ÷ 12 months) before Solon’s time, rendering a more plausible date of 1400 BCE for the demise of Atlantis. This considerably more recent date for Atlantis coincides with the Minoan culture on Crete and with the eruption of Thera (traditionally thought to have occurred between 1642–1540 BCE, and yet the respected Chronologist and Egyptologist, David Rohl, places it in the fourteenth century), which caused widespread damage across the ancient world. The possibility of lunar, not solar, dating of the Atlantis legend, coupled with the eruption of Thera and the remarkable Minoan civilisation, led me to favour Crete as the likely candidate for Atlantis. However plausible my conclusion seemed, I was selectively applying the clues of Plato’s account that best supported my hypothesis. The rest I simply ignored.

Breaking Down the Clues

As I prepared for the Discovery Channel shoot in Morocco, I studied a line of research that had previously eluded my attention. It seemed that a German researcher by the name of Michael Hübner (1966 – 2013) had developed a computer-based analysis of Plato’s four-dozen-plus clues that yielded the Souss-Massa plain in Morocco as the likely location of Atlantis. I was aware that Hübner had published a paper about Atlantis in Morocco for a conference in Athens in 2008, but had dismissed his findings out of hand, as everyone knows that Atlantis was an island. Morocco was not an island. Morocco was part of a large continent. How, then, could Atlantis be in Morocco? I never gave the notion a second thought.

As I digested Hübner’s research, particularly the part about Atlantis being an island, I was impressed with his explanation and astounded that, to my knowledge, it had never been put forward before. Hübner reconciled the matter linguistically. The term nesos, which Plato used to describe Atlantis, did not necessarily mean an island surrounded by water. Rather, nesos had a more generic meaning. While nesos did, in fact, refer to a land mass surrounded by water, it also denoted a location triangulated by imposing landscapes such as mountains, oceans and rivers. In fact, Egypt’s Nile Delta region, where Sais is located, was called nesos by the ancient Greeks for this very reason. Hübner was quick to point out that his proposed site for Atlantis was bordered by the Atlas Mountains to the North, the Anti-Atlas Mountains to the East and South, and the Atlantic Ocean to the West. It seemed Atlantis was an island after all, just not the kind of island we thought it was.

I was informed that I would meet with Michael Hübner’s brother, Sebastian, in Morocco and that he would show me the sites that his brother had taken him around before his untimely death in 2013. I was excited, and studied Hübner’s Hierarchical Constraint Theory with a critical eye.

I was pleased to learn that Hübner had applied Occam’s razor to the Atlantis enigma, quite possibly for the first time. His framework consisted of identifying fifty-one demonstrable clues from Plato’s writings; Hübner called them hierarchical constraints, and entered them into a computer program that rendered a visual representation of the regions around the globe containing these criteria.

Hübner characterised Plato’s clues into Global, Regional and Local constraints. These included:

Sample Global Constraints

  • Outside of the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar)
  • Proximity to Athens
  • Close to a sea
  • West of Tyrrhenia and Egypt
  • Presence of elephants
  • High mountains to the north
  • Not located in ancient Asia or Europe

Sample Regional Constraints

  • Named locations
  • Island
  • Plain encircled by mountains
  • Presence of red
  • White and black bedrock
  • Docks cut into red, white and black bedrock
  • Buildings of red
  • White and black stone
  • Northerly winds
  • Shelter from northerly winds
  • Ore/metal deposits
  • Signs of specific geological activity
  • Presence of horses
  • Region named after Gadeiros
  • Streams from mountains
  • Trench parallel to the shore
  • Plants with fragrant roots
  • Space for a large population
  • Year-round water supply
  • Rock-cut architecture
  • Specific agricultural products
  • Blue clothing
  • Sacrifice of bulls
  • Concentric-circle patterns
  • Significance of odd and even numbers
  • Large trenches

Local Constraints

  • Annular geomorphological structure near Agadir
  • The capital city of Atlantis should be located at a distance of about 50 stades (an ancient measurement that equates 1 stade to 185 metres) from the sea
  • The central hill of the capital of Atlantis should be low and/or gently inclined on all sides
  • The capital of Atlantis should be located in an annular structure
  • There should be three concentric rings of water and two of land
  • The whole structure should have an outer diameter of about: 2x (2×3 + 2×2 + 1×1) + 1×5 = 27 stades
  • The central island (hill) should have a diameter of 5 stades
  • The outer ring is located 50 stades from the sea
  • There should have been a cold and a warm spring within the central structure
  • There should be traces of prehistoric settlement
  • Traces of buildings made of coloured stones (particularly red, white and black)

As additional hierarchical constraints were applied, Hübner’s program produced some surprising results. For instance, Crete/Santorini, which tends to be the scholar’s choice for the location of Atlantis (as it was mine), ticked twenty-three of fifty-one hierarchical constraints; only slightly more than the expected mean of twenty. Therefore, the result for Crete/Santorini being Atlantis was not statistically favourable. By comparison, the Souss-Massa site in Morocco tallied much better; it checked forty-four of fifty-one criteria. Hübner described the results:

The probability of an error is at most 0.00000000000279. In other words: the probability that Plato’s account is based on historical facts and the Souss is the location he described is at least: 99,999999999721%. This is highly significant.

In Hübner’s analysis the only region left standing – the only true candidate for Atlantis – was Morocco. Only then, after being guided by the evidence, did Hübner set out to find the physical evidence of Atlantis in the region where his analysis suggested he should look: the Souss-Massa plain of south-western Morocco.

Questioning Plato’s Sources

I agreed in principle with Hübner’s conclusion, and looked forward to exploring the Souss-Massa plain in person. Still, I grappled with the authenticity of Plato’s sources – namely, Solon. Had all that detail been passed down from Solon, or did Plato finesse the details after learning about Atlantis from other sources?

When we look at the origins of Atlantis, we soon realise that Plato was not the first to reference it. The historian, Hellanicus of Lesbos (490 – 405 BCE), used the word Atlantis as the title for a poem published before Plato, which featured the daughters of Atlas, the first King of Atlantis.

Further, Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE), the so-called ‘Father of History’,who died around the same time Plato was born (428/427 or 424/423 BCE, depending on sources), compiled a map of the ancient world that depicts Atlantis in Morocco. Herodotus visited Sais in around 550 BCE and called it a ‘great and marvellous palace’, although he never mentioned Atlantis. Other prolific historians, Egyptologists and explorers visited Sais, and they too never mentioned Atlantis. The list includes Strabo in 25 BCE, Athenagoras (133 AD – 190 AD), as well as many modern explorers, such as the Napoleonic Commission in 1799, Henry Salt in 1816, J.-Fr. Champollion in 1828, Ippolito Rosellini in 1828, J. Gardner Wilkinson in 1821 and 1833, Richard Lepsius in 1842, Auguste Mariette in 1859, Georg Hübner in the 1880s, William Flinders Petrie in 1884-5, Georges Foucart in 1898; and the Egypt Exploration Society conducted an exhaustive survey as recently as 1999. The Egyptologist, Penny Wilson, continues the tradition today.

Of all the modern visitors, only Ebers, an Egyptologist and novelist, hints at anything like Atlantis when he writes:

the splendid residence of Pharaohs and the city of sages [my emphasis], where flourished an academy which was no less famous among the Greeks than among the Egyptians themselves.

A reference to the ‘city of sages’ is the closest thing we have to Solon’s alleged account, but of course that is nebulous at best. The believer in me explains this in the context that not everybody would have been afforded the same access to the sacred texts as the famous Greek law-giver Solon had. Conversely, the sceptic in me concludes that Solon was referenced by Plato in order to bolster the credibility of his politically motivated yarn, and that Solon was not shown anything that the others who came after him had not seen. This becomes an especially viable conclusion when we realise that Solon was remembered as a renowned Athenian statesman, who stood against political, economic and moral decline in Athens, thus providing Plato with a perfect platform for his similar political aspirations.

In defence of Plato’s account of Atlantis is the philosopher, Crantor (late 4th Century BCE), the first known commentator on Plato’s work, who is said to have travelled to Sais to confirm Solon’s/Plato’s account, and introduced the notion that the story of Atlantis was written on pillars, which were still preserved at Sais at that time. In other words, he confirmed the story of Atlantis that Plato said Solon had been told. Much debate has ensued regarding the validity of Crantor’s claim, and whether he personally travelled to Egypt to confirm Plato’s story or whether he sent an emissary on his behalf, or whether he made the whole thing up. The tale is tantalising, for, if true, it would go a long way to substantiating Plato’s claim. Alternatively, Crantor’s patronage of Plato’s/Solon’s Atlantis story may be one of the earliest instances of fake news.

All things considered, the weight of evidence suggests that Plato leveraged sources other than Solon, but the question remains: besides Herodotus and Hellanicus, who and what were they? For a start, it appears that Plato drew upon the Phoenicians, of whom he was contemptuous, and who circumvented Africa and most of the rest of the known world during his time. The Phoenicians did not have the luxury of compass technology, and so they relied on natural features on coastlines, and inland, to help navigate their journey, as well as the position of the North Star. According to Herodotus, the Phoenicians managed to circumnavigate Africa in around 600 BCE – the same period when Solon visited Sais.

The Phoenicians traded with indigenous peoples and established colonies as far as Morocco, including a notable settlement at Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador – the same region as Hübner’s Atlantis. The bay at Essaouira has been favoured by seafarers for thousands of years due to its natural, sheltered harbour which provided refuge from strong marine winds. Further, the ancient Greek historian, Diodorus, claimed that the Phoenicians reached the Atlantic islands of Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Azores – areas west of Morocco that have been associated with Atlantis in the past.

The Phoenicians who settled at Essaouira would have noted any unusual natural features on the Moroccan coastline, as well as any interesting features inland, especially near Essaouira, where they were based – and again, this is the region Hübner claimed to be Atlantis. Intriguingly, a friend of mine who lives in Morocco remembers a tale recounted many years ago by an elderly resident of Essaouira that the famed explorer Jacques Cousteau found a sunken city just off the coast but the Moroccan Government suppressed the discovery.

I could not help but wonder how easy it would have been for Plato to have acquired the details of his Atlantis story from the Phoenician travel logs for the region; both coastal and inland details. Surely, he would have chosen this region in the first place because Herodotus had already highlighted it on his map of the ancient world, where he places Atlantis in Morocco. The cherry on top would have been to attribute the whole thing to Solon, the most respected authority in Plato’s cultural and political sphere.

Herodotus placed Atlantis in what is modern-day Morocco (see lower middle left of the map)

 

I arrived with crew from the Discovery Channel in Agadir, Morocco, in early May 2017, and met up with Sebastian. We quickly got to work. As with any television production, a considerable amount of time is spent filming B-roll, the industry term for supplemental or alternative footage that is intercut with the main narrative of the program. We arrived at the site that Hübner had identified as the inner concentric circles of Atlantis, but stopped short of driving over the crest of the hill to inspect it, so that the director could shoot B-roll of our 4×4 driving up and down the road from various vantage points. He also spent considerable time filming a donkey that was grazing nearby. This infuriated Sebastian, who was growing impatient and wanted to explore his brother’s proposed site of Atlantis. Before long, he shouted expletives at the director and crew: “What the fuck are we doing? Who cares about the donkey? Atlantis is over there! We’re wasting our time!”

Sebastian Hübner examining ancient stone structures in his brother’s alleged site of Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

I liked Sebastian and shared his enthusiasm for getting to the site, but was accustomed to the process and took advantage of the downtime to have a bit of a wander. Within minutes I had discovered that the area was full of apiaries. Speaking to the locals (via our ’fixer’, the individual who handles the logistics on a film shoot, and who was acting as my interpreter), I learned that beekeeping had taken place in this region for as long as anyone could remember. Evidently, it was the oldest craft in the region. The resident beekeeper shared that this was the ideal location for beekeeping, as it was just south of the High Atlas mountain range, and thus protected from the harsh northerly winds that circled around from the Azores. It seemed that beekeeping may have been part of Atlantis after all.

While Plato’s writings of Solon’s account of Atlantis do not mention bees, upon his return from Egypt, Solon did institute laws about the distance that beehives needed to be placed apart from each other. If bees had been an integral part of Atlantis, why would Plato not have mentioned them, I wondered.

Beehives in Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

After more than an hour the B-roll shoot was complete and we headed to the concentric circles of Hübner’s Atlantis. As we approached the unassuming dirt road that would lead to the site, I reflected on the criteria that had led us to this precise spot in the first place:

  • it is outside of the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar);
  • it is within a statistically acceptable margin of error from the natural harbour described by Plato. That is, it was fifty stades, or about thirteen kilometres inland from the Atlantic Ocean, and the location of a truly remarkable natural harbour;
  • it is just to the south of a tall mountain range (the High Atlas Mountains, named after King Atlas, the first King of Atlantis) that protected Atlantis from harsh northerly winds;
  • it has two concentric circles by land: the outer being the High Atlas Mountains / Anti Atlas mountain circle, and the inner being a lower, more gentle circle, as Plato describes. And while there were not three concentric circles by water, as Plato describes, there is evidence of three ancient rivers, now wadis;
  • it is surrounded by mountains and ocean, thus qualifying for being termed an ‘island’ in the truest tradition of the word nesos;
  • it has white-, black- and red-coloured stone structures;
  • it once had elephants.

The list went on and on…

The unassuming road to Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

At first glance Hübner’s concentric-circle site is somewhat nondescript. From our standpoint it took a drone to reveal the true shape of the place. We moved inwards, courtesy of a battle-tested 4×4, to inspect the inner city and its remains. What I was shown was exactly what I would have expected: the remains of a Neolithic settlement – stone rows, cairns and roads. After all, conventional chronology places Atlantis over twelve thousand years ago. There were no pyramids then, no fortified structures, no statues of King Atlas – at least none that had survived.

Partial view of the alleged inner concentric circle of Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

Frustratingly, Hübner noted that lorries regularly hauled stone walls and huts, and anything else that was not bolted down, to a nearby quarry. If there had once been artefacts here, then they have long since been reduced to rubble. Intriguingly, the quarry separated its stone into three categories: red, black and white – the colours with which, Plato noted, the buildings in Atlantis had been constructed.

The stone quarries where the remains of Atlantis may lie as rubble © Andrew Gough

The stone quarries © Andrew Gough

 

To accept Morocco as Atlantis one needs to gain perspective. Sure, Plato’s clues point us here, but what must be remembered is that there are few, if any, sites on earth that conventional historians agree are as old as Plato’s account suggests Atlantis was. One that comes to mind is Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. I lived in Turkey for several years and am no stranger to this remarkable archaeological site. Although only a portion of the site has been excavated, it currently dates to just over 9100 BCE. Its rock-carved images of birds and geometric shapes are fascinating, but not overly sophisticated from an artistic viewpoint. The site is well preserved, and that is because it was essentially bubble wrapped, protected, sealed and abandoned, for over 11,000 years, before being excavated in recent years. In other words, no other site of this age should have been better maintained. Göbekli Tepe’s stone carvings remain intact because they have been protected from the elements. The site of Hübner’s Atlantis is just the opposite; it’s been exposed to the elements for the same amount of time that Göbekli Tepe’s artefacts have been buried. Statues of King Atlas, temples, cities, roads – they are nowhere to be found. Whatever time has not ravaged, the quarry looters have levelled.

At Göbekli Tepe, the bubble-wrapped site that dates to the same epoch as Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

Mysteries of the Missing debuted on 26 August 2017 to positive reviews, and the Atlantis episode attracted impressive ratings. I drifted out of touch with Sebastian and although I returned to Morocco for another documentary – an episode about the Msoura Stone Circle for the Discovery Science Channel show, What on Earth? – I shelved the subject of Atlantis for a while, despite the impact that my visit to the region had had on my preconceptions as to what and where Atlantis actually was. The daily grind of life took over. A year later the History Channel asked if I would take Zachary Quinto around the same sites for his new In Search Of series. I jumped at the chance, my only hesitation being, could I possibly find them again?

Crystal Clear

I arrived in Agadir a couple days before the shoot and headed into the mountains with my driver to conduct a recce. I was relieved to find the area that Sebastian had shown me, but struggled to locate the dirt paths that led to the inner city where many of the stone structures remained, albeit in ruins, and a constant state of exploitation by the local stone quarry company. I was exasperated. What if I couldn’t take Zachary to the best part of Hübner’s Atlantis? I provoked the driver with my insistence that we keep looking and finally, after hours of searching, I was prepared to give up. I conceded all hope and reticently asked my driver to stop one last time, so that I could take a comfort break before heading back to Agadir. I walked a respectable distance from the 4×4 and tended to my business, when suddenly I could not believe my eyes. I was standing in a field of giant crystals.

Two ladies sit on crystals amidst rolling fields containing giant crystals © Andrew Gough

© Andrew Gough

© Andrew Gough

© Andrew Gough

 

Plato never mentioned crystals, and yet they remain the artefact that most people associate with Atlantis. For this we must thank the American psychic, Edgar Cayce (1877 – 1945), a Christian mystic who answered questions on Atlantis while in a trance. Cayce believed that giant crystals, activated by the sun, were used to harness energy and provide power on Atlantis. He also predicted that in 1958 the United States would rediscover a death ray that had been used on Atlantis. He prophesied that a new land would appear in 1968/1969, and that this would be the remains of Atlantis. Interestingly, around this time the so-called ‘Bimini Road’ was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, in the region Cayce was referring to, leading many to conclude that Cayce was right: Atlantis had at last been found. To date, nobody knows for certain if the Bimini Road is an authentic and ancient man-made site – let alone Atlantis. The verdict on Cayce’s prophecy remains unsettled.

As I departed the field of crystals, I noticed another of Hübner’s discoveries – one that I had forgotten about, but which was all around me: the Golden Apples of Hesperedes. In Greek mythology the Hesperides are the daughters of King Atlas, who live in a garden near the Atlas Mountains, as described by Hellanicus in his fifth-century BCE poem, Atlantis. Hübner argued that the argan tree, which is endemic to the Souss-Massa plain and whose fruit looks like small golden apples, were in fact the Golden Apples of Hesperedes. It certainly seemed plausible. Hübner’s theory was coming to life. One might say it was becoming crystal clear.

Is the argan fruit the Golden Apple of Hesperedes? © Andrew Gough

© Andrew Gough

© Andrew Gough

 

I caught up with the production team for In Search Of at the harbour in Agadir. With a bit of creative camera work the setting was passed off as Santa Barbara, California, the location where I would meet Zachary and invite him to join me in Morocco to search for Atlantis. This is how television works. It’s called improvisation.

Zachary and I gelled and soon set off to the mountains to film Hübner’s many sites. We visited the concentric circles and even stopped at the quarries where the red, black and white stones from the inner city of Hübner’s Atlantis were being mashed into fine-grain rubble. To my surprise, the highlight of the afternoon was the field of crystals. Filming literally halted as the crew meticulously canvassed the landscape, chipping pieces of crystal from the giant boulders as souvenirs. The local farmers looked on, quizzically, as though we had lost our minds.

With Zachary in the inner concentric circle of Atlantis © Andrew Gough

 

The climax of the day’s filming, however, was the natural harbour on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. You might say we saved the best for last, for this remarkable structure, first shown to me by Sebastian, sits at a distance from the concentric circles that approximates Plato’s ‘fifty stades’ from the ocean, and is a clear and demonstrable natural harbour – one that would have been a logical choice for ancient seafarers. I was reminded of the Phoenician settlement at Essaouira, just up the coast. Surely, they would have made note of this distinctive natural feature. And if the Phoenicians knew about it, I was becoming increasingly confident that Plato would have known about it also.

Are these the natural harbours of Atlantis? © Andrew Gough

© Andrew Gough

 

The setting sun was beaming, yet fading fast, and so Zachary and I hurried to complete our pieces to camera. It then came time for Zachary to offer his final thoughts on the episode: was Atlantis in Crete, where Zachary had just visited, or was it here, in Morocco, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, at the natural harbour where the Atlas Mountains meet the Atlantic Ocean, and where the argan trees and their golden fruit grow in abundance, just like the Golden Apples of Hesperides were said to have been tended by the daughters of King Atlas. I watched Zachary present his final remarks and listened with a smile on my face as he concluded that Morocco, in his estimation, was indeed Atlantis. I would expect nothing less from a man whose celebrated Star Trek character, Spock, embodies the cold hard logic of a Vulcan.

Zachary giving his final thoughts about Atlantis in Morocco © Andrew Gough

 

Afterthoughts

The notion that Atlantis was in Africa, but not necessarily in Morocco, is a theory that has gained momentum ever since NASA produced satellite images of a prominent circular edifice that can be seen from space. The Richat Structure, also known as the Eye of Africa, is a natural, geological formation near Ouadane, Mauritania, one thousand miles south of Hübner’s Atlantis (the region north of Agadir, Morocco). Geologists have concluded that the formation contains rocks that are at least one hundred million years old.

The Eye of Africa lies approximately one thousand miles south of Hübner’s Atlantis

 

The Richat Structure measures around twenty-five miles in diameter and makes for a very compelling visual of Plato’s description of Atlantis’s alternating concentric circles of land and water. Astute observers – sceptics, if you will – have proclaimed that the structure is over fifteen hundred feet above sea level and would have been even higher at the time of Atlantis, thus making waterway connectivity to the ocean virtually impossible. Connectivity to the Atlantic Ocean notwithstanding, what I find intriguing is that Phoenicians knew of Ouadane, for it was a thriving centre of trade, including trans-Saharan gold. The Phoenicians would have noted the unique and highly peculiar appearance of the Richat Structure, including its concentric circles. And if the Phoenicians knew of it, then we must at least consider the possibility that Plato did. Is the Eye of Africa where Plato received his inspiration for the most renowned physical characteristic of Atlantis?

The Eye of Africa, as seen from space

 

The connection between Plato and the Phoenicians requires further research, but offers a fascinating explanation for the minute detail contained in Plato’s account. Nevertheless, when we examine Plato’s texts on Atlantis, we must remember that he was making a strong political statement by featuring Athens as the powerhouse that defeated the hostile Atlanteans. The curious thing nobody seems to notice is that there was not an Athens to defeat back then – not in the epoch of Atlantis suggested by Solon and Plato (around twelve thousand years ago). Sure, Athens has been inhabited from Neolithic times, possibly from the end of the fourth millennium BCE, but there is no evidence of it having been a powerful military stronghold. Was Plato simply trying to extend the legacy of his beloved Athens further back in time, or is there another explanation?

By around 1400 BCE Athens had become an important centre of Mycenaean civilisation – one capable of defeating seafarers such as the Atlanteans. The notion that Atlantis existed around this time (1400 BCE), and not twelve thousand years ago, is only possible if the priests in Sais were using lunar, not solar dating. This idea does make a bit more sense of it all. In fact, it begs the question: could the Atlanteans have been the mysterious Sea Peoples, a seafaring confederation that attacked ancient Egypt and other regions of the East Mediterranean prior to and during the Late Bronze Age collapse (1200 – 900 BCE). The likelihood that the priests of Sais used lunar dating needs further research, for, if true, many historically troublesome puzzle pieces fall into place.

As we have seen, Solon’s alleged account of Sais is conspicuously unique. Many notable historians visited Sais in antiquity, and many others in modern times, as we have recounted, and none of them have found evidence – not even a whisper – of a similar account to what Solon is purported to have been told. Literally hundreds of statues, carved masonry blocks and ancient texts have been recovered from Sais – including the Rosetta Stone (which, by the way, includes an image of a bee). None preserve a story that is even remotely like Atlantis. Consequently, we scrutinised alternative sources of Plato’s story in the hope of identifying foundations other than Solon. There were several, it would appear, including Hellanicus, Herodotus, the Phoenicians, and the Ancient Egyptians, whose own accounts, such as those recounted in the Edfu texts, allude to similar, albeit more distant, legends.

The Edfu texts provide what is perhaps the most comparable account of Plato’s Atlantis legend. They also reference seven ancient sages who survived a great (and apparently global) flood on their island homeland, and who travelled to Egypt to resurrect civilisation; an epoch known as Zep Tepi, the First Time. Curiously, the explorer, Ebers, called Sais the ‘city of sages’, but sadly, little evidence of this claim has survived, the Rosetta Stone notwithstanding.

The Edfu texts are believed to have been compiled from a series of now-lost books, attributed to the Moon-, Magic- and Writing-god, Thoth. They are dominated by images of a receding flood. Out of the ‘primeval waters’ emerges a great primeval mound. We are reminded of Noah’s Ark settling on a mountain top after the Biblical deluge. The reference to the seven ancient sages is reminiscent of the ‘Seven Sages’ of ancient Babylonian tradition (Apkallu) and of Indian tradition (Rishis), each of whom survived the flood and provided guidance for the rebirth of civilisation. The sages became known as the builder-gods.

The Edfu texts are, of course, preserved in the temple bearing their name on the west bank of the Nile. The Temple of Edfu was built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom, between 237 and 57 BCE, on the site of an earlier, smaller temple that was also dedicated to Horus, and a stone’s throw from an ancient Tell that dates to the Egyptian Old Kingdom (circa 2686 – 2181 BCE). Despite its relatively young age, the Temple of Edfu is a celebration of the mythology of Zep Tepi and the seven sages. This prompts the question: if a similar legend was preserved at Sais, why then was it not celebrated in a like manner, especially given the restoration that occurred during the Twenty-sixth Dynasty? Again, it is possible that it was celebrated, but that the physical evidence has been lost to the ravages of time. Nevertheless, one would have expected the legacy to have been transmitted orally to Strabo or Herodotus when they visited Sais. The absence of such accounts seems odd and lends credence to the fact that Solon’s alleged tale may have been orchestrated by Plato to give credibility to a politically motivated story whose details he had garnered from other sources. It appears that the legend of Zep Tepi describes a different and far earlier account than that which Plato was writing about.

Many extraordinary and truly ancient civilisations came and went, such as Mu or Lemuria. Others include the civilisations that produced Japan’s underwater monuments, the pyramids of Bosnia, and the black stones of Mesoamerica that portray dinosaurs with humans. The list is actually quite long. The point is, the grandeur of these ancient civilisations was, most likely, far greater than Atlantis, a seafaring nation who took prisoners as slaves – an ancient people who were warriors, not pyramid-building, crystal-worshipping sages.

The savagery of the ancient inhabitants of Morocco is convincingly portrayed in the narrative of Hanno, a Carthaginian Mariner who gave a first-hand account of his visit to Thymiaterium, near Hübner’s Atlantis, circa 600 BCE. We need to stop glorifying Atlantis. It may be famous, it may have spanned a huge territory, perhaps even including the Azores, the Canary Islands and a broader expanse of North Africa, but the point is there is no evidence to suggest that the Altanteans were anything more than seafaring thugs. There were many ancient civilisations who achieved prodigious levels of art and culture and who faded into oblivion – many were even wiped out in a day. Atlantis, which appears to have been in Morocco, was not one of them.

 

Suggested Reading:

Atlantis – Circumstantial Evidence (Aug 2012) by Michael Hübner.