The lost continent


Buried in ancient dialogues of Plato is found the story of Atlantis, an “island larger than Libya and Asia put together” in the Atlantic Ocean. The “great and wonderful empire,” Plato says, ruled the Mediterranean as far as Egypt and Europe as far as Naples. “Violent earthquakes and floods” devastated its civilization 9,000 years ago, the philosopher wrote circa 360 BC., and Atlantis disappeared “in the depths of the sea.” All that’s left of a once mighty empire is a “shoal of mud” making “the sea in those parts … impassable and impenetrable.”

From that mud spawned a thousand tales, by Jules Verne and JRR Tolkein among many others. But could there be a grain of truth in the legend?

Brazilian and Japanese scientists reported this week that a “mass of granite” on the seabed 900 miles off the coast of Rio de Janeiro may be related to Plato’s “shoal of mud.” Granite typically forms on dry land, the researchers said, suggesting a continent may have existed in the Atlantic Ocean.

“This could be Brazil’s Atlantis,” geologist Roberto Ventura Santos told reporters, according to National Geographic.

Plato was using the legend of Atlantis as a cautionary tale. “Obviously, we don’t expect to find a lost city in the middle of the Atlantic,” Ventura Santos said.

But what is fascinating is that adventurous sailors in antiquity may have recognized what planetary scientists say happened 100 million years ago: Africa and South America drifted apart and formed the Atlantic Ocean.

“South America and Africa used to be a huge, unified continent,” said Shinichi Kawakami, a professor at Gifu University who worked with Ventura Santos. “The area in question may have been left in water as the continent was separated in line with the movements of plates,” the Japan Times quoted him as saying.

Translation of Plato’s Timaeus by Benjamin Jowett (rhymes with “know it,” as in “Here come I, my name is Jowett, There is no knowledge but I know it.”)