Ever since the famed Greek philosopher Plato first wrote of a fabled continent Atlantis almost 2,400 years ago, scholars have been locked in fierce debate as to whether such a place actually existed. While a few rare individuals have taken Plato's words seriously, most scoff at the very idea that an advanced civilization could vanish as completely as if it had never existed. As such, it's easy to ignore the entire concept and write it off as a bit of New Age nonsense or but one more example of "junk" science. Yet what if there is more to the story than most scholars are willing to consider? What if there's much more?
I've been putting some thought into that for several years and came out with a book on Atlantis that puts a little different twist on the idea than is the norm. Most writers attempt to convince you that Atlantis was an island somewhere in the Atlantic, or perhaps an ancient stone age civilization that may have been responsible for building the great pyramids of Egypt or establishing the early civilizations in the Americas, but I don't believe any of those theories are valid. You'll need to order my book Atlantis: Lessons from a Lost Continent (available through Llewellyn Press or Amazon.com) to get the whole story, but for now you'll just have to settle for a few tidbits of a much more expansive theory. Below a list of commonly asked questions about Plato's lost continent for you to consider, along with a few of my own ideas. As such, nothing is set in stone and I value any input you might have about my theory. Just send me a note by clicking on the e-mail button on the left and I'll get back to you ASAP.
does Plato tell us about Atlantis?
The legend of Atlantis originates-at least as far as modern scholars are concerned-in two lesser known works penned by Plato around 360 B.C. Known as the Critias and the Timaeus, these are the only surviving written records in which the philosopher specifically refers to Atlantis and as such are the sole sources for the entire legend.
According to Plato's own words, the story was not his own invention but one passed down to him by a fellow philosopher named Critias (hence the name of the book.) Critias, however, was not the original author either; he had learned the story from his grandfather, who had in turn learned it from his father, Dropides (Critias' great grandfather) who apparently had acquired the tale from the famous Greek statesman and philosopher Solon. And, finally, Solon had learned the story from Egyptian priests while visiting the upper Nile delta 200 years earlier. Apparently it was a legend of great antiquity even then, predating Solon by centuries and, possibly, even much longer (or so Plato says.)
Written as an imaginary dialogue between the Greek philosopher Socrates and his fellow intellectuals concerning ancient knowledge and ideal societies, Timaeus and Critias agree to entertain Socrates with a tale that is "not a fiction but a true story." Recounting a time 9,000 years earlier when the Athenians fought a fierce, sea-faring race known as the Atlanteans, they go on to describe their opponent's home in some detail as a massive island that existed somewhere beyond or adjacent to the "Pillars of Hercules" (an ancient term for the modern Straits of Gibraltar which, if one was to take their description literally, would place it somewhere off the coast of present day Portugal.) The dialogues go on to describe it as a wealthy and lush land that was very powerful economically and militarily, with twice-a-year harvests and many kinds of animals abounding including, among them, elephants. Plato also described a number of unusual elements about the capitol city as well, the most interesting being his description of it being ringed by bands of metal-lined circular canals and massive stone walls, the tops of which were broad enough to serve as horse racing tracks!
Unfortunately, the story ends with the Atlanteans, after living for generations as simple, virtuous people, being corrupted by greed and power, forcing Zeus and the other gods to destroy them for their misdeeds. And so, in a single day and night, the island was swallowed up by the sea and its people and their great civilization lost to memory beneath the churning ocean waters, apparently an object lesson for those in the future who might be tempted to excel without giving the gods their due credit.
story fact or fiction?
Though written from the perspective of an imaginary dialogue between Socrates and his fellow philosophers, it contains a wealth of detail that seems out of place in a piece of pure fiction. Additionally, Plato himself implies that the story was true (or, at least, that he personally believed it was) and takes great pains to explain how the story came to him through various intermediaries. Why such an elaborate ruse if it was intended purely as a metaphorical fable? Unless we are prepared to accept that Plato lied, which would seem inconsistent with histories' view of him as one of the most ethical men of the ancient world, it seems presumptuous to simply dismiss it as a work of fiction and leave it at that.
Of course, there is no reason to reject the possibility that Plato, especially since the story was supposedly handed down to him fourth or fifth hand, couldn't have simply been duped and so erroneously portrayed an entirely fictional story as fact. Anyone, even the greatest intellectual of all timeor so one would imagineshould be as capable of being deceived as anyone else, although it does seem somewhat unlikely. He was a very sharp cookie, making it difficult to imagine him simply falling for such a remarkable story without questioning it himself. It is, however, entirely possible that Plato was guilty of neither lying nor of being deceived while at the same time relating a story he also knew to be fictional. Most likely, Plato's accounts are allegoriesthat is, fables designed to teach a moral lessonwhich was both a common and acceptable form of writing of the age. As such, it's entirely possible that parts or even the entire story is fictional, though that doesn't preclude it from having some basis in fact.
Such, I suspect, is the case here. I think he was writingin good faitha story that may have had some basis in historical fact, but was so ancient and diluted with each retelling that all but the most basic factual details had long since dropped out of it. Relying on ancient legends and myths undoubtedly known to the Greeks from antiquity and using his own imagination and skills as a story teller, Plato may have simply wove together a highly stylized version of what amounted to a morality play with which he might tell the story of how corruption and greed will ultimately incur divine wrath.
detailed descriptions of the place make it unlikely that the story is fictional?
While it is true that Plato's Dialogues contain a good deal of apparently extraneous details about the ancient island nation that argue for it being a literal place, his writings also contain a few clues that we may be looking at something that's a little less than historical. The first clue that should make us suspicious that Plato is penning something other than a literal narrative is in his earliest description of Atlantis as contained in the Critias. In it, after describing the ancient Athenians and their culture, Plato goes on to write about their chief opponent, Atlantis. Using the same straight forward, matter-of-fact style he uses throughout his Dialogues, Plato informs his reader that the island nation was given to the god Poseidon when the lands were being divided among the gods of Olympus and that Poseidon, true to the nature of Olympian deities, fell hopelessly in love with the daughter of Atlantis' first king, took her for his bride, and "begat" a number of children by her. Now while the idea of gods having children by mortal woman is common to Greek mythology, it seems a little out of place in a supposedly historic narrative, leaving one to wonder about the reliability of Plato's account. Atlantis buffs who insist on taking Plato's story as literal truth even to the point of accepting the precise dimensions of the place as he recorded them and the number of chariots in the king's arsenal somehow manage to overlook this curious detail. However, I think it's only fair that if we accept Plato's account as a genuine historical narrative, we should then be willing to accept the idea that there really was an actual god named Poseidon who literally copulated with the king's only daughter producing half-divine, half-mortal offspring in the process. It seems to me disingenuous to accept the idea that there were elephants on an Atlantic island without believing that one of the gods of Olympus couldn't have also done well with the ladies.
Another problem with the story is that it describes a massive war that supposedly took place between the Atlanteans and an alliance of eastern Mediterranean nations 9,000 years before Plato was even born. However, if we are willing to believe Atlantis existed that long ago, are we not equally obliged to accept the idea that Athens and Egypt (along with the rest of the places mentioned in the account) also existed around 9,000 B.C.? Otherwise, who were the Atlanteans fighting? Unfortunately, this presents us with a major dilemma: to accept the Atlantean/Athenian War as a literal event of ancient history means we have to push the formation of the city state of Athensthought to have first emerged sometime in the second millennia B.C.back nearly 7,000 years! Further, it means that full-fledged civilizations flourished throughout the Mediterranean some 6,000 years before the pyramids were built, which clearly flies in the face of every historical and archeological fact we know. As such, it seems most likely Plato's story was fictional though, again, it may well have been inspired by much earlier stories in circulation from antiquity.
himself suggest that the story is true and not fictional?
Atlantisphiles make much of the fact that Plato himself reports that the story is not a myth, but a true story. In rejecting that, then, do we not call the man a liar and challenge histories' view of him as a person of great integrity and scrupulous honesty?
Actually, Plato does not say that the story is true. A careful reading of the texts in question has Critias tell Socrates that the story is true, which is not precisely the same thing as Platoperhaps writing in a preambletelling us it is a true story. The Timaeus and Critias are called the Dialogues precisely because Plato designed them to read as a imaginary dialogue between his old friend and mentor Socrates and his fellow philosophers. Socrates never actually uttered a single word in any of these writings (he had been dead for decades by the time they were written) nor, by extension, did Critias actually speak to Socrates. Such dialogues were a favorite literary device Plato used to flesh out his ideas and were never intended to be taken as a literal conversation between two men. As such, when Plato has Critias tell Socrates that the story he is about to tell him is true, this is not a lie but a common literary tactic designed to draw the reader in (in literary parlance, it's called a "hook.") Novelists still use the device today; having one character inform another that a story he's about to relate "really happened" is as old as fiction writing itself. In fact, it is the premise that the characters believe their story to be true that makes for good fiction; if the characters don't believe what is happening to them, the reader isn't likely to either. Plato wasn't doing anything dishonest thenhe was simply being a good story-teller.
story is a mere allegory, doesn't that make any search for an ancient civilization
Simply because a story is fictional doesn't mean it has no factual content or historical value. In fact, all works of fictionwith the possible exception of fantasy and some science fictionfrequently use real places, people, and events to serve as backdrops for their story. I suspect something of this nature happened with Plato's story. Using some well-known and probably generally accepted "deluge" stories as a basis, Plato may have simply designed a fictional story around some very real ancient events, just as modern novelists commonly do today. Therefore, by looking past the extraneous details of Plato's account of Atlantis, we can still come away with the idea that something must have happened in antiquity to serve as a basis for his fable. And what that something was may not be an island of fantastic wealth and power overrun by elephants and ultimately destroyed by a great cataclysm, but a clue to a very ancient and very remarkable past that even Plato may not have been able to fathom.
Clearly Plato's story of Atlantis reminds us of the various "flood mythologies," which are a part of almost every culture on Earth, as well as one well known to the ancients of his day as well. I contend he simply turned a global catastrophe mythology into a regional or localized phenomenon for the purposes of teaching a moral lesson. Of course, the best known of these "deluge" epicsat least in the westis the story of Noah's Ark as recounted in the biblical book of Genesis. However, the Noah story isn't the original flood myth, (despite the contentions of some fundamentalist Christians to the contrary) but is actually a Semitic version of a much older Babylonian story recounted in the Epics of Gilgamesh. Agreeing on a number of important details with only the names being changed to protect the guilty, it is quickly clear that the flood of Noah wais a universally believed myth as global in nature as it is ancient. Plato's account then, I propose, was simply a reworking of that story on a smaller scale in an effort to give it focus and more immediate meaning.
Consider the parallels Plato's Atlantis maintains when compared with the similar deluge stories told in Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh: in all three accounts God (or the gods) destroy the people because of their wickedness and arrogance, the people were prosperous and powerful before they "went bad", and everyone in the world (or on Atlantis) was utterly destroyed by a massive flood except for a saved remnant. Plato doesn't include any business about a zoo rescue, of course, but his story too closely parallels many of the flood legends to be mere coincidence. Further, these are not the only three flood stories that exist. Literally hundreds of such mythologies exist around the world, a point Plato himself alludes to in the Dialogues when he writes: "In the first place you remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones; in the next place, you do not know that there formerly dwelt in your land the fairest and noblest race of men which ever lived, and that you and your whole city are descended from a small seed or remnant of them which survived. And this was unknown to you, because, for many generations, the survivors of that destruction died, leaving no written word." (Timaeus, 360 B.C.)
Here Plato clearly makes reference to a number of deluges having taken place over the ages, of which his Atlantis epic is only one (or, perhaps the most recent). This is a significant point, for it separates the Atlantis story from the older deluge stories from which it sprang, making Atlantis a fictional account while the flood myths remainat least at their corefactual. This, then, frees us from being shackled to the details of Plato's account, permitting us to expand our search for a real ancient civilization by divorcing it from the ancient and fictional island of tradition. Could "Atlantis," then, be but a metaphor for a fabulous and ancient civilization that existed long before Athens, Egypt or any of the ancient civilizations we know of first emerged onto the world stage? But, if so, then what was the source for his story? In other words, just where is the real Atlantis?
referring to the ancient Minoans in his story?
The most recent and somewhat plausible hypothesisone popularized by, among others, the famous French oceanographer Jacque Cousteauproposes that Plato was referring not to some unknown "lost" civilization but to a relatively advanced local civilization known as the Minoans. Little known to history until recently, the Minoans were a people that inhabited the island of Crete and some of the smaller neighboring islands of the Aegean Sea between 2000 and 1400 B.C. Apparently a culture of considerable sophisticationat least by ancient standardsit was believed to have rivaled ancient Greece in terms of wealth and was a major trading partner of the Egyptians for many centuries. When the volcanic island of Thera, some one hundred miles to the north of Crete, exploded around 1600 B.C., however, not only did it destroy the inhabitants of that island but the seismic waves it generated wrought considerable damage to the larger Minoan center on Crete and along the entire Mediterranean coastline as well. Such spectacular and massive destruction would have been remembered in the annals of Egyptian history and so was likely to ultimately find its way into the mythology of Plato's day over a thousand years later. The hypothesis, then, is that Plato was referring to that very catastrophe in a somewhat idealized form, with the descriptions of Atlantis' vast resources and power merely a stylized bit of hyperbole. In effect, though the basic story may have been based on an actual eventthe explosion of Thera and the resultant destruction of much of the Minoan civilizationtthe specific details were unavoidably exaggerated or embellished with the retelling over the years and innocently passed on by Plato through his writings.
While this seems a reasonable hypothesis at first glance, it fails to take into account a few important points. First, Plato clearly maintains that the events he was retelling took place 9,000 years before his day whereas Thera was destroyed a mere 900-1100 years earliera considerable disparity of some 8,000 years! Some have argued that the vast difference in these timelines, however, are the result of a mistake being made in converting the Egyptian numbering system into Greek. This theory maintains that the number for "900" may have been mistranslated to read "9,000," thereby throwing the entire sequence off by a factor of ten. If correct, this would place the events Plato described within the general timeframe of Thera's destruction, making it plausible that Plato was indeed referring to the Minoans after all, despite all the various exaggerations and inconsistencies his account contains. There are problem with this explanation, however. First, the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for "thousands" is quite different and distinguishable from that used for "hundreds"a point that either Solon or the Egyptian priests should have been certain to recognize. Second, Plato used other numbers and measurements in his narrative to describe the size of the island and the length of the various canals and walls along the coast, yet these measurements don't seem to be similarly mistranslated. And, finally, the Egyptians themselves maintained that these events had occurred many thousands of years before the advent of the earliest Egyptian civilizations, whereas the Minoans came into existence long after the first Egyptian empire had been established. As such, unless we accept that the Egyptians were ignorant of their own history, that would seem to mitigate the story as being a comparatively recent event.
The other problem with the Minoan hypothesis is that while the Minoans were important players in the region during the second millennia B.C., they were scarcely as powerful or sophisticated as Plato's story recounts, nor is there any record of them ever having fought against a confederation of nations led by Athens. Additionally, the destruction of Thera didn't destroy the Minoans; their culture survived for another century or two. Further, Plato clearly wrote that the island was completely destroyed and swallowed up by the sea "in a single day and night" but the largest part of Therathough decimatedremained largely intact and, more importantly, above water. (the main Minoan center on nearby Crete was not destroyed either, further rendering Plato's account inaccurate.) In any case, Plato clearly wrote that Atlantis lied beyond the "Pillars of Hercules" (Gibraltar) whereas Thera lies in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, thousands of miles from Gibraltar or the Atlantic Ocean. He also described it as being as large as "Asia and Libya" combined, but even allowing for a bit of exaggeration (it's doubtful Plato knew how large either Asia or Africa really were, for example) it seems a bit of a stretch to describe the island of Theraa land mass of only a few dozen square milesin such grandiose terms. As such, while the Minoan hypothesis is interesting, it fails to take either Plato's timeline or descriptions seriously and so does not appear, at least upon closer examination, to be the source for Plato's fantastic island empire.
supposed to have been an island in the Atlantic Ocean?
One of the more popular and traditional notions is that Plato was quite accurate when he described Atlantis as lying beyond the "Pillars of Hercules" and, being that "Atlantis" sounds so similar to "Atlantic," many naturally place it smack dab in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean. Probably no man popularized this idea more successfully than writer and Atlantophile, Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) whose 1882 book, Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, began the modern Atlantis mythology that endures to this day. A somewhat eccentric fellow, Donnelly was the first modern writer to take Plato's account literally and so postulated that thousands of years earlier almost the entire Atlantic seafloor may have been above water and so housed a massive continent of Atlantean proportions, complete with "land bridges" linking Europe, Africa, and the Americas like one vast international land mass. Destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption that quickly sank it, Donnelly maintained that today only the Azores and a few small Atlantic islands are all that remain of the great continent. He was also the first to propose that those who managed to escape the catastrophe migrated around the globe bringing civilization to much of the world, which is why so many different races share similar flood mythologies and cultural similarities (a popular idea since adopted by many Atlantian theorists.)
While Donnelly's book generated great interest at the time and served for generations as the basis for much of the modern Atlantis mythology, it was based on a nineteenth century understanding of earth science and a great deal of sensationalism. His contention that the Earth's crust is capable of rising and falling great distances in comparatively short periods of time, for example, proved to be inconsistent with the findings of modern geology. The crust is not quite that flexible (though it is capable of some compression, such as the poles experience during ice ages) and it is certainly not capable of an overnight drop of thousands of feet. Worse for Donnelly's theory, once the ocean floor was fully mapped it revealed a fairly uniform depth of nearly three miles (along with a few points dropping to as deep as five miles) which provided no possible refuge for a lost island of any substantial size. Though a geologically active mountain chain called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs from its northern extremities to its furthest southern latitudes like a massive, S-shaped spinal column, except for a couple of small islandsthe Azores and the Canary Islands for example along with a few tiny, isolated rocksthere is almost nothing between continental Europe and the Americas that could serve as an island as substantial as the one Plato describedmuch less a "lost continent." As such, while Donnelly made for and continues to make for fascinatingif archaicreading even today (his book is still in print 120 years later) most of his ideas have been largely repudiated by modern science.
have been referring to other places in the Atlantic like the Americas or western
Other suggestions for the location of Atlantis have been offered, but they likewise fail to win the support of science. The shallow waters of the North Sea and English coast (particularly the Celtic Shelf) were suggested and received some serious attention, as did the comparatively shallow waters around the Bahamas and even the Americas themselves, but each failed either to be significantly large land-masses when above water (with the exception of the Americas) or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Celtic Shelf, for example, was above water only during the Pleistocene Ice Agewhen ocean levels were significantly lower than todaybut at that time and latitude the climate would have been far too cold to support the many different types of animals that Plato described. Additionally, such a frigid region could not provide for even once a year harvests, making it hard-pressed to support even primitive human habitations, much less an advanced civilization. The Bahamas would have been provided a more temperate climate, but even when the water levels were lower it was not a particularly large or impressive land mass. Further, being nearly 5,000 miles from the Mediterranean would have made any war with the ancient Athenians, as Plato described in the Critias, problematic at best. It was simply too far away for any conceivable Bronze Age navy to carry on a conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Clearly, the Atlantic Ocean as the source of Atlantis was a lost cause and science appeared to have popped another mythological balloon once and for all, or so it seemed.
A more recent and growingly popular theory is that Plato was referring to the then unknown continents of North or South America in his writings. This theory has gained considerable support over the years, especially as ancient human remains are unearthed in the "new" world and the extent and range of the native populations are catalogued. The problem is, however, that during the time-frame Plato refers toapproximately 10,000 BCEmuch of North America was buried beneath a sheet of ice two miles thick and was much too frigid to support anything more substantial than small, nomadic tribes of natives. By the time the better known Incan, Mayan and Aztec civilizations emerged, however (civilizations that certainly appeared advanced by ancient standards and, further, may have been capable of making an open ocean journey from the western hemisphere to Europe) Plato's Atlantis had long-since vanished. Additionally, what are we to make of Plato's assertion that the place was destroyed and sank beneath the waves? Certainly this doesn't appear to apply to the Americas in any way, so what could Plato have been talking about?
Finally, South America seems an even poorer candidate as the source for Plato's island empire. While it may have been ice free and more temperate during the supposed time of Atlantis, evidence suggests it was a vast and largely impenetrable jungle running all the way from Mexico to Patagonia. Unless we are to imagine that a once extensive and powerful civilization now resides beneath the steaming jungles of the Amazon rain forest, there simply appears to be no compelling evidence to suggest that either America is a likely source for Plato's Atlantis (though, of course, this doesn't preclude them from having been possible colonies of an ancient civilization.) Plus, of course, neither contitnent has sank beneath the waves, as Plato maintained. As such, we shall simply have to wait for something more substantial to turn up before we can begin to consider the Americas a credible possibility.
wasn't in the Atlantic, where was it?
Recently scholars have come to reconsider ancient terminology a bit more carefully and have come to the conclusion that the term "Pillars of Hercules" may mean more than a mere geographic location (though it is also that.) It may also have been a metaphor for the boundaries of the known world as well. In essence, Gibraltar marked the edge of not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the edge of the "known" world of antiquity. To the ancient mindset, there was only a single vast ocean surrounding the entire European, Asian, and African continents, and since "beyond" the Pillars of Hercules could refer to anything outside the boundaries of the Mediterranean, that meant the Atlantic, Indian, and even the Pacific Oceans fell within the parameters of Plato's specifications, permitting the boundaries of the search to be expanded to include the entire ocean surface of the planet. This was a huge boon to the Atlantisphiles, for now they had an entire globe to search and new ideas quickly emerged. There were those who suggested a massive Pacific continent once straddled the equator from the west coast of the Americas all the way to the orient (usually referred to as the land of Mu) and a second that did much the same thing in the Indian Ocean (popularly referred to as Lemuria.) However, like the Atlantic Ocean theory, these ideas suffered from the same defect: namely, the lack of any submerged continent-sized land masses in either ocean. There are shallow areas, to be sure, and many hundreds of islands and archipelagoes that might be suggested, but nothing that seemed to fit Plato's criteria. Worse, they suffered from the same difficulties the Atlantic sites did: distance from the Mediterranean and the resultant obstacles fighting a protracted war with a European opponent would entail. The search for Atlantis, then, even with broader parameters within which to look, didn't appear to be holding out much promise. It was as if the place had fallen off the face of the Earth if, indeed, it ever existed at all. Yet not all is lost, for in expanding the search worldwide and recognizing that we are not so much looking for a place but a particular era, several possibilities present themselves. Atlantis may not have been so far away after all. All we need to do is look beneath our feet!
any place on the planet around 12,000 years ago that could have sustained
an Atlantis-like empire?
When looking at a globe, it's easy to imagine the Earth's features have always pretty much looked the way they do today. That's why it's surprising to some people when they learn the planet they think they know so well is really a master of disguise, capable of altering its appearance on a whim. Oceans rise and fall, flooding some areas while leaving others high and dry; glaciers advance and retreat; volcanoes create new islands where none previously existed or destroy others in a blast of heat and fury so powerful that it alters the topography of nearby islands as well. Further, it is capable of changing its weather patterns at random, ruthlessly turning once fertile and lush grasslands into barren deserts or generously turning frigid tundra into temperate forests.
Beyond Earth's own ability to "reinvent" itself with almost insidious regularity is the tremendous beating it also receives from its celestial neighbors. Meteors frequently pockmark her surface while occasionally asteroids and even comets batter Earth's paper thin crust, laying waste to entire continents in their apathetic journey towards their own destruction. Earth, then, is far from a quiet, restful place where things move along at a snail's pacegeologically speaking. It is a living, breathing organism that's constantly on the go, and the creatures that make their home on her volatile surface have to adapt to that fact or nature cynically writes them off as a failed species.
And herein lies the key to finding our "missing" continent. We need not look for a submerged island lying peacefully at the bottom of some ocean or a city entombed beneath the ice of a glacier-shrouded continent; we only need to look at our existing world through the eyes of antiquity to a time when our planet was a much different place than it is today. We need to look at an era in its fairly recent past when the oceans were smaller and the continents larger, when the islands and land masses we are so familiar with today were significantly different, and when the Earth's climate was vastly different than our own. Atlantis, then, is better understood not as a geographic locale, but as an epoch of history, and all we need to do to find it is turn the hands of time back 12,000 years. Then, like a beautiful painting hidden behind a curtain, it will appear and begin to reveal its hidden secrets.
At the height
of the last ice age, it is estimated the ocean level of the entire planet,
due to the vast amounts of water trapped in the polar caps, was between 100
and 150 meters (a little more than 300 to 450 feet) lower than they are today.
While this may not seem that significant at first thoughtespecially
considering that the oceans are many thousands of feet deep in some spotssuch
a lowering of the ocean levels would have a profound impact upon the topography
of the planet, at least in some areas. While some continents would hardly
show any changes at all (the west African coast and the Pacific coast of South
America, for instance) other regions would be profoundly altered. The Baltic,
North Sea and waters around the British Isles in general would be dry land
(if a bit chilly and, at points, covered by glaciers) while the waters of
the Bahamas and around the modern-day Florida peninsula would also be above
water. Of particular interest to anthropologists is that the Bering Sea that
today separates Russia from Alaska would not exist; instead, a land bridge
would join the two continents, allowing for easy access to North America for
wandering, nomadic Asiatic peoples.
However, no region of the planet would be more altered than the southwestern Pacific and the Indian Ocean, which is where I suggest we begin our search for Atlantis. It's difficult to appreciate how different the Pacific rim looked then as compared to now. Most significantly, Indonesia was not an archipelago of islands as it is today, but was then one vast continent nearly the size of western Europe, with broad, fertile plains tens of thousands of square miles in area. Also, the area off the coast of present day Vietnam now known as the Gulf of Tonkin was a broad, flat delta of the Mekong River twice the size of the Nile delta, while a wide, lush plain nearly 200 miles in width and 500 miles long then lied between the modern islands of Java and Borneo. Further, the drying up of the Yellow Sea and large parts of the East China Sea moved China's coastline as much as 400 miles further out to sea then it is today, while the South China Sea and Andaman Seas were huge inland seas with a few narrow outlets to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Philippines, another major modern archipelago, was also almost a single large island, while Formosa (modern Taiwan) and Hainan were no longer islands at all, but mountain ranges on China's coast. Even Australia and New Guinea were one single massive continent, separated from "mainland" Indonesia by a small sea. Only Japan remained essentially unchanged, with the single exception that it was then attached to the Korean peninsula by a broad, flat land bridge.
The changes in the Indian Ocean were less dramatic, but in some ways just as significant. India's western coastline extended 100 miles further out to sea than it does today while the modern island nation of Sri Lanka was then a mountainous peninsula on India's southern coast. Even more significant is that the Persian Gulf did not exist; instead, it was a broad, fertile outlet of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (and, as such, an excellent spot to place the Garden of Eden of biblical mythology, if one insisted on a literal location for the place.) Further, the Red Sea was a little more than a massive finger lake (which, incidentally, made any direct nautical link with the Mediterranean impossible) while the Black Sea and Caspian were large inland lakes (indeed, recent evidence suggests the Black Sea was probably a fresh water lake before being flooded as recently as 5,000 BCE) Finally, the Maldive Island chain off India's southwestern coast was a much more substantial island chain then, and the Seychelles Islands, now a series of tiny islands well out into the Indian Ocean, was a much larger archipelago with several huge islands.
While the significance of all this may not seem immediately apparent, this new topography is extremely important. First, it is necessary to understand that even though Earth was locked in the icy grip of an ice age, that doesn't mean the entire planet was cold. The latitudes between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer were still warm and, for the most part, tropical to subtropical. The vast rain forests of Asia, South America and central Africa existed then much as they do today, while the Indian subcontinent was similarly lush and temperate along with most of China and large parts of Siberia. Further, climatologists are fairly certain that 12,000 years ago North Africa and the Middle Eastwhere now the vast Sahara Desert reignswere then savanna grasslands, similar to those evident in Kenya and South Africa today. Additionally, since the entire planet's average temperate was uniformly several degrees cooler, these areas would not have been as warm as they are today, yet would still have been warm enough to allow for year-round growing seasons and the ideal conditions required to grow a vast array of almost every kind of crop imaginable (as well as be home to every animal mentioned in Plato's dialogues.) This would have made North Africa, southern and central Asia, and northern Australia part of a vast temperate zone some 4,000 miles wide and 12,000 miles in length likely capable of sustaining a population of literally billions.
This would be vital, too, for this fertile zone would have been the planet's "bread basket." With a third of North America and half of Europe buried beneath a thick layer of glacial icerendering these two chilly continents incapable of supporting even low levels of agricultureother than a sparsely populated, remote and heavily forested Siberia, there was little north of the Tropic of Cancer of much use, agriculturally speaking. For that matter, regions south of the Tropic of Capricorn were not of much more value: Patagonia in South America was frigid, desolate tundra, and the rain forests of South Africa were as impassable then as they are today. Additionally, much of southern Australia remained a vast desert wasteland, as it has been for eons. Finally, though most of Central and South America would have also lain within the parameters of this temperate zone, they were, for the most part, one huge rain forest and somewhat inaccessible (though there could have been substantial pockets of agriculture flourishing within these areas.)
With ice and frigid conditions rendering three of the seven continents relatively uninhabitable, this band of temperate, fertile land would have been vital to providing the conditions required to introduce and sustain any advanced ancient civilization, just as it would be today under similar circumstances. Unlike today however, when relatively warm global conditions allows mankind to live almost anywhere (with the sole exception of Antarctica) this would not have been possible at the height of the Pleistocene Ice Age. Humanity would have been largely confined to this "safe zone" and, though there may have been colonies or even entire developing nations existing outside this region, this is still where most of the "action" would have been. This area would have been the economic, agricultural, industrial, political and technological "hub" of the entire planet, much as North America, Western Europe and the Pacific rim countries are today. There simply wouldn't be anyplace else for a developing civilization to flourish; it's parameters had been set not by the desires of man, but by the limitations imposed by nature.
anthropology and archeology tell us that civilization sprang up in the Mesopotamian
valley some five to seven thousand years ago?
Science tells us that about 7,000 years ago civilization first emerged in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) ushering in what is commonly referred to as the "Neolithic Revolution." From there, the theory goes, civilization worked its way outward, first into Persia and the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, and the Mediterranean region, and finally into China and Europe. At least, this is how orthodox anthropology has traditionally understood how the advent and dispersion of civilization came about, but could science be wrong (or, at least, only partially correct)? While it seems impossibleif not outright blasphemousto suggest otherwise, could civilization have passed this way before without leaving any record of having done so?
At first thought, the idea that mankind may have reached our current levels of social and technological sophistication in the prehistoric past seems absurd. Aside from the question of why artifacts from such an advanced civilization are so conspicuously absent (a question we will deal with later) lies the underlying assumption that Homo sapiensmodern manwas incapable of rising beyond his primary, traditional role as a hunter/gatherer animal until comparatively recently. But consider the issue from the perspective of logic. Science tells us that modern man emerged around 100,000 years ago (give or take a few thousand years.) It also tells us that in terms of cranial capacity and thinking processes, early man was indistinguishable from modern Homo sapiens (in fact, he was modern Homo sapiens.). Therefore, the earliest modern humans should have been no smarter or, for that matter, dumber than we are today. As such, there is no compelling reason why he should not have been just as capable of abstract thought and creativity as are his modern counterparts.
If we accept the premise, then, that early Homo sapiens were as capable of creative thought as their modern counterparts are today, what reason have we for imagining that they couldn't or wouldn't use those skills to figure out a way to get out of the jungle much earlier than they finally did. To put it another way, why would early man not be just as capable of developing not only civilization, but the same tools and technologies we take for granted today far earlier than we give them credit? Even if they had to start with nothing but their own deductive reasoning powers and observational skills to guide them, is that any more than our own modern ancestors had when they set out to organize themselves into societies thousands of years ago? In other words, what did humans possess seven thousand years ago they didn't have one hundred thousand years ago?
Additionally, as science has begun to uncover evidence of extremely ancient cultures in the Americas and elsewhere around the world, it is becoming increasingly evident that while civilization may have first flourished in Mesopotamia (as far as we know) there is little evidence to support the contention that it was the cause of the later civilizations in China, Egypt, or the Americas. In fact, it appears these cultures have little in common with the Middle Eastern societies of antiquity, and instead seem to have emerged quite spontaneously long before the Mesopotamian peoples even knew they existed. To further muddy the waters, the archeologist's spade has even begun to uncover clues of substantial human habitation in North America that predates the Mesopotamian "miracle" by thousands of years. As such, the assumption that civilization had a single starting point and spread from there is no longer as certain as it once was; instead, the evidence suggests that civilizations appeared spontaneously in different places and times independently of each other and flourished quite apart of outside influences. If this is the case then, it seems to argue that there must be some natural "trigger" that somehow induces man to leave the bush and build cities, but what activates it and, even more perplexing, why was it activated when it was? Even more mysterious, how could it be triggered in multiple places around the Earthin widely diverse locales with little or no contact with each otherall within the span of just a few thousand years? If human beings are essentially unchanged in 100,000 years of evolution, why did it take such an extraordinary amount of time to get man to give up thousands of centuries of nomadic wandering and settle down?
It's curious how little we do know about our own ancestorsancestors, we are told, that in every physiological and intellectual way were indistinguishable from ourselves. How it is possible that such people could have been on this planet for a thousand centuries without achieving anything of significance? Could the so called Neolithic Revolution really have been only the latest of a series of such revolutions? Might not there have been a Paleolithic Revolution as wellperhaps even several of them? And if not, why not?
Of course, science may be quite correct; ours really may be the first civilization to have reached such heady heights of progress, as they insist. Yet if that is true, what changed the equation and made civilization suddenly possible when it had proven so obstinately impossible for countless generations before? Is there moreperhaps much moreto the story of Homo sapiens than we dare imagine?
destroyed By volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods as Plato wrote?
Plato's narratives suggest that Atlantis was destroyed by a series of natural disastersearthquakes, seismic waves, massive floodingbut I suggest that while nature had a role in Atlantis' demise, that was only part of the story. At the time Plato wrote his dialogues, humanity lacked the capacity to destroy entire civilizations and so it's unlikely he would have been able to comprehend the idea that mankind itself might be capable of developing the means of completely annihilating itself. From the perspective of antiquity, natural forcesgenerally believed at the time to be under the jurisdiction of various deitieswere the only known means of leveling entire cities, so it's reasonable to assume Plato would have laid all the blame for Atlantis' destruction on natural forces as well. Yet we have learned since Plato's day of the potential for destruction technology possesses, and I believe that we will find a more plausible scenario for Atlantis' destruction there than by looking to the generally benign Earth for a scapegoat. The Earth, while capable of great destructive power, is at heart essentially a healer, determinedly spending most of its time erasing the damage wrought to it by nature and man and doing its best to restore balance and wholeness to the planet's ecosystems and environment. It is man that is the destroyer and, I submit, it was man that destroyed Atlantis.
Before going any further, it is first necessary to clarify what it is, precisely, we are looking for. Essentially, we need to find a mechanism which is capable of both destroying and generally erasing all signs of an advanced global civilization, yet it must be able to do so without destroying all human beings (or life in general) in the process. Further, the trigger cannot leave any obvious signs that we might easily identify today, but must erase all evidence of itself along with evidence of the civilization it took with it.
The first thing to consider is that the natural causes usually blamed for the destruction of Atlantis generally have the least capacity to destroy either civilization or all life. Earthquakes, for example, while powerful and scary, are extremely localized events that may level poorly built structures and change the flow of a river, but they have almost no impact outside of the quake zone itself. As such, the idea that a quakeeven a high Richter scale tremor of great durationcould destroy a global civilization is erroneous. A major city, perhaps, but not a truly global society. This is also true for seismic (commonly but mistakenly called "tidal") waves which, while capable of inundating miles of coastline and devastating a coastal city, could hardly destroy all civilization on the planet. Even an astonishing 500' high wall of water slamming into a lowland beach would not be capable of doing damage more than a few miles inland, leaving the bulk of civilization untouched.
A "super volcano"another popular candidate for continent killeris more potentially destructive (especially to the environment) but unlikely to destroy an entire civilization, no matter how big an eruption it is. A civilization as potentially advanced as Atlantis would have anticipated any sizable eruption weeks or even months in advance and so have evacuated the endangered areas, thus substantially limiting casualties. Likely, it would also have possessed the technology necessary to overcome the detrimental effects of any substantial ash clouds the volcano may have put out. While it may have had to deal with some potentially significant climactic changes, it seems unlikely even the largest volcanic eruption would doom an advanced global civilization. Additionally, such a massive eruption would leave a vast caldera or other geological evidence of having explodeda "footprint," so to speakthat should be easily discernible today, a mere 12,000 years after the fact (overnight in geological terms.) However, no such evidence exists, either above ground or beneath the oceans of the world.
The next possibility is that of a comet or asteroid hitting the planet which, depending upon the composition and size of the celestial object, really could wipe out a global civilization. However, any celestial object large enough to destroy a global civilization should have wiped out practically all life on the planet including, one would assume, Homo sapiens. Additionally, a hit of that magnitude only 12,000 years ago should still be having an effect on the planet today, andlike the "super volcano" scenarioleave a blast carter still clearly discernable today (even if underwater.)
wasn't destroyed by a natural disaster, what did destroy it?
If nature isn't capable of meeting our criteria for global annihilation, we are forced to look at man-made mechanisms that might destroy civilization en masse. After all, humanity is certainly capable of mass destruction once it sets its mind to it; as evidence, consider that more people have died in wars and at the hands of their fellow citizens in just the twentieth century alone than have died in all the earthquakes, volcanoes, and tidal waves throughout recorded history combined. It seems then that what nature is generally loath to domass exterminationman is quite capable of pulling off.
Probably the scenario most people envision when we think of humanity destroying itself is through the effects of a full-scale thermonuclear war. However, and while I don't want to minimize the destructive potential of a nuclear war, the best evidence suggests that such a war would not be capable of wiping out civilization in its entirety. Despite the widespread devastation that would ensue, the fact is that a global civilization would probably not be entirely eradicated even in a worse case scenario. It might be set back several decades and in some areas have to start over from scratch, but it would surviveespecially in the more remote areas of the globe. Additionally, much of the military and political infrastructure of the devastated countries would likely survive largely intact as well, providing a basis from which to rebuild. While the industrial base would be shattered and the financial foundation of the global economy may be devastated, as long as the basic knowledge and technological expertise acquired over the centuries survived, civilization would be able to rebuild. The death toll might well be in the hundreds of millions when all is said and done, but with a world population rapidly approaching the seven billion mark, there would probably be far more survivors than victims. Therefore, if we premise that Atlantis possessed much the same type, size and nature of the nuclear arsenals we do today, it would seem that their use of these weapons should not have been sufficient in themselves of destroying a world-wide civilization. They might have been enough to destroy the cultural/political/industrial centers of an ancient civilization, but human beings are resilient by nature. Like ants whose home has just been destroyed, they quickly set about the task of rebuilding once the dust has settled. One needs only look at the example of the Second World War to appreciate this: the destruction to Berlin and Tokyo (not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was so extensive and complete it is hard to imagine these same cities were essentially up and running within five years and largely rebuilt within twenty years of their destruction. Could we expect any less from the ancient Atlanteans under similar circumstances?
While nuclear war, then, may have played a role in Atlantis' demise, it needed something more to deliver the coup d'grace to an entire civilization. But could this have been provided by a byproduct of nuclear war, nuclear winter? While a controversial and not completely understood phenomenon, nuclear winter is the theory that it is the secondary effects of a nuclear exchangethe dust, smoke, soot and ash thrown into the atmosphere from the nuclear detonations and the fires they kick offthat would be the real planet killer. In this scenario, the clouds of smoke, steam (from warheads detonating over water) and dust would rise high into the upper atmosphere where they would be carried by the prevailing winds around the globe until they formed a single, impenetrable blanket of clouds around the planet. This layer of dust and soot would be so thick that most sunlight would be unable to penetrate the gloom, forcing a sudden and dramatic drop in temperatures around the globe. This would, in turn, alter the weather patterns and impact Earth's intricately balanced ecosystem. The effect this would have on the world's food supply would be catastrophic and, when combined with the effects of radioactive fallout, could conceivably kill billions more than would have died in the initial nuclear exchange itself. Such really could, if as extensive and deadly as its proponents insist, destroy civilization around the world and lead to the mass extinction not only of most life on the planet, but even of man himself.
However, the theory has a few problems. First, we simply don't know how much smoke and dust a full-scale nuclear exchange would throw into the atmosphere or how evenly distributed it would be or, for that matter, if it would really be thick enough to prevent most sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface. Second, as dust and smoke particles are heavier than the surrounding air, the clouds would dissipate fairly quickly as the heavier particles fell back to Earth. And, finally, this layer of smoke and dust, driven by the jet stream, would likely be largely confined to the latitudes in which the detonations took place, leaving most latitudes (and, probably, the poles themselves) mostly clear. As such, it's difficult to see how the temperature over the entire planet could drop uniformly or drastically when sunlight is still capable of reaching large parts of the surface. That the clouds of smoke and ash would have detrimental effects on the ecology and ecosystems of the planet are not in doubt; that they would have as pronounced an impact as some insist is by no means a certainty either and, as such, cannot be assumed.
Finally, even if a worst-case nuclear winter did settle in, there should still be pockets of civilization in far-flung and remote colonies in the far southern or northern latitudes that probably would survive even that double whammy. There would have to be yet a third element in the equation that would annihilate even the most remote pockets of civilization while preserving what few pockets of "non-civilized" peoples remained to carry on the species, and for that you need biological agents, which truly do possess the capacity to destroy a civilization; even, potentially, a world-wide one. In fact, it has the potential to destroy all life on the planet if the "right" germ can be introduced into the environment. Could this have been what destroyed Atlantis?
Fortunately, biologically exterminating the entire population is not easy. A sufficiently advanced civilization technologically advanced enough to produce a virus capable of destroying an entire civilization also would presumably have the technology required to counter it. In effect, the higher the technology level the more deadly the germ while, at the same time, the higher the technology level the less chance the germ will be successful. There is also the difficulty of developing a "super virus" in the first place. It would take an extremely advanced and sophisticated scientific capability to produce such organisms, and any facility that was able to create such a nasty little bug would have to be able to work with a minimum of political or moral interference. Then, of course, there is the problem of how does one introduce their "bug" into the environment without endangering themselves in the process. If a civilization were ever desperate enough to use biological agents against an enemy, for example, what would prevent the virus they introduce from working its way back into their own populace? For that matter, what would prevent an enemy from countering with an even nastier bug? Even if one was capable of working out the scientific, technological, political, military and moral problems developing such an agent would entail, its use could only be contemplated in the most desperate circumstances.
So which of these causes destroyed Plato's fabled continent? Earthquakes, volcanoes, global flooding? Or was it man-made: nuclear war, pollution, chemical or biological attack? Or could it have even been something else entirelysomething we have failed to consider? We'll probably never know for sure, but I suspect there is no one thing that did the Atlanteans in. Instead, I submit their demise came about through a series of mortal blows in quick successionboth man-made and naturalthat destroyed them so thoroughly that 12,000 years later we still see no evidence of Atlantis having even existed.
we find evidence of such an advanced civilization today?
It is difficult to imagine how a global civilizationespecially one supposedly as advanced and sophisticated as our owncould have flourished over twelve thousand years ago without leaving a trace it ever existed. Archeology and anthropology work from the premise that the past eventually surrenders its secrets; therefore, this lack of physical evidence for a prehistoric civilization can only be interpreted to mean that no such ancient civilization, in fact, ever existed. How could the artifacts of an advanced, global civilization manage to elude the archeologist's spade all these years?
While a reasonable supposition at first glance, it fails, I think, to appreciate the fact that the search for mankind's past is a fairly modern undertaking. The twin sciences of archeology and anthropology are only a couple of centuries old (and oceanography is even newer.) Therefore, despite the witness of ancient historians and the mute testimony of a dozen decades of archeological digging, we really know comparatively little about our ancient past. By way of example, it's been said that we possess more "hard" information about what's happened in the tiny African nation of Rwanda over the last fifty years than we do regarding what occurred in the Roman Empire over its 500-year history. Additionally, the ability of science to operate freely in search of the past is frequently bedeviled by geopolitical and economic considerations. Many areas of the world have been cut off from modern science until only recently, and the costs of mounting an archeological expedition, especially to remote regions of the planet, can be astronomical. As such, it is debatable whether archeology has found even a fraction of what there is to be found (even within those regions traditionally open to archeological study) which makes it difficult to ascertain with any certainty what is and is not possible in terms of uncovering ancient civilizations. Further, science suffers from a tendency towards assuming things: Homer's legendary city of Troy, for example, was "thought" to be entirely fictitious until it was unearthed in 1870, which should render any claims that a prehistoric civilization could not have existed based upon the current available evidence presumptuous at best.
The second factor that is often overlooked when searching for ancient civilizations is the realization that science is fighting against the inexorable forces of nature itself in looking for evidence of our distant past. When staring up at some of the great edifices of mankind, it is easy to imagine that these magnificent buildings of stone and steel will stand forever, but such is not the case. In fact, from nature's vantage point, they are fragile things with no more substance than a child's kite caught in the winds of violent storm. Most will be torn down before they are a century old to make room for more "modern" structures. A few will be designated as historical landmarks and surviveif care is taken and it was especially well constructed to begin withperhaps several centuries. Occasionally a structure built of stone and protected from the harshest of climates may stand for a few thousand years, but even then great care must be taken to prevent it from toppling over. One has only to consider that of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only onethe great pyramids of Gizaare still standing today to appreciate that even the most substantial structures of stone must endure the ravages of time and ultimately surrender to the elements.
Few items have a "life span" of more than a few hundred years and, with the exception of glass and a few exotic items, almost nothing lasts more than a thousand years under the best of circumstances. As such, there is no reason to imagine most of the common, everyday items in use in a hypothetical, 12,000 year old civilization would still be in existence today. The Earth's natural recycling mechanism would ensure that the overwhelming majority of items that might point to such an ancient civilization would have returned to the proverbial "dust of the Earth" thousands of years before the first pyramid was constructed. Time is not an ally of the archeologist's spade and in respect to the eons of time we are discussing here, it can be positively cruel. 12,000 years may be a blink of the eye in geologic terms, but in respect to human existence it is an eternity that few things, beyond stone and myth, has the stamina to endure. As such, the "Atlantis hunter" is fighting a foe far more formidable than merely the skepticism of a cynical age in the quest to unearth Plato's fabled continent; he is, in fact, fighting the forces of nature and time itself which, when united against his efforts, constitute the most formidable opponents of all.
Further, while time itself will do its part in destroying the evidence of an ancient civilization, other elements are at work as well; foremost among them is the reality of a radically altered geography than that which existed 12,000 years ago, and the manner in which objects naturally tend to become buried over time. Anyone who has ever used a metal detector will notice that objects that may have been dropped only a few years earlier are often buried beneath several inches of topsoil. Now if it takes only a few years to accomplish this, imagine what hundreds or even thousands of years will do for that same objectassuming it does not decompose before then.
Of even greater impact is the dramatic changes in the Earth's geography over the last 12,000 years. As we looked at earlier, the coastline of Asia extended much further out to sea during the height of the last Ice Age due to a considerably lower sea-level than that which exists today. As a result of the melting of the polar caps at roughly that time, however, hundreds of thousands of square miles of these fertile coastal plainsthe precise places one would most expect to find evidence of a flourishing civilizationwere submerged. As such, if any important centers of civilization did exist there, they now lie beneath hundreds of feet of sea water, as well as up to ten or more meters of mud, silt, and sand. This naturally makes any search for Atlantean artifacts problematic at best, and virtually impossible in practiceat least at our current level of technology.
However, if the melting of the ice caps and the subsequent rise in sea water levels at the end of the Pleistocene submerged as much as 15% of the world's prehistoric land mass, what of the 85% of it remained above water? Shouldn't we expect to come across "something" in the natural course of events to indicate the existence of an antediluvian civilization? If my hypothesis that Atlantis' destruction was partly due to nuclear war is correct, however, little if anything of substance would have survived, even above water. The great structures and landmarks that would have marked this great civilization would have been largely incinerated, and what technology or structures the nuclear detonations and resultant wildfires didn't obliterate, rust and decay (especially evident in the tropical climates of southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent) would have taken care of over the subsequent centuries. In the end, all evidence of an antediluvian civilization would be either atomized by the heat and blast of nuclear weapons, consumed by subsequent fires, decayed by natural processes, or were subsequently submerged beneath hundreds of feet of sea water and mud. With such an efficient combination of manmade and natural mechanisms working together like a massive eraser, it is inevitable that all evidence of a past "golden age" of civilization would be eventually obliterated, and with it any proof that we are not the first civilization to appear in history.
However, even with all these elements combining to expertly wipe out all traces of Atlantis, there should inevitably be those rare items that the destructive mechanisms of both man and nature manage to overlook. Even under ideal circumstances for rapid decomposition, a few objects are going to survive. Objects fashioned from noble metals which do not oxidize and therefore are practically indestructible (such as gold or platinum) are likely to survive, as are cut gems. There may even be artifacts made of some exotic space-age material that is going to survive the centuries only to be eventually found and shake up the staid archeological community. But now another problem presents itself. It is not simply enough to find an ancient artifact; what is even more important is when it is found and by whom. Remarkable finds have doubtlessly been ignored, lost, forgotten, or otherwise overlooked throughout history simply because the finder didn't know what they had on their hands. As such, rare artifacts have to have the good fortune of being found by the right person at precisely the right moment or it will probably be inevitably forgotten and thrown out with the rest of the garbage. Science will never know how many great discoveries have been foiled by ignorance and apathy, but I suspect it could well be a substantial number.