The lost city of Atlantis is resurrected to fuel a dangerous myth

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For a story that was first told 2,300 years ago, the myth of Atlantis has demonstrated remarkable persistence over the millennia. Originally outlined by Plato, the tale of the rise of a great, ancient civilization followed by its catastrophic destruction has since spawned a myriad of interpretations.

Many releases have been intriguing and entertaining, but none have been as controversial as her most recent release in the Netflix series Ancient Apocalypse.

Hosted by author Graham Hancock, the show claims that a once sophisticated culture was destroyed in floods triggered by a giant comet crashing into Earth—a disaster that inspired the legend of Atlantis, it claims.

According to Hancock, the survivors of the calamity scattered across the world – which was then populated by simple hunter-gatherers – bringing them science, technology, agriculture and monumental architecture. We owe everything to these almost godlike individuals, it is claimed.

For good measure, Hancock – who has promoted these ideas in his books for decades – argues that archaeologists have deliberately covered up this catastrophic view of the spread of civilization and accuses mainstream academia of its “extremely defensive, arrogant and condescending” attitudes.

These stark claims helped the series to top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, to the chagrin of archaeologists who, for their part, denounced Ancient Apocalypse on the basis that it provides little evidence to back up its grandiose claims and to promote conspiracy theories disguised as science.

Flint Dibble, a Cardiff University archaeologist, described Hancock’s basic thesis as “flawed thinking”. Archaeologists don’t hate him, as he claims. “It’s just that we strongly believe he’s wrong,” Dibble says in an article on The conversation last week.

The comparison is intriguing and raises many questions of which the most basic is the simple question: why has the story of Atlantis – compared to other ancient myths – maintained its popularity for so long? What is the essential attraction of the tale?

For the answers we need only look to the works of Tolkien, CS Lewis, HP Lovecraft, Conan Doyle, Brecht and a host of science fiction writers who have all found irresistible inspiration in myth.

As for the suggested location of this lost civilization, these have ranged from the Sahara to Antarctica and countless places in between.

Nor is Hancock the first to suggest that the destruction of a once-great civilization led to the flowering of culture elsewhere. In 1882, maverick US Congressman and popular writer Ignatius Donnelly published Atlantis: the antediluvian world who claimed that a highly complex and sophisticated culture had been swept away in a flood 10,000 years ago and claimed that its survivors had spread throughout the world teaching the rest of humanity the secrets of agriculture and architecture. Sounds familiar.

Then there were the Nazis. Many swore by the idea that a superior white Nordic race – people of “the purest blood” – had come from Atlantis. As a result, Himmler created an SS unit, the Ahnenerbe – or Bureau of Ancestral Heritage – in 1935 to find out where the people of Atlantis had gone after the flood destroyed their homeland.

And that, in part, explains why the myth of an ancient lost civilization is so useful. It’s a grassroots tale of a rise and fall that can be locked away and exploited for all sorts of causes. Plato intended his account to be an allegory. Atlantis was destroyed by the gods who were angry with the arrogance shown by the inhabitants of her and so they destroyed it. Don’t outgrow your boots, in other words.

But Hancock – who describes himself as a journalist presumably to avoid being called a pseudo-scientist – takes the story to a controversial new level by suggesting that the survivors of such a flood were the instigators of the great works of other civilizations, from Egypt to Mexico and from Turkey to Indonesia. As Dibble puts it, such claims reinforce ideas of white supremacy. “They strip indigenous people of their rich heritage and instead give credit to aliens or white people.” In short, the series promotes “race science” ideas that are outdated and long debunked.

As for the probable site of the original Atlantis, the serious money goes to the destruction of the Greek island of Santorini and its impact on Crete and blames it on volcanic eruptions, not wandering comets, as Hancock claims.

Also, while Ancient Apocalypse suggests the destruction occurred 12,000 years ago, most proponents of the alternative view believe it occurred around 1630 BC, when the island of Santorini erupted in one of the most violent volcanic events in human history.

Fourteen cubic miles of rock were hurled into the atmosphere, triggering massive tsunamis and a hail of ash that would destroy the Minoan civilization then flourishing in Crete.

It was this cataclysm that was remembered more than 1,000 years later in Plato’s time. He attributed it to a civilization he called Atlantis, little knowing how his brief description of a lost culture would resonate so strongly—and often controversially—throughout the ages.

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