This weekend, I am devoting my time to working on my new book about the myths and legends of the pyramids, so I have only a short topic to discuss with you today. It concerns a “new” hypothesis about the location of Atlantis that was recently described in the Nevada Appeal, a newspaper in Carson City publishing two weekly editions. The Appeal published a column by local historian and amateur archaeologist Dennis Cassinelli, who has written four books on Great Basin history, including Uncovering Archaeology, in which he attacks the “current system” of science and claims to have found evidence for lost civilizations of an Old World flavor in the Great Basin region, along with Mormon-style evidence of Christ’s visitation.
“Professionals are reluctant to critique their own profession,” Cassinelli said in an interview. “I know where enough of the archaeological skeletons are buried and some of the shennanigans [sic] that have taken place to write a humorous, yet serious, critique of the profession.”
The Appeal column is a summary of his discussion of Atlantis in his self-published Uncovering Archaeology.
Cassinelli discusses the Atlantis myth in a rather standard way before segueing into Mormon apologetics. He writes that years ago he took a trip to Central America to tour Maya ruins and as part of the preparation work, he began to study the Book of Mormon as a historical document. “Being an avid reader, I happened to read a few chapters in the Book of Mormon one day from a historical perspective,” he wrote. He quickly came to believe that Mormonism’s belief in Christ’s arrival in the Americas and ministry to the peoples of the Americas answered historical questions for him. He now believes, for example, that the Maya god Kukulkan was Christ, and he falsely claims that the Maya believed Kukulkan to have been born of a virgin. He also compares the promise of Kukulkan to return someday to Christ’s promise of the Second Coming—despite the odd inconsistency that he believes (wrongly) that the Mormons hold Christ to have faked his own death before escaping to America, thereby rendering the whole Second Coming doctrine essentially moot. If Christ wasn’t resurrected, then the mythology erected atop the resurrection doesn’t stand.
But what does this have to do with Atlantis? Well, glad you asked:
My theory is Central America was actually the lost continent of Atlantis. Even before Christ arrived, a Phoenician ship likely landed on the coast of Central America. The sailors saw the massive pyramids and the wonderful cities of the Mayans, believing they had landed in Atlantis. Upon their return, they reported the wonders of "Atlantis" to the world.
It annoys me when someone claiming to be a historian doesn’t seem to be aware of the work of earlier writers who trod the same ground. The claim that Mexico and the Maya lands were “Atlantis” is as old as the Spanish Conquest. In the nineteenth century both Brasseur de Bourbourg and Augustus Le Plongeon famously pursued the claim, with the latter imagining the Maya lands as the fountainhead of world civilization.
At least Cassinelli has an unusual spin on the idea, asserting that “Atlantis” itself was a myth but that Phoenicians described the Maya cities as Atlantis because of the myth. This is basically what happened with Francisco López de Gómara in 1552 when he applied the Atlantis myth to explain what he saw in Mexico. But you really have to love the way Cassinelli openly makes up stories that can’t be true—the “embarrassed” expedition—without bothering to justify them with evidence.
Factually speaking, for the story to be true, all of this would have had to have occurred before Plato wrote of Atlantis in order for him to have incorporated the “embarrassed” expedition’s claim of a missing continent. That means that the last journeys would have had to take place around 400 BCE, during the Maya Preclassic period, when pyramids were much smaller and cities were only starting to rise. More challenging still is that for the Greek legend to rightly think Atlantis to be vastly old, when Maya buildings of that time were demonstrably new, the Phoenicians would have had to have visited still earlier, when there were no Maya pyramids at all. I suppose the Olmec would need to substitute in here, though we fall into a paradox: If “Atlantis” was a myth applied to America, then why is there no mention of it before Plato? In something of a chicken and egg problem, the creation of the myth and its real-world inspiration seem to take place both simultaneously and not at all.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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