The Myth of Atlantis

The myth of Atlantis is an ancient story told by Plato and one of the most popular myths in history. So let's look at the probability of this being real.

The Myth of Atlantis

What is Atlantis?

Atlantis illustration by Sir Gerald Hargreaves.

Atlantis is a mythical island, often placed in the Atlantic Ocean. It was first mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato, who spoke of Atlantis in "Timaeus" and "Critias," two of his dialogues, around 360 BCE.

According to the myth, Atlantis was inhabited by half-god and -human people. They were very prosperous and powerful, ruling the land with wisdom and fairness. These people dominated all others until their hubris angered the gods. The gods decided that the people of Atlantis needed to be punished. Atlantis was destroyed in a terrible cataclysm, complete with earthquakes and floods. The island plunged into the ocean, and the civilization was lost forever.

Atlantis re-imagined using Plato's specifications.

Plato encouraged his students to question myth and ancient history – the myth of Atlantis helped Plato do this because it questioned in a very public way the Great Deluge myth that had been around in texts in the Ionic region since the early Mycenaean period.

Plato attributed his knowledge of the myth to a document his grandfather preserved from Solon, an ancient Athenian who visited Egypt in the 6th century BCE. Β 

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, from Mundus Subterraneus 1669, published in Amsterdam.

Solon of Egypt was an Athenian legislator and poet who visited the city of Sais in Egypt. He learned about the myth of Atlantis from the priests there and brought it back to Greece.

Oh – also – Atlantis was ruled by Atlas, the son of Poseidon, and had 10 sub-kingdoms ruled by Atlas' children. At least according to Plato's myth.

What are the conditions for Atlantis in the Atlantic?

Usually, I subscribe to the idea that Atlantis is a myth told for entertainment, much like the Greek gods. But let's look at what we know today...

The Azores are 1,400km from Lisbon and 1,900km from Canada and sit above a submerged plateau – a perfect location matching the myth and geographical requirements for a lost empire.

Azores Plateau - Wikipedia

Generally accepted human history places sapiens running around for 300k years, but mostly doing boring cave-related things until 13k years ago. The last glacial period ran wild from 100k to 12k years ago, and the peak of glacial sheets covering Earth spanned approximately 30k to 10k years ago.

Last Glacial Maximum - Wikipedia

All the while, humans made small boats – mostly canoe-like rafts – for at least the last 40k years. The real question is: how many attempts would it take to successfully traverse the Atlantic ocean from Lisbon to the Azores? You probably only need one if you're half god, but more than a few if you're only human.

How likely was Atlantis?

I'll use IPCC words of estimation to break down the elements here...

Is it possible that 20k years ago...

  • the Azores plateau was above current sea levels? Likely.
  • someone created a boat to take humans from Africa/Europe to Azores? Even chance.
  • the massive ice melting would alter sea levels and redraw coastlines/islands? Very likely.

These variables have some prior evidence to point towards; however, let's look at elements of the myth (some original, some added later).

Possible that the people on Azores...

  • flourished 1-10k years before Plato? Even chance.
  • had a metal like gold or copper? Even chance.
  • had a strong military? Even chance.
  • made statues with copper, gold, and silver? Even chance.
  • made separate baths for royalty, and men and women? Even chance.
  • had a beautiful land with mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys? Very likely.
  • formed a federation on their islands? Likely.
  • had great lumber reserves? Likely.
  • cultivated diverse plant life? Likely.
  • enslaved people? Likely.
  • built bridges? Unlikely.
  • had elephants? Unlikely.
  • made separate baths for animals? Unlikely.
  • had a great navy? Unlikely.
  • built stadium-sized temples? Unlikely.
  • cut rings in the land to form islands? Unlikely.
  • had densely populated cities? Very unlikely.
  • built temples to Greek gods? Very unlikely.
  • had electricity or other futuristic technology? Very unlikely.
  • formed a global federation, ruling Libya, Europe, and Egypt? Very unlikely.
  • had a massive army of 60k men, 10k chariots, and 1.2k ships? Very unlikely.
  • were ruled by half-god kings? Exceptionally unlikely.

Why are many unlikely to exceptionally unlikely? There are little to no past priors of other civilizations harnessing future technology, creating great structures outside of Egypt, praising future civilizations' gods, or ever being even quarter-part gods (not even the pharaohs) at this period of history.

Why is it very unlikely Atlantis organized Earth's kingdoms and traded globally? There are no recorded stories or documents of Atlantis, and all details originate at one place: Plato (via his grandfather via Solon). Plato spoke of kingdoms known to the Greek's but left out the Americas and Asia. Stories passed as history, but originating from a single source tend to be a myth.

What if Atlantis wasn't in the Atlantic?

Let's review the possibility that a lost civilization was located...

  • in the Mediterranean? Likely.
  • in the Atlantic at the Azores? Even chance.
  • elsewhere in the Atlantic? Even chance.
  • on the island known as Ireland? Very unlikely.
  • in the North Sea? Unlikely.
  • in the Caribbean? Even chance.

There is strong evidence of lost civilizations in the Aegean sea, but there is declining evidence elsewhere. Plato speaks of Atlantis being in the Atlantic ocean, and there is little evidence of ancient Egypt interacting with people from the Caribbean or Nordic lands. Evidence of past, basic civilization was found offshore in the North Sea. And to date, there's no evidence of ancient, lost civilizations on the island of Ireland.

What's the probability of Atlantis?

If all elements above are equal, with equal evidence of past priors, and we ignore things like the prior evidence of myths being fiction, or ever discovering one lost ancient civilization of any technological advancement... there's less than a 40% probability of a lost Atlantic civilization existing, and it's far from matching the details in the Atlantis myth.

It's more probable – like most "history" told from this period – that the myth of Atlantis was used for entertainment and education (through parables).

Is it fun to believe in lost advanced civilizations?


Also available as a Twitter thread...

The origin of the post you are reading now...