Atlantis: Fabled City or Ancient Civilization? on Discovery…3rd Feb…10pm EST 1Feb10

Next up on Solving History is the exploration of the subject and search for Atlantis… Discovery Channel, 3rd Feb 10pm EST... Perhaps the most famous lost city of the ancient world…. is it just a fabled city or is there any substance to the myth? I think there’s something to it, but not what most people probably think! Here’s my thinking….

Atlantis is one of the oldest myths of mankind, a lost paradise and a by-word for all supposed advanced prehistoric lost civilizations. It has been assigned to almost every possible place on earth including Sardinia, Crete, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Israel, Sinai, Sweden, Bahamas, Bermuda Triangle, Japan and even Kumari Kandam (off India). There seems to be no limit to human fantasy!

Plato (427-347 BC) was the first person to actually write about Atlantis and all other reports, sources and imaginings stem from his original account one of his Dialogues, Critias and Timaeus:
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island, and several others, and over parts of the continent… in the center of the whole island, there was a plain, said to have been the fairest of all plains and very fertile…”

Plato was a Greek philosopher, mathematician and one of the key founding brains of natural philosophy, science and Western philosophy. He wrote 35 Dialogues and 13 letters that form the basis of this thinking, often presenting a connection between the gods, humans and nature and even the glory of Atlantis was created by Poseidon:
“Alternate zones of sea and land, larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water which he (Poseidon) turned as with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the center, so that no man could get to the island.”

This story, like many of his writings was intended as an educational story to illustrate his philosophical ideas. In the Dialogues of Critias and Timaeus, it seems that Plato is not telling an accurate historical account of Atlantis; rather he’s using Atlantis to juxtapose the glories and virtues of Athens and examine ideas of governance and power. Plato concludes the Dialogue with the destruction of Atlantis:
“But there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune… the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea…”

Plato intended the story of Atlantis to fundamentally to be a warning tale about the rise of decadence, taking the gods for granted and misusing power. But if it is, like all his other writings, just a way to illuminate readers about his philosophical ideas, are there any historical origins upon which he is basing his stories? There is no suggestion in any of Plato’s writings that he heard any of the dialogues first hand. Historians believe that the original source for the Critias and Timaeus was a man called Solon (640 BC-560 BC) who learned of the disappearance of a great island empire from Egyptian priests at Sais and then discussed this with Plato’s grandfather who then passed the story on to Plato.

To really drive home his point, Plato used the oldest story-telling technique in the world – using a story that was fresh in the minds of his audience to gain empathy, understanding and impact. In his lifetime, the great city of Helike, on the Gulf of Corinth was wiped out, presumably by a combination of earthquakes and tsunamis – an event that still resonated strongly in the minds of his readers.
It is impossible to categorically verify these sources, but it seems highly improbable Plato’s story was based on nothing at all, and instead he modified the tales he heard, mixed with recent events for the purposes of his Dialogue. But, within Plato’s writings these are the geographical, geological, historical, cultural and archeological clues can help us to unravel the riddle of the history and even a possible projected location of Atlantis:

1. “Circular Island with concentric structures” – raises the geological question of where would there have been a place like this?

2. “Very fertile plain” – volcanic soil is the most fertile, could Atlantis have been built on an active volcanic region?

3. “Beyond the pillars of Hercules” – in Plato’s time these were the Straights of Gibraltar, so many take this literally to be beyond the Mediterranean in the Atlantic. However in older texts, the Pillars of Hercules were not associated with the Straights, and perhaps Plato was using the phrase ‘Beyond the pillars of Hercules’ to say ‘in a land, far, far way’ which fits with Plato’s intention of providing an antithesis to the Greek society he was defending.

4. “9000 years before this time” - Plato wrote circa 300 BC but many believe there was a mix up with the old Egyptian number system and calendars and should read 900 years, not 9000 years. So if Plato’s account was based upon Solon’s journey to Egypt 300 years before Plato, then 900+300+300 = 1500 BC – give or take a few years?

5. “Rich marine community with economy provided by intensive trade, shipping and vine” - Can modern archaeology identify a Mediterranean location or civilization from 1500-1700 BC that fulfills this description?

6. Destruction:”…but there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune… the island of Atlantis… disappeared in the depths of the sea” – Are there any geological or archaeological clues about such a massive destructive event around these key periods? Post destruction, Plato describes the resulting landscape as being an ‘impassable barrier of mud’. What could have caused this? Volcanic fallout, tsunamis and debris?

7. “black, white and red” (part of Plato’s description of the landscape after the catastrophe) – These may well be drawn from the key colors of a volcanic landscape: black (lava), white (pumice and ash), red (lava and volcanic mineral deposits.

Atlantis continues to inspire fantasy and fiction, but as Einstein, of all people, told us: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” There are many mysteries we still do not understand, but I think we can be certain of the meaning of Plato’s tale of Atlantis – the arrogance of power and the decadence and decline that follow – still remain a portent warning for every generation.

26 Responses to “Atlantis: Fabled City or Ancient Civilization? on Discovery…3rd Feb…10pm EST”

  1. Tanya Says:

    Hey Olly,

    I am going to assume that you are checking out Santorini? I gather more recent research suggests that it was victim of a massive volcanic explosion/tsumani which destroyed the Minoan culture there. A culture which sounds remarkably similar to the Atlantian one……at least that’s my take on it…..but I could be way offbase on this one – LOL

    Love the show btw ;)

  2. Angela Says:

    Hey there, Olly. No questions, only comments. Wanted to let you know, you have a new fan. I began a look around your website starting at the beginning of your blog posts. I just finished reading your take on the Marathon des Sables and I have to tell you, I laughed to the point of tears! Not at your suffering, of course…there was method to your madness, and Bless you for your effort. Anyone who can use the word ‘dastardly’ in a sentence, and get away with it, is ok in my book. I am looking forward to the new episodes, and love the fact it is great for the mind and easy on the eyes… (wink wink). Suddenly, History is interesting!

    If you ever find yourself in Nebraska, drop by! Perhaps you can solve the mystery of why someone would make a replica of Stonehenge out of old cars…really; I couldn’t possibly make that up. (Carhenge)

    All the best to you.

  3. Tan Says:

    Hi, Olly
    I’ll be waiting to see what you find out about the Atlantic.I don’t know if the Atlantis is actually real or just a myth. My idea is, if it is a myth than Plato does a pretty good job in telling a story. He goes through some great length about Atlantis geography detail with the Island measurement. I just thought for a second, it almost sound like when the Bible giving detail about how to build the place to house the Ark of the Covenant. But, Olly, if this place is actually real, would they really be anything left if it is a volcano erouption? Anyway, I will write more with probably planty of questions after seeing the show. Take care and stay safe, Tan.

  4. Angie Says:

    I can’t wait to see tonight’s show, (sorry you had two bad days at the office.) Please tell us there will be a Season 2! I am new to this blogging thing, so pardon me if I do it wrong. Thank you for letting us ordinary folks live vicariously through you. As the biggest adventure we have around here is chasing naked babies down the hall after a bath! (My favorite time of day) Reading about your adventures is my new guilty pleasure. There are several other things I should do while the kids nap, but this is much more fun. Endlessly fascinating. The pigs, the cats the French! All completely amusing.

    I wonder though, is there a place you will never go? Or a mystery you will never attempt to solve for fear you would solve it and in turn spoil the joy of the mystery? (Like sneaking a peek at a Christmas present, only to be very sorry you did, or turning to the last page of a book to see how it ends, when we know the reward is always the journey.)

    While I am a stay at home mom, I teach K/1st grade religion classes and am in awe of the things they think…Is what happens after life on earth the ultimate mystery…meeting your maker…any questions? (Ok, I give…where did they hide the Ark of the Covenant!) However, that one we all just have to wait for. Do you EVER want to know the answers? I have told the kids I think Heaven is what they want it to be but, personally think Heaven would be a comfy cloud surrounded by loved ones with a book that never ends, explaining everything we have ever wanted to know. They just laugh at me. Your thoughts?

    Perhaps in the future we will see “Pint-Size Adventures with Olly Steeds. The Untamed Wilderness of the Backyard” On Discovery Kids? Children may be your greatest adventure ever. It’s been said raising kids is like herding cats…seems you have some experience! Ha. Children are so wide-eyed and ready to explore and learn. These are qualities you seem to still possess. No matter how many times they go play in the backyard, it is like the first time. Of course, the world is your backyard.

    By the way, toughness is in the eye of the beholder…I would much rather give birth than spend months in the jungle (or get the flu).

    I hope the universe blesses you with everything your heart desires. Take care, and best wishes to you and your crew.

  5. Reena Says:

    Hi Olly,

    Great show as usual. I hope you will be solving history for years to come.
    I have to say love the way you take a note book with you all the time being the modern Indiana Jones I thought you would carry something more high- tech.
    I heard you were in the hospital when you did this film, thanks for taking risks to teach us, but take it easy even a cat has 9 lives.
    One question, the tile aka trout in the water could you tell if the design on it was an old design or something more modern?
    95% of the waters of Greece are not explored so why would any country welcome the use the resources you are willing to give for free?

    Wishing you health, happiness, love & wealth.

  6. alexandria Says:

    just watched the show. as to the minoan location, the time period is right, the geographic layout of alternative circular land and water seems right, the extend of eruption and tsumani that could erase a civilazation seems right. but what about Plato’s other descriptions: a rectagular plain enclosed by mountains where the capital city island was located, the continent the size of asia and libya combined, elephants are abundant, the mining of abundant gold and mysterious metal orichalcum. i came across this site and found it interesting. what do YOU think?

  7. admin Says:

    Thank you for taking time to watch our little film on Atlantis… lots of puzzling questions – there’s obviously no concrete ‘right or wrongs’ here, just opinion! For what it’s worth here’s my thoughts and hopefully answer a few questions….(and some unrelated to Atlantis!) xol

    Tanya: so what ya think!? You guessed right… should have consulted you at the beginning of all my research – would have made it far easier ;-)

    Angela: Thanks Angela and great news you enjoyed the Marathon Des Sades journals! It was quite a nightmare but hopefully made worthwhile so you and other could laugh at my pain ;-)

    Angie: a place I’ll never go? Oscar Wilde said you should try everything once except incest and folk dancing. Why he chose those two things, I don’t know, unless he’d experienced both and decided that they were in fact best avoided. Anyway, whilst I’m certainly not Oscar Wilde, I want to go most places and there’s no mystery or magical spell I don’t want to break. More than anything I’d love to go to Space but I imagine, I’ll never have that chance… but who knows… you gotta dream! As you wrote though, all exploration is about curiosity and without wanting to know what’s behind that closed door, what lies in the unknown, where would we be? Exploration is fundamental to our progression and kids and adults alike have got to keep questioning and exploring…. I’m hoping to do a lot more educational work – check out for what we’re doing at the moment – it’s the thing I’m most proud of… we’re about to relaunch but its worth having a look at if you have time…

    Reena: the tile, the trout? Very difficult to age it due to all the stuff that had been growing on it. In terms of design, apparently it looked like it could have been very old… but who knows – impossible to really know unless it’s tested properly…

    Alexandria: Plato’s Atlantean descriptions: You know your Plato… ;-) Mmm – so…. Here’s what I reckon:

    Rectangular plain enclosed by mountains? Geologists think that the plain could have been part of what is now the sunken caldera, well with the volcanic fertilizer in the soil, the agriculture on the plain would have been incredible…
    On a continent the size of Asia and Libya? Difficult one this – possibly he was just using it as a measuring device in the minds of his audience to give the impression of size (much like ‘Beyond the Pillars of Hercules” – aka: “in a land far, far away….”) or if we look at the actual words used: ‘Bigger than’ is ‘meson’ and ‘between’ is ‘mezon’ – so there’s the possibility of inaccuracy coming into the narrative where in fact it’s meant to read ‘between Asia and Libya’ which would make much more sense in terms of Plato’s geographic knowledge of his known world.

    Elephants are abundant? The Minoans had all sort of things going on, including the myth/mystery of the Minotaur, and they were great traders and sea-farers, trading with Africa… it’s possible at least!

    Gold and Orichalcum: I haven’t heard this before… although again, they were traders, the Minoan civilization spread beyond just what is now Crete and Santorini, so maybe there were other parts of the empire that included these mines? Or perhaps this is just ways of Plato to up the ante with his story to make his point. From my research, it does that Plato intended the story of Atlantis to be a warning tale and an educational tale rather than an accurate historical account, so it seems very possible he could have been referring to Thera/Minoan folklore passed down in Greece over a thousand year through many generations where facts could have been distorted like a game of broken telephone… or if I was being unkind than perhaps he even fabricated elements of his story to give his narrative extra punch and effect with his audience…

    Alexandria: Atlantis – interesting site – there are lots of theories out their which tickle our fantasy and wonder. Simply, no one really knows – that’s the magic of it!

  8. Angie Says:

    Thanks for the response! Wow. I will certainly check out the link. Thank you. I loved last nights show, but thought of a question. Perhaps I missed it in the program, but was there ever any discussion about how much volcanic ash may have fell on the area? I read more than 540 million tons of ash fell after the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980, and I believe you said the Atlantis eruption to be almost 5 times the size. Could it be after being shaken to pieces, drown and perhaps washed away, what remained was buried by ash?
    Why was the government so stingy? It reminded me of the U.S. Area 51, we are not allowed in or even over…but they claim they are hiding nothing…hmmm.
    Although not related…is the water of the Mediterranean as blue as it appears to be? Looks the color of sapphires. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me.

  9. Angela S. Says:

    Hey Olly,

    It’s been a while since we’ve wrote. How’s the book coming along…anything? Just write the book already! :) Great series, my husband and I enjoy your show.

    About Digital Explorer, my husband is a educator and attempted to contact Jamie sometime last year with questions regarding the Antarctic Curriculum but never heard back. Can you tell who he should contact regarding this? Last year, he launched an ipods in education program. He is also interested in possibly a live chat between the children in his classroom in California and another classroom in the UK of the similar age.

    Hopefully you can point me toward the right direction or if possible forward my email to a contact person.

    Big thanks Olly!

    Love the show!

  10. Kasumi Says:

    OS-We need more of your adventures! I hope you’re show isn’t ending!??? Do you have more episodes in the works? I have tons of thousands of food and gastronomy questions awaiting your next episode-given that you comment on the dietary habits of wherever you go next! Thanx for the cactus info-I figured you probably got slimed!
    Bermuda triangle-have you checked out the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of China?? talk about alien lights-you’ll find them there for sure.
    Awaiting the next anticipation! ;)-K

  11. Tanya Says:

    It was fabulous – and not only because I was swooning over the warm climate. I’d forgotten how tricky diving can be over there; I understand the Greeks protective nature regarding their relics but if they are just going to leave them lying there they could at least allow responsible ‘others’ to research them on their behalf……
    I minored in classics at uni – Minoans were always a favorite and an old prof of mine was convinced, for similar reasons to those you described, that they were the lost Atlantians. There was also another documentary out recently, Lost World – Atlantis, which put forth the same theory but without the underwater footage, geological expert with excessive nose hair and entertaining host ;) Where are you off to next? Shangra’la? ;)

  12. Veronica Says:

    Olly, this was by far THE best information I have seen about Atlantis. It makes perfect sense and I have always thought that Santorini was the very spot for Plato’s story. It is amazing to me that structures so vast could vanish so quickly. I have found the term “liquefaction” to be so interesting and I must learn more… about it. These layers of history through time is an extraordinary journey in itself.

  13. alexandria Says:

    olly, thanks for taking the time to reply. by the way, i love all your episodes and look forward to future episodes. like you said, if Plato wrote the story as a educational tale, then Santorini would be the most likely location. i have my recorder set to tape all the shows!

  14. andre Says:

    i see you have only scratched the surface when in comes to Atlantis. but i have heard these story’s of explaining the fall of Atlantis so many times that much of it has all ready been disproved but never published. but some are reasonable theory’s like the landslide tsunami that i don’t think i heard in your writing’s in this part of your site. most have already said read Plato as is and nothing more then look for Atlantis. you do not take the whole account of the story as research only parts of it.i have looked into other claims and researched Atlantis myself for 4 to 5 years now. i have dismissed some theory’s and keep sorry if this sounds disrespectful and i am sorry for that but i am disappointed to hear the same old mush after 10 years nay 15 years. if you wish to learn of my findings and debate them please e-mail me . i am a open man that is not closed minded to other thoughts but i have gone threw most of what some have claim on this subject. thank you for your time and i do smile at your adventures and your willingness to go the extra mile.

  15. tee Says:

    I’m sorry i missed the show on ATLANTIS, it was probably very interesting.
    I’m sure you have heard of Edgar Cayce. I trust him more on the ideas of ATLANTIS than Plato and his philosophical ideas. The truth lies with Cayce on this matter.

  16. Thorwald C. Franke Says:

    All who want to know more about Atlantis, have a look on Atlantis-Scout webpage! Enjoy!

  17. Tan Says:

    Hi, Olly
    Where are you? What is on the show for tonight? I guess I will try to check it out on the Discovery and see if it going to say anything about the show tonight. I guess you must be very busy, it ok. we all understand. I don’t even know how you can keep up with everything as you been doing. Take care and stay safe, Tan

  18. V. Leigh Says:

    Unrelated to video-

    What happened to the iNomad website? The ‘mission statement’ on facebook seemed like a good alternative to a military career…

  19. Kristina Says:

    Ok, so I have some uninformed questions. I say ‘uninformed’ because I haven’t read Plato since a Philosphy class in my freshman year of college like a decade ago, but my questions are these: Did Plato or his contemporaries have another name for the Minoan civilzation? Did anyone refer to it as Atlantis somewhere, or is Plato just pulling that name out of his ass? I mean, as a mathmetician and historian, wouldn’t he call the place by it’s right name? Does he also have a history of retelling factual stories while changing names and places? If no, then I would assume he would have recorded the destruction as the destruction of the Minoan’s (again, assuming that is what folks’ called them back in the day). If yes, then, well, all this conjecture is for nothing, and I just wasted 10 minutes of my time and yours :)

    I should just do the research on Plato myself, but that is less entertaining than asking someone else. Thanks!

  20. Carmen Says:

    Happy Valentine’s Day and Gong Xi Fa Cai, Olly!! Wishing you lots of fat Red Envelopes! Hope you are well and having fun.

    Carmen : )

  21. admin Says:

    Angie: Volcanic Ash: the estimates for the Minoan eruption are approximately 100 km3 (24 cu mi), about four times what was thrown into the stratosphere by Krakatoa in 1883, a well-recorded event. After the ash dump and caldera collapse, not much was left, although they have found some of the original sites at Akrotiri, in Santorini. Read more here –

    Angela: Digital Explorer – I’ll get Jamie to get in touch…

    Kasumi: Bermuda Triangle? Not checked it out yet… may be series 2!

    Tanya: Shangri-La? I wish.. Got a few leads on a possible sacred landscape in Tibet that could be the inspiration! May be later in the year when the snows have melted… but tonight is Nazi Treasure – the rest of the series takes a more modern twist… and it gets dark!

    Andre: Other theories: thank you for writing – please no its’ not disrespectful! Great to learn more as you clearly know a lot about the subject and can add to our understanding – I don’t claim to be an expert, nor have the answers, just hopefully add to the debate for everyone to draw their own conclusions – I have my own opinions, which are usually wrong and often change! So please do share your thoughts…

    V. Leigh: iNOMAD: Thanks for pointing that out! No idea.. will get onto it!

    Kristina: Name of Atlantis: As far as I know, the other names for the Minoans was Thera, Therans etc, but as far as Atlantis goes, Plato sourced an Egyptian priest called Solon as the one who told him the story of Atlantis. Plato’s dialogues are all broadly educational stories and do not appear to be based upon accurate historical accounts, but he uses historical events within his narratives, perhaps a bit like Dan Brown!

    Carmen: happy Valentines and Xinnian kuai le… happy year of the Tiger… grrr…

  22. Richard Welch Says:

    You all are a little behind the curve here. The Atlantis problem was resolved months ago with the publication of Roots of Cataclysm: Geopulsation and the Atlantis Supervolcano (Algora Publ. NY 2009). Atlantis was a supervolcanic island off Portugal that exploded and sank in the 17th cenutry BC. The Thera solution does not work because the Minoans were thriving on Crete for at leat 80 years after that eruption.

  23. Alberto Says:

    Hi Olly,
    If I may, let me review your work so far. But first I would like to give you few tips on how to conduct a real Atlantis Research.
    First of all, you present the viewer with a timeline of the story (a short one). How did we get this story?
    It is the oldest and the greatest Story ever told. People get lost when you start your show right to the point. Only people like me that have done their research will follow. If you want to get higher ratings you do have to lure them in with something new and exciting but also easy to follow.
    Believe it or not the Story of the Story of Atlantis is even greater than the story itself. So you can spend few minutes into explaining that. The way it came down to us has captivated me more than anything.
    According to Plato; Egyptians->Solon->Dropides->Critias->Plato…..US.
    Second of all, you’re trying to read from that booklet and you miss the point; PLATO never wrote in English! So do a favor to yourself and Throw that book way. You do have to get someone who reads Ancient Greek and try to get your clues (your facts straight). I can read Ancient Greek and I can tell you for sure that what you’re reading (in English) was garbage.
    And finally Olly do not let your personal opinion take over the show. Of course you can state what you believe but not ruin the entire show. You’re so obsessed with Santorini that you don’t give a chance to other theories.
    Contact me and I will give you everything you need to know about this subject. Stuff that would amaze you.

    Respect Al Nikas.

  24. Bryan Morrow Says:

    An interesting article from Answers in Genesis on the possibility of Atlantis existing…good read.

  25. Ashley Knibb Says:


    I liker your conclusions and opinion on this one seems very possible .

    Another great episode well done fella.

    I have a couple of questions though.. Survivors? If there were some could they be responsible for influencing later civilizations around the world following the fall of their own?

    If in deed Santorini could be the resting place of Atlantis or its real life equivalent, then has there been any digs or discoveries in that area to support this? If not why not?

    Another interesting approach mate which I found very interesting though.

    Right need to prep for my own investigation at Peterborough Museum this weekend now, so stop by soon.



  26. Samantha Says:

    Hey Olly,

    Loved this show. I was so inspired by it that it gave me an idea to write a book. I’m doing some research and trying to get my facts straight. It’s going to be a science fiction book with some actual facts from history. When I’m finished and if it get published, I’d like you to read it.

    Sorry it has taken me so long to respond but my laptop started messing up and I couldn’t log on to your website. I was still able to see you on facebook though.

    I have to go, I’m at the library using their computer and my time is running out. LOL

    Always your fan,

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