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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 15:49 GMT
Hunt for Lost City of Atlantis
By Verity Murphy
BBC News Online

A team of experts believes it could be close to unravelling the millennia-old myth of the Lost City of Atlantis and is launching an expedition to the seas west of Gibraltar to test its theory.

Drawing of Atlantis
Myth or reality? It is said to be a place of beauty and wealth
The team is led by eminent pre-historian Professor Jacques Collina-Girard, aided by the two men who led the expeditions to the Titanic.

They believe that using a combination of literary pointers and geological evidence they have pinned the lost city's location to just west of the Straits of Gibraltar, on a submerged mud shoal now known as Spartel Island.

The story of Atlantis, a fabled utopia destroyed in ancient times, has captured the imagination of scholars ever since it was first described by the philosopher Plato more than 2,000 years ago.

As soon as I saw it I thought 'Oh my God this is it!' In fact I couldn't believe no-one had drawn this conclusion before
Paul-Henri Nargeolet
His depiction of a land of fabulous wealth, advanced civilisation and natural beauty has spurred many adventurers to seek out its location.

Debate rages over where it may lie, with it being placed variously near Cuba, off the coast of Devon, near The Azores or slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic.

"The area looks just like Plato described it - sitting right outside the Pillars of Hercules. As soon as I saw it I thought 'Oh my God this is it!' In fact I couldn't believe no-one had drawn this conclusion before," team member Paul-Henri Nargeolet told BBC News Online.

Plato made the first written references to Atlantis in 360BC:

"There was an island situated in front of the Pillars of Hercules; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together," he said in his Timaeus dialogue.

He explained that the island "was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent".

Ancient archipelago

Professor Collina-Girard says that whilst researching patterns of human migration from Europe to North Africa 19,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, he became convinced that in pre-historic times a land bridge linked the two continents.

He says that by making a map of the ocean floor as it would have appeared at that time, when the sea levels were much lower, he discovered an archipelago just in front of the Straits of Gibraltar, or as Plato referred to them - the Pillars of Hercules.

Map showing Spartel Island

The professor believes that about 11,000 years ago the rapidly rising seas submerged the archipelago - not in one day as Plato describes, but nonetheless at a rapid rate in geological terms - some 2 metres per century.

If correct, the timing is a match for what Plato describes in his Timaeus and Critias texts as he, a figure from over 2,000 years ago, recounts a story from 9,000 years before.

Childhood fascination

Joining the professor in exploring his Atlantis theory are George Tulloch and Mr Nargeolet, famous for leading the expeditions to Titanic.

"I first met Jacques at an archaeology conference - he was giving a talk, but no-one was listening to him. I think I was the only one listening and as I sat there I started to think 'this is good stuff'," Mr Nargeolet explained.

"He was describing his theory about Atlantis - I had read about Atlantis since I was a kid and had of course been fascinated by it, and what Jacques was describing was a great new way of seeing it."

Mainly we will be looking for caves that look like they could have been lived in and if we find any we will then come back with a remote controlled camera that we can use to explore those caves
Paul-Henri Nargeolet
Mr Nargeolet said that following the success of the Titanic project he and his American partners were looking for a new challenge and that the professor's theory proved alluring.

Spartel Island is a mud shoal about 8 kilometres (five miles) by 3.5 km and lies at a maximum depth of 100 metres (320 feet).

Later expeditions planned

On the first two-week mission, set to take place next July, a two-man submersible captained by Mr Nargeolet will be sent down to investigate areas of the island most likely to be inhabited.

"For example we have identified an area which we think would most likely have been the island's harbour - an area which would of course been a centre for civilisation," the project's spokesman James McCallum said.

However, although they hope to uncover evidence of tools, weapons or even walls, the team will not be searching for the great buildings and temples so often associated with Atlantis.

We are not treasure hunters, our only goal afterwards is an exhibition that the public can see
Paul-Henri Nargeolet
"Those are dreams. Mainly we will be looking for caves that look like they could have been lived in and if we find any we will then come back with a remote controlled camera that we can use to explore those caves," Mr Nargeolet said.

The $250,000 to $500,000 estimated cost of the first expedition is being covered through a combination of private collections and sponsorship.

If the two-week study yields good results they will return at a later date for a more exhaustive study.

But Mr Nargeolet stresses his team are pushed on by the pursuit of knowledge, not profit.

"We are not treasure hunters, our only goal afterwards is an exhibition that the public can see - everything we salvaged from the Titanic has gone into an exhibition and nothing has ever been sold - that is not what we are interested in."




SEE ALSO:
Atlantis 'obviously near Gibraltar'
20 Sep 01  |  Sci/Tech
Disaster that struck the ancients
26 Jul 01  |  Sci/Tech


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