Plato was the one who first reported the existence of a vast island with immense mountains, verdant valleys and fruit "fair and wondrous and in infinite abundance." This magnificent Aegean Eden surrounded a capital of fabulous stone buildings, a busy, bustling heaven on earth.
And then, the Cataclysm. Panic spread across the island as Atlantis's volcano shook off its long dormancy. The mountain erupted, and the island was overwhelmed, engulfed. The sea smoothed over, and the continent and its occupants were gone forever.
Or were they?
Enter Robert Sullivan, who first rose to international prominence with his breakthrough research on Santa Claus. In Atlantis Rising, Sullivan reveals evidence even more startling than that contained in his myth-shattering Flight of the Reindeer: The True Story of Santa Claus and His Christmas Mission. Set upon his Atlantean quest by Amos S. Eno, executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and lured further and further on by the mysterious oceanographer who calls himself "Atwater," Sullivan is able to separate historical truth from mere legend, fact from fiction, science from silliness. Delving into the historical record, then into secret files that have long been under lock and key at the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, he discovers rare transcripts, documents, maps and, incredibly, photographs. They are all here in Atlantis Rising, along with dozens of paintings by the renowned natural-history artist Glenn Wolff. It adds up to an astonishing tale and a powerful moral.
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Read an Excerpt
When Atlantis was Eden
"In the beginning," Atwater told me, "There was the volcano. Then there was the cooling of the earth, then the building of an island. It was a perfectly circular island with high mountains and deep valleys in its interior, and great cliffs at the shore. Meanwhile, elsewhere -- somewhere not far away, somewhere in Africa -- a species had come, first out of the depths of the ocean, thence to the lagoons, thence to the land, thence to the trees. This species was learning to walk. Upright. And in a geologic blink of the eye, this species set about conquering the world. And the best and brightest of this new species found its way to the circular island, and invented Atlantis." Then Atwater paused, smiled and said, "That's a rather brief synopsis, you understand."
He talks like that sometimes: "in the beginning," "thence" and "whence" and "wherefore." He'll be ponderous -- "Atlantis was doomed before it was doomed." And he'll be poetic -- "Atlantis is as inscrutable as it is irrefutable." He takes himself seriously, then, realizing that he has done so, smiles sweetly and makes a small joke -- in this case, "a rather brief synopsis."
Self-deprecation aside, he is saying, essentially, that Genesis is a rather brief synopsis of all things evolutionary, and that the keenest sons and daughters of Eden established their shiniest city in the hills of Atlantis. Atlantis was the jewel in the crown of the world, said Atwater. Atlantis ruled.
Or hoped to.
But let's not skip ahead too quickly. Let's build a foundation.
While getting into no debates over creationism, let us agree that Darwin was a smart fellow and that the human inhabitants of the Edenic garden were but a few evolutionary steps from their Carnivora cousins. Whether God or nature -- or both -- led them along, there they were. Now then: the Carnivora were, in turn, a mere stone's throw from the simians who, way back, were connected to all other earthly primates, as the knee bone to the leg bone, the leg bone to the thigh bone. And these larger mammals were and are related to all Insectivora, all Marsupialia, all Rodentia.
And these eventually were and are tied up with the reptiles, thence to other nonmammalian critters and fish, thence and thence and thence...all the way down to the ooze.
The ooze: primordial, fecund, slimy, wet. Home to water creatures, crawling forth.
"Evolutionary science tells us that some species in any given age retain closer genetic ties to their ancestors than do other related species," says Peter Ward, professor of geologic science and zoology at the University of Washington at Seattle. "They fall less far from the tree, so to speak. These account for some of your 'missing links' -- a subspecies with one foot in the old camp and one in the new, such as an almost-upright ape. These marooned species number among them certain...anomalies. Amphibians are obvious examples, being water creatures and land creatures both, and able to persevere in this schizophrenic condition over many generations, never casting their lot unequivocally with either their wet or dry condition. Bats are mammals that fly -- an example of convergence, the notion that evolutionary opportunities provoke evolutionary responses."
Ward, a man of great sophistication who possesses an uncanny talent for making complexities comprehensible, is speaking by phone, without any understanding that our inquiry concerns Atlantis. Atwater suggested that I call Ward and have him lay some groundwork, and so I have. "It is widely -- and mistakenly -- assumed that species always progress, that they improve over time," continues Ward, whose landmark book, Future Evolution, sets all this out in greater detail. "Under this assumption, humans congratulate themselves on being the last and best of evolutions -- this conceit works in the same way that we used to believe that we were the last and best of God's labor. But the evolutionary record shows that species branch into available niches, and then adapt to them. When the niches change, species, like dinosaurs, become extinct. When niches stay
stable, so do the species which occupy them. Sharks haven't changed appreciably in the last three hundred million years.
"When a large niche -- for example, the one available for big-brained, bipedal primates with opposable thumbs -- becomes available, it gets filled real fast. Humans went from the australo-pithecine named Lucy to Marie Curie in about a weekend, right? Swanscombe man to Steinheim man to Solo man to Rhodesian man to Neander-thal man to Cro-Magnon man to modern man in about forty-eight hours -- in geologic terms. An altogether astonishing achievement.
"Now, sometimes, even though evolution by natural selection is way too complicated to retrace its steps precisely, it still, on occasion, loops back on itself. Whales and dolphins are descended from land animals. Consider that point for a moment: Land animals became water animals. This seems contrary to our ideas of 'progress' and 'improvement,' but it is nonetheless true. Sometimes, if a 'progressive' animal meets a roadblock or changes its mind, then it pauses, or even 'retreats.' Wild horses, for instance, are not genetically different than farm horses, but they're in a state of what some would call regression because they've been forced into such a state.
They find themselves alone, lost in the canyons, and it's adapt or die. They turn feral -- or, rather, return to the feral."
Aha. I mention to Ward that his testimony reminds me of a story the Arctic adventurer Will Steger once told me. Steger had been trying to breed a hardier, feistier sled dog for an expedition to the North Pole. At his camp in Minnesota, Steger had
introduced wolves among the huskies. Subsequently, there were several litters of crossbred puppies. These were indeed rougher and tougher dogs, extremely well suited for hard work in the frozen north, and during several practice runs in Greenland and Iceland they
But, said Steger: "One night in northern Greenland, we were awoken by a dogfight. It was fierce, it was primal. I bolted from the tent, but there was nothing to be done. One dog was dead, and the other was just lying there, somewhat magisterially, having gone for the throat. I had no idea what had started it. Maybe this wolf-dog simply had too much wolf in her, and all of a sudden that part of her personality took over. All I knew was, I couldn't afford to be losing dogs on the trail. I stopped that breeding experiment pronto."
Ward's reaction: "Genetic memory. Wolfish instincts had been bred in the bones -- I am wolf, hear me howl -- and that night, the instincts clicked in. Why? Maybe some dream of wolf ancestors. Maybe because it was time to click. The wolf might have been hungry, and said, 'Hey, I'm a serious top-shelf carnivore. I can do this.' Reversion can be astonishingly quick sometimes.
"The thing I'd like to emphasize," Ward continues, "is that once the dog had gone back, she was all wolf again. She still had her training as a dog -- she knew and remembered whatever she
had been taught as a dog -- but she was a wolf now. A super wolf. A wolf with intellectual advantages, since she knew how the other half lived."
These basic scientific principles are detailed now, early on, as prelude. For as Atwater told me late one night: "It is important -- it is essential -- to comprehend the nature of evolution and devolution. These concepts must be distinctly understood from the very outset," he said softly, "or nothing wonderful can come of the story of Atlantis."
Humankind, once it was up and running about two thousand millennia ago, went merrily on its world-beating ways. In the crucible of humanity, first in the Middle East and then all around the Mediterranean, several brown-, white- and red-skinned populations prospered, and some began to advance at remarkable rates. The extremely sophisticated cave paintings at Altamira, Lascaux and Chauvet are now dated as far back as 30,000 years ago. Clearly, there was
civilized behavior long before Sumer, Harappa and other communities we hear so much of, long before Mycenae. The Greek city-states and the Roman Empire reached their respective zeniths in the few centuries before and after the birth of Christ, but we now know that there were advanced civilizations predating them.
Which brings us to Homer, hallowed chronicler of advanced civilizations.
For the longest time, it was thought that the great Greek epicist was more poet than historian, more yarn spinner or even myth monger than
truth teller. But Charles MacLaren didn't think so, and in his 1822 book, A Dissertation on the Topography of the Plains of Troy, MacLaren situated Priam's city in a section of what is now western Turkey. This land was characterized by fortress-like earthmounds that seemed, to MacLaren, straight out of The Iliad.
A devotee of MacLaren -- and of Homer and Plato -- was German businessman and archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann was a profoundly egomaniacal, self-promotional and acquisitive man, but whatever his flaws, Schliemann did find Troy. Following directions as sketched by MacLaren, he led an expedition in 1872 and 1873 that unearthed buildings and treasures dating, he thought, to the Trojan War.1 Later study would reveal that Schliemann's plunder wasn't quite as old as that, but it also confirmed that, yes, indeed, Schliemann's plundered city had been Troy.
With its discovery, Troy and its battles were transformed, overnight, from myth to reality. And it became instantly clear that, nearly 3,200 years ago, there had existed sophisticated societies with sophisticated militaries. Most significantly for our purposes, as C. W. Ceram wrote in his 1951 study, Gods, Graves and Scholars, Schliemann "proved Homer's worth as historian."
Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Schuster
Table of ContentsPreface
The Hermit by the Beach
In which we meet the mysterious Atwater, who possesses certain proofs that have gotten him in way over his head. Atwater sets us upon our quest.
In which the history of ancient, above-water Atlantis is detailed. We gaze upon a long-ago land of great grace, culture, beauty, genius and aspiration.
Crimes and Punishment
In which we learn of the Atlanteans' descent into grasping, evil ways. The days before The Cataclysm were no less dramatic and volcanic than the eruption itself.
Theories of Devolution
In which we trace the several stages of history's most remarkable back-to-the-womb story. The colonizing instincts of mermaids and mermen are analyzed.
In which we ask: Who are they today? What is their nature? When did they leave the Atlantic? Where were they on the Night to Remember? How could it possibly be possible?
Swimming Toward Tomorrow
In which we wrestle with a final question: What are these fantastic undersea creatures trying to tell us?