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The Standing Stone
To this day, I don't know what drew me to it. Most of the other visitors to the delightful little museum in Lagos, Portugal, just walked on by. It was another stiflingly hot day in early June 1991. Everyone else probably wanted to get outside to enjoy a cool drink in the town square. I didn't follow them. Instead, I stepped into one last dusty room. It was stuffed full of all the usual local artifacts from yesteryear. Cabinets of coins and bronze arrowheads leaned against one wall. A box of fossils stood alongside another. I love any and all historical objects. But, charming as the setting was, apart from a broken stone slab described later, little else in that room really grabbed my interest. My wife had already moved on, and I was about to join her, when I saw it. A huge oval-shaped rock lay damaged, broken, and all but forgotten in an alcove. Its pale limestone managed to shimmer slightly amidst the dullness of the room.
For some reason I was captivated.
The noise of the other tourists out in the exit corridor faded away as I approached the exhibit. The museum's curators had labeled it as a "menhir"—a standing stone. Had it been standing—as I so wished it had been—at around six feet tall, it would have been my height. Instead this beautiful, ethereal object was resting on its side. I looked closely at the new base. Parts of it had clearly been badly damaged long ago. I can't say why, but that almost broke my heart. If it had remained intact and been pulled up into its original position, the menhir would have been a perfect egg shape. It would have been magnificent.
"What are you looking at?" My wife was back at my side. It took me a while to reply.
"Imagine how much work it would have taken to carve this," I said, standing back to take in every inch of it. "Imagine how beautiful it would have been."
"It's beautiful now. Look what's carved on it," she said softly.
I leaned forward. In three places, all around the stone, I could see a long, identical, and captivating motif. It must have stood out proud, through the centuries, on the cool, white shell of this ancient, oversized egg. But the beauty of the rough, worn carving wasn't the most intriguing thing about it. I caught my breath as I looked closer. The motif immediately brought to mind one of the most modern discoveries of twentieth-century science: the carvings on this stone egg bore an astonishing resemblance to the symbol of the DNA helix. How could that be? And what could it mean?
I barely said a word as we left the museum. I collapsed into a chair at the nearest café and ordered a cup of the local strong, black coffee—a bica.
"That must be the stone the Bongards told us about," I said to my wife when I finally regained my voice. Many months earlier, we had been dinner guests at a beautiful Portuguese farmhouse that belonged to an elderly Swiss couple. They had befriended my wife and me shortly after we had left Wales and moved to the Algarve in the mid-1980s. The four of us had a mutual interest in antiques, unusual artifacts, and local history. We would talk for hours about our discoveries, our collections, our theories, and our latest research. On the evening in question, our host mentioned a strange object he had seen lying by the side of the road a few kilometers from our new home. He said it had resembled a huge stone egg. As far as he had been able to ascertain, a group of farmers had just unearthed it from a nearby field.
"I went back a few weeks later to try to buy it for my collection," he had said. But by then it had already been taken to a museum in nearby Lagos.
I kept looking out across the countryside as my wife and I drove back up the coast to our home that night. Dozens of standing stones are scattered across the Algarve. I'd seen plenty of them in the few years we'd lived in the area. But I'd never seen one like the stone egg in Lagos. The other menhirs were simply large, naturally formed rocks pulled up and displayed with little or no extra shaping. How long would it have taken, by contrast, to sculpt the egg I'd just seen? With only the most primitive of tools, how hard would it have been to adorn its shell with such an intricate, intriguing design? And was there something else I should be asking as well? Something was nagging away at the back of my consciousness. Was it about a sculpted egg, the ancient symbol of creation since time immemorial? Or was it the image of the DNA helix, the ultimate representation of the very building blocks of life?
When we got home, I stood outside and gazed up into the night sky. Sometimes in the Algarve the stars are so bright that the planets seem alive. This was one of those most beautiful of nights. It was full of mystery and promise. I stood there and breathed deeply. Then I looked down. I stared at the stars' reflection in the blackness of the river just beyond our garden. Then, suddenly, I smiled and my mind cleared. I realized what had been eating away at me. It was a history I'd once read of an ancient Slavic culture. Legend had it that the people had migrated into northern and eastern Europe when their original homeland had sunk into the depths of some unnamed western ocean. More important still was the assertion that in their original homeland, this Slavic culture had worshipped a large white stone egg.
Could this have been the same egg? Had a civilization right here in southern Portugal once sunk into the sea?
Three further thoughts kept me awake that night. They have been in my thoughts for most of the subsequent two decades.
The first was that back in the museum, just before my eyes fell upon the egg, I had been studying a broken slab of rock. Engraved on it in a strange spiral fashion were a number of curious letters. Some instantly reminded me of letters in the Phoenician alphabet, the very same alphabet that long ago had given birth to the one I am using here. This artifact was labeled as being from the Iron Age, around 600 B.C. Why were only some of the letters in Phoenician, and where did the others come from? I asked myself. And, just as intriguing, what was it doing in the Algarve?
My second thought was that my new home is located in one of the most precarious places on our planet. Just like California and Japan, we sit beside a lethal seismic fault line. I had discovered that fact while doing some research into a little-appreciated but truly awful event. Only a few centuries ago, the area was hit by the west's worst-ever known earthquake, followed by towering tsunamis. For some time, I had been wondering why no early civilizations were recorded as having flourished, then perished, in southern Portugal, this most beautiful of lands. That ever-threatening fault line would explain this mystery. Over millennia, huge areas of land were likely to have sunk, and any that remained had been washed clean of evidence.
The third thought came unbidden but refused to go away. Ever since my teenage years, I have been fascinated by stories of ancient lands—and by one ancient land in particular. On it was the civilization that had existed in the ocean the Slavs had described. It, too, had disappeared amidst twenty-four terrible hours of earthquakes and floods. It was called Atlantis.
I was a teenager when I first heard about the legend of Atlantis. I was utterly gripped—and I wasn't alone. The idea of this compelling, long-lost civilization has fascinated people all around the world. There are hundreds of books and an infinite number of Internet pages available to read on the subject. There is also an ever-increasing number of television programs and Hollywood blockbusters covering it. Best of all, there is always something new to learn.
From the start, it was the people of Atlantis who interested me the most. I had sat in my bedroom in Hampshire and imagined an incredible, advanced population that had lived more than 11,500 years before me. I dreamed of the civilization's armies, of its navy and its intrepid travelers. I discovered they must have had extraordinary maps and have walked on American soil thousands of years before we did. They had managed to control rivers, store water, and farm abundant crops. They had built a country of extraordinary wealth. Thousands of residents lived in an island capital city built of multicolored stone, ringed with extraordinary silver-topped walls and surrounded by water. As a teenager, living under the shadow of the Cold War, I was particularly interested in the way these people lived—initially almost entirely in peace. There was a harmony and a dignity in the account of the Atlanteans I read. Their silver city had been the center of a golden age.
I soon learned all the theories of how Atlantis had died, after the lofty principles gave way to greed and aggression; the horrors of a sudden, catastrophic earthquake; the vast, destructive waves that hit a fast-disappearing landmass; and the complete and tragic end of an era that came without warning.
I read my way through all the relevant books in my local library to find out more. Maybe it was just my childish innocence. But I was convinced there were things we could learn from this golden but doomed civilization. I loved the idea that Atlanteans could have left secrets for future generations to discover. I was sure that somewhere, far beneath some distant ocean, there must be hidden knowledge that we could use to prepare for our own terrible challenges.
Throughout my adult life I continued to read widely about ancient civilizations across the globe. I kept on dreaming about that serene, powerful kingdom that had disappeared so very long ago. When I reached my mid-forties, having left Britain for Portugal, learned about that threatening seismic fault, and found that pale limestone sculpture in a tiny, local museum, I followed the lead of many other academics, historians, and would-be Indiana Joneses around the world: I began a personal quest that would take me through two long, fascinating decades. I began my search for a lost kingdom. Today, against all odds, I believe I have found it.CHAPTER 2
Plato and Atlantis
Atlantis is indisputably the world's greatest unsolved historic mystery; most people have heard stories about this fabled lost land. But many don't realize that the only concrete evidence that shows that Atlantis ever existed has come down to us from just one source: Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher.
There are a few hints in other ancient documents, but nothing specific. Many of those who have written or made television documentaries about Atlantis do not appear to have thoroughly investigated what Plato said. As a result, misconceptions are rife and those modern phenomena Internet chat-rooms are buzzing with ill-informed comment.
What Plato indicated was that Atlantis was a substantial civilization in the Atlantic, that it was incredibly wealthy, and that it controlled a sprawling island empire as far as the great continent on the western side of the ocean. The homeland's benign climate, coupled with a bountiful agricultural plain, provided everything needed by the inhabitants for sustenance and an idyllic lifestyle. The central capital occupied a small hill approximately one kilometer wide and only a short way inland. It was a glittering affair with the external walls plated in precious metals and the whole city surrounded by water. An earthly paradise indeed, until it was destroyed in an unimaginable disaster 11,600 years ago.
That is an extraordinarily long time. For instance, it's about seven thousand years before the construction of the great Egyptian pyramids and around six thousand before the zenith of the Sumerian civilization in Iraq, hitherto accepted as the world's first civilization. However, perceptive and persistent investigative authors, such as Graham Hancock, have scoured the globe and drawn attention to many incredible remains indicating that other civilizations have existed in much earlier epochs than historians and archaeologists are prepared to publicly accept. Particularly in South America and Egypt, where undeniable records also exist of tall bearded white strangers visiting from another part of the world and teaching the basic precepts of agriculture, irrigation, and construction, as well as instigating laws. The inescapable conclusion is that these strangers came from the same central source. In South America they arrived by boat from the east and in Egypt they were described as rulers from a land to the west.
So who was this Plato who bequeathed us such precious information about these enigmatic people and their long-lost civilization? Although much criticized for his tendency to elaborate on true accounts, Plato was an extraordinary man. No shrinking academic, he was well traveled and in his youth had wrestled in the Olympic games, fought in wars, tutored a foreign king, spent time in prison, and had close contact with many of the leading men of affairs, both in his home city, Athens, and elsewhere. His contributions in the fields of science, mathematics, and philosophy were immense. The scientific views he propounded were far ahead of his time, and this in itself raises an important question: Allowing for the fact that he sometimes struggled to convey his ideas and theories within the confines of the ancient Greek language, did he actually have access to earlier but forgotten advanced knowledge?
He put forward the idea, for example, that the universe is a single, interconnected, unified creation, which mirrors views held today. Modern physicists are actively searching for a "grand unified field theory of nature." He also distinguished between matter and energy, and submitted that the world was a sphere revolving on its own axis and supplying nourishment from its own decay. It was to be another twelve hundred years, and thanks to Galileo, before society was prepared to recognize that the world is round and in motion.
His most far-reaching legacy, however, which has immeasurably affected mankind for the better right up to current times, was in the realm of education. He founded the first university. It has been the world's model ever since.
It is thought that Plato lived from 423 B.C. to 347 B.C. He opened the doors of his school, which gave us the name "academy" because it was built on land belonging to a man called Academos, in about 387 B.C. The university was devoted to research and instruction in philosophy and the sciences. Plato ran it until his death some forty years later.
His ambition was to train young men, enabling them to make better contributions, especially in the world of politics. Dabbling in that field earlier in his career, he had been appalled by the low standards of those holding public office. As an aside, one cannot but wonder what he would have made of today's worldwide crop. Plato certainly managed to train men well. One of his pupils was Aristotle, who in turn became tutor to Alexander the Great. Ironically, it was Alexander who abolished the Athens democracy so beloved by Plato, and made Greece a dictatorship.
Plato's academy ran continuously for nine hundred years, which to date remains the longest period ever sustained by a university. It was finally closed in A.D. 529 by the Christian Emperor Justinian, who claimed that it was a pagan establishment. How many times in the last two thousand years, I wonder, have the knowledge and written records of past civilizations been destroyed in the name of religion?
Excerpted from Atlantis and the Silver City by Peter Daughtrey. Copyright © 2013 Peter Daughtrey. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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