Searching for Atlantis

By I. M. Oderberg
All things prevail in turn as the cycle come
round, and pass into one another
and grow great in their appointed time.
-- Empedocles (5th century B.C.)

Man's past has a greater richness and depth than is dreamed of by most historians, while archaeologists are often too hemmed in by shards and artifacts to pay attention to other kinds of evidence of the glories of ancient civilizations. Myths and legends are more than fanciful tales, for they carry within them a tradition handed down through thousands of generations. They tell of the awakening of self-consciousness in nascent humanity millions of years ago. The first civilizations flaring up into brilliance after the fires of mind were lit had a spiritual quality, so much so that the stream of oral inheritance everywhere refers to this time as the era of the gods, when radiant entities sparked alight awareness in men, and mingled with them imparting insights about the nature of the universe -- as well as 'teaching them agriculture.'

The brightness ebbed away as the races of men eventually became more and more immersed in material interests, and the cycles of time rolled on, like a wheel, the turning spokes marking the rise and fall of succeeding civilizations. Large continental land masses broke up and changed shape under the stress of many factors, with the submersion of some parts and the upthrust of others. A major contributor to the upheavals was the periodic shift of earth's magnetic polarity, now widely recognized after the recent find of magnetic lines fossilized in rocks prized up from the sea.

Between 1850 and 1860, the naturalist P. L. Sclater suggested there once existed a continent connecting Africa, Madagascar and India, extending to Sumatra. His zoological evidence included the presence on Madagascar and adjacent islands of lemurs, small arboreal primates, so he invented the name "Lemuria" for this territory. Since then there has been a good deal of nonsense published in this regard, some asserting that the human inhabitants of that remote period called their country "Mu" for short. In her major work The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky found it convenient to adopt the term Lemuria for the major land mass in the Pacific described in accounts handed down through the millennia by diverse peoples of the globe. Her book not only transmits a considerable range of information gathered from many sources, but indicates the common, original narrative evident after the accretions of dogmas and embroidery are pared away. She presents a picture of man as a godlike being in the process of unfolding latent spiritual and divine qualities while experiencing material life through its instrument the physical body. In agreement with the accounts of Mayans and others, she informs us that the present wave of humanity is the fifth major aggregation of men. The third would have been Lemuria, and the fourth inhabited a continent Plato called Atlantis in his dialogues Critias and Timaeus. Since his time the subject of lost continents has provided perennial themes for writers, and now it recaptures public interest with reports of startling new discoveries.

Argosy for November, 1971 (Atlantis: The Legend is Becoming Fact, by Robert Marx.) has illustrated its own latest venture in this field with photographs of parts of an 1,800 ft. stone "causeway" found at a depth of three fathoms off the north shore of Bimini island in the Bahamas. The large stones are seen clearly embedded in a cement-like substance. Another picture shows a diver in deeper water swimming above a section of a fallen marble column described as being fluted beneath its coral crust. The article claimed fifty such columns have so far been sighted in the Caribbean, some of them still upright. What appears to be the lowest course of stones of a structure of considerable dimensions has been hastily labeled a 'temple' in some publications -- it forms a rectangle measuring 100 by 60 feet. Another such find had an additional 'room' adjoining the main walled area. All these structures had squared corners, and at least one had a floor plan practically duplicating that of a Mayan building at Uxmal, Yucatan: the so-called Temple of the Turtles, a thousand miles away from the Bimini site. In addition to the remains of submerged buildings, there are sections of what seems to have been a great wall extending far beyond the Bimini area, possibly encircling the Bahamas as a whole. These have been described, and a few of them photographed; however, the continually shifting sand makes it difficult to obtain clear pictures, and at times the finds of one day are covered over again on the next.

All of this is very impressive, but we still need to sift the grain from the chaff. Not every book, story, and essay has validity. Two enterprising young men, Robert Ferro and Michael Grumley, jointly wrote a book about their personal experiences diving at Bimini. They reported that most of the stone blocks did not belong to the local strata but must have been quarried in the Andes thousands of miles away. One small stone, perfectly dressed, when turned over was found to have an underside that was almost white. When tapped it gave off a metallic sound. The stone has baffled the experts.

Putting aside the questionable or 'far-out' portions of their work, we find some pertinent remarks. There are also a few pungent comments on recent theories assuming Plato's Atlantis to have been located in the Mediterranean on an island destroyed by volcanic action around 1500 B.C., of which Thera is the remnant today where excavation has uncovered the remains of a Minoan-type city. The crucial point for the authors is that this particular theory of an Aegean Atlantis ignores the possibility that "we, in the present, are perhaps the descendants of a past much older and more glorious than we had imagined."

This statement indeed summarizes a vast amount of tradition transmitted through the ages in India, the Americas, Polynesia, and other places. (Louis Jacolliot wrote an interesting book entitled Histoire des Vierges: Les Peuples et les Continents Disparus, Paris, 1874. This gathered together oral and written traditions of peoples in many and widely different areas regarding the inhabitants of lost continents in both the Pacific and the Atlantic.) Embedded in this world-wide heritage is the narrative of a civilization of superlative technical achievements that fell victim to the moral debasement of its peoples. 'Impiety,' ambition, greed, pride, and the corrosive influence of concentrated pleasure-seeking, plus the exploitation of fellow men, dominated the skills of its scientists and engineers. The vast knowledge gained over a long period was used for self-aggrandisement, and natural forces that were misused rebounded upon the users. The account appears in many forms but tells the identic story. It should be noted, however, that continental subsidence would have occurred in any case, due to changing cycles.

The older views of geologists that there are no signs that an island-continent was once located in the Atlantic are being revised. The ocean probes, started in the International Geophysical Year of 1957, have revealed the existence of the mid-Atlantic Ridge which seems to ooze substance that hardens into rock and contributes to the spreading of the ocean floor. In 1969, an oceanographic expedition sponsored by Duke University studied the bed of the Caribbean and took samples along the Aves Ridge -- a chain of seamounts stretching between the Virgin Islands and Venezuela. More than 50 probes contained granite, which is igneous and formed only where solidification of molten material occurs in the open air. In other words, the places from where the samples were taken must once have been above water -- parts of a continent or islands.

It has been stated that 12,000 years ago the sea level there was 500 feet lower than it is today, and that the present depth might be due to the melting of the ice cap. But this view should be considered in conjunction with other data -- for instance, such as provided by the environs of Lake Titicaca in Peru, 13,000 feet elevation, on the shores of which stand the ruins of Tiahuanaco, a massive city built almost entirely of stone blocks, many weighing as much as 200 tons. The nearby slopes are terraced for the cultivation of grain or some similar plant. The lake's volume has fallen, but it was once a considerable sea, as evidenced by the following factors. There is a great deal of salt in the surrounding terrain; in its waters exist species of marine molluscs and other sea creatures, such as the seahorse, as well as fresh water species. There is also a deposit of calcium along the bank usually found only at sea level and due to the presence of minute, calcareous algae. The whitish ring not only marks the rim of the lake, sometimes above the waterline by as much as 90 feet, but it also runs across the mountains for a total circumference of hundreds of miles. An important aspect is that the deposit in the mountains is much higher up than at the lake. Since water always maintains an even level, we can only assume the mountains have risen to cause the observed tilt in the line of calcium. Furthermore, the crustaceans in the lake are normally found at sea level, and the cultivation of food plants at Tiahuanaco would scarcely have been carried out on terraces carved far above the tree line!

Thus we can surmise that the Caribbean phenomena might have resulted from widespread events that also raised Lake Titicaca in the southern continent. Could it be that Tiahuanaco, like the culture settlement where Mexico City now stands, was abandoned suddenly because of these occurrences 12,000 years ago, and not a mere few hundred, "for mysterious reasons"?

In 1928, P. Couissin, a French author, was impressed by the fact that where Plato said Atlantis had existed is precisely where we find traces of a continent that has disappeared. The geology shows us the possibility of the existence of a now submerged island in the Atlantic. There are other pointers worthy of consideration. Similar species of flora and fauna found on the scattered islands presently existing suggest there was once a common land bridge. For example, 15 species of marine molluscs are found in the West Indies and the coast of Senegal and nowhere else. One of the six species of Madreporaria corals of St. Thomas island exists only there and on the Florida reefs, while four of the others occur in the Bermudas. It is impossible to attribute this to a diffusion brought about by ocean currents because their life cycle admits but a few days in the open sea. It is logical to assume there was once a single coastline uniting these places and providing a continuous stretch of territory for their habitat. This would be an Atlantic continent that one writer connects with Spain and Mauretania in North Africa, extending also far south.

Many of the animals and plants of Europe and America are almost identical as to species, while the genera they belong to are definitely the same. We need only cite the hairy mammoth, the woolly-haired rhinoceros, among other fauna and flora that have left traces in American fossil beds of the same age as those in Europe. Finds in the so-called Bad Lands of Nebraska indicate that the horse originated in America, although its presence was no longer evident by the time of Columbus. Fossil remains of the camel have been unearthed in India, Africa, South America and Kansas -- the llamas and alpacas of today are varieties of the camel.

In the field of flora, the majority of flowering plant fossils are found in the New World as well as in the strata of Switzerland. Cotton was grown in America before 1492, and Herodotus (5th century B.C.) described its beauty as it grew in India.

The widespread incidence of distinctive art motifs and religious myths among peoples separated by time and the seas betokens a common descent. The "silent witness of temple and stelae" testifies to the existence of initiation centers where those who proved worthy were taught the laws governing death and rebirth, the complex nature of man and the interrelation of the earth and its humanities with the stars. They learned the language of symbolism: the cross, sometimes associated with a sacred bird, and the crucified Savior; the serpent of wisdom, and of eternity; and the egg of time, and the universe; these were potent symbols of profound philosophic meaning found all over the world.

The ancient Indian, Persian and other lore about a vast commercial empire of great wealth and technical achievements that perished in the ocean contains interesting features. One of the Indian Puranas referring to it describes an air battle between two combatants, not only using Sanskrit terms for "air cars" but indicating a major difference between the types of vehicle: one swift and very maneuverable, the other large, slower and relatively lumbering. How could the authors of the scripture even imagine such things without prototypes? Let us not forget that much of these writings of the Indian sages was transmitted orally over a long period of time before they were committed to writing.

Both Plato's account and the Hindu reference to the land of Narayan, 'lord of the waters" (equivalent to Poseidon), suggest the existence of two places -- one a huge, continental land mass larger, perhaps, than Europe and Asia together; the other its small remnant, left after the parent had broken up in geological upheavals and sinkings spread out over a long period and occurring hundreds of thousands of years before our time.

The finds at Bimini and nearby now being publicized could belong to Plato's island, we may call it Poseidonis for convenience, or possibly to a pre-Olmec culture of America that existed on that portion of the continental shelf extending from Florida to the Bahamas, that subsided thousands of years ago, as the author of one article claims.

In the present study, we have not taken up the issues of language, (See Sunrise February, March and April, 1968, for discussion of this theme, and other aspects not mentioned here.) or entered into any detail about myths and their symbols found on both sides of the Atlantic. It would seem essential to keep our minds open to the implication of new discoveries, and free from any bias arising from dogma about the lower capacity and mentality of man millennia ago as compared with ourselves. Among the preconceived notions we are having to discard is that European civilization today stands at the very pinnacle of man's achievement on this planet. Buried in our past there may be many such pinnacles, with not a few of these our superiors in spiritual content.

Instead of taking the linear view of the history of man on earth, it would help to visualize it more as a spiral, with ups and downs moving forward over many countries through long eras of time. Just as "the appearance and disappearance of worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux," resembling the alternation of day and night, sleeping and waking, so human effort has flamed into rich cultures at times, to be followed by sterile periods when it seemed all invention was dead. But across the desert blow winds of purification; and similarly, stirring across our fallow periods the currents of aspiration call out inspiration to bring about new cultures eventually. All the efforts combined express differing aspects of human genius, in the center of which is a soul occasionally illumined by spiritual fires.

 (From Sunrise magazine, January 1972; copyright © 1972 Theosophical University Press)

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