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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Atlantis 'obviously near Gibraltar'
Graphic BBC
A French scientist has pinpointed a possible location for Atlantis, the ancient and idyllic realm described by the Greek philosopher Plato and others.

Jacques Collina-Girard, from the University of the Mediterranean in Aix-en-Provence, says it could have been sited on an island close to the Strait of Gibraltar, and would have vanished below the waves about 11,000 years ago - just as Plato said it did.

Nobody seems to have to have thought of the clearest indication given by Plato - that of an island at the mouth of the Pillars of Hercules

Jacques Collina-Girard
Collina-Girard's evidence is based on a study of sea levels that prevailed as the last Ice Age was ending.

His assessment of the coral reef data shows the coastline off the southernmost tip of Spain and around Gibraltar 19,000 years ago to have been 130 metres (422 feet) below what it is today.

This would have exposed an archipelago, with an island at the spot where Plato reported Atlantis to be in his work Timaeus.

"There was an island in front of the 'Pillars of Hercules'," what we would now call the Strait of Gibraltar, Collina-Girard told New Scientist magazine. Named Spartel, this island lay to the west of the Strait just as the Greek philosopher described. The Strait was longer and narrower than today, and enclosed a harbour-like inland sea.

Volcanic eruptions

The search for Atlantis has led archaeologists and thrillseekers to the Caribbean, the Azores, Canaries, Iceland, Crete, Tunisia, Sweden, the coast of Western Africa and even the Sahara.

But, Collina-Girard says, nobody ever looked in the most obvious place. "Nobody seems to have to have thought of the clearest indication given by Plato - that of an island at the mouth of the Pillars of Hercules."

The researcher says he made the discovery accidentally while investigating the possible migration patterns of Palaeolithic people.

He says, however, that in a number of respects, Plato's reporting simply does not square with the geological evidence. For example, Plato said Atlantis was larger than Libya and Asia combined, whereas Spartel was only 14 kilometers (8.75 miles) long by five km wide (three miles) at the time.

Plato also reports that volcanic activity sank Atlantis, but this may have been a case of embellishment, says Collina-Girard. "The Greeks were familiar with volcanic eruptions," he notes. To them, such a fate might have been more dramatic and plausible than the change in sea level that would have accompanied the melting and gradual retreat glacial icesheets.

The idea that Atlantis was also an advanced, utopian society may also be an embellishment.

Collina-Girard has published his work in a prestigious French journal, Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Sciences.

See also:

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