Remember what a surprise it was last year when Graham Hancock finally admitted that his “lost civilization” was really Atlantis? Remember, too, how Hancock and fellow fringe writer Andrew Collins got into a bit of a passive-aggressive tiff when Hancock borrowed a bunch of Collins’s material for Magicians of the Gods before criticizing Collins, and Collins then gave Magicians a positive review that somehow ended up praising Collins more? Well Collins has now returned the favor by piggybacking on the publicity surrounding Hancock’s comet hypothesis (or more accurately Ignatius Donnelly’s) to argue that Atlantis was in the Caribbean and was destroyed by a comet. Yes, it’s Magicians of the Gods all over again, but this time it’s called Atlantis in the Caribbean and the Comet that Changed the World (Bear & Company, 2016).
The “new” book is actually one that Collins published in 2000 as Gateway to Atlantis, now retitled to take advantage of Graham Hancock’s promotional tour for Magicians of the Gods. The original book was a faulty collection of material drawn from 1960s “ancient mystery” books (including the infamous Mayan “Atlantis carving” hoax) and a great deal of assuming that ancient myths and legends could be taken as literally true when convenient.
His argument, then as now, is a bit specious. In précis, it states that when the Spanish visited the Caribbean, native peoples told them that all of the islands had once been part of a single landmass. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had heard the same stories when they visited the Antilles, and it was from them that Plato heard of the breakup of Atlantis. Thus, the Atlantis myth is Native American in origin. The trouble with this is that the claim doesn’t make sense.
The native part of the story is problematic because it relies on European reports, which were themselves influenced by the Europeans’ own belief that the Antilles were Atlantis, as Francisco López de Gómara asserted in chapter 220 of Historia general de las Indias (1552). But Collins doesn’t know the source material. One report Collins uses came from Paul Gaffarel, a French historian writing the 1890s, and the other from James Frazer, writing in his collection of world flood myths in 1919. Collins doesn’t bother to find the originals because he didn’t even read the secondary sources; he accepts a summary of them from 1962 diffusionist book by Geoffrey Ashe (who’s 93 and still alive!), Land to the West, as “sufficient” to prove an Atlantis myth in the Caribbean. Really? A copy of a copy of a copy is “sufficient” to rewrite history? Ashe, for his part, simply accepted the conclusions of Gaffarel at face value.
Here is how Gaffarel gave the information in his Histoire de la découverte de l’Amérique as part of an argument about New World analogs to the Noachian flood myth:
The Caribs, during the Conquest, told the Spaniards that the West Indies had once formed a single continent, but they were suddenly separated by the action of the waters. They even said that the hills, cliffs and escarpments of their islands were transformed by this maritime inundation. The memory of that geologic convulsion was perpetuated throughout the ages, and it is always the water that acts as the destructive element. (my trans.)
One of his sources, in turn, is Georg Horn’s De originibus Americanis of 1652. There, Horn tells us that “the islands were once one continent, and the inhabitants assert that they have from their ancestors a most ancient tradition that through the force of storms they were torn apart over the course of centuries (labentibus saeculis), and the few estuaries which had divided them had grown greatly in number” (my trans.). The original is decidedly less dramatic than Gafferel’s summary, which seems to have been influenced by Gaffarel’s own hope to prove that the ancients visited America and remembered it as Atlantis. Thus a centuries-long process is reduced to a sudden catastrophe.
The second source, used by Gaffarel and Frazer, is De la Borde, who in a seventeenth century essay on the Caribs wrote about the same story but gave it a much more Noachian cast—not surprising, given that he was a missionary. (Modern scholars believe his Catholic bias colored his accounts overmuch.) This telling was quite likely influenced by what was then 150 years of missionary work among the Caribs, something that even De la Borde himself noted in recounting it:
What they say of the origin of the sea, and of waters in general, resembles in some degree the account of the deluge. The great master of the Chemeens, who are their high spirits, being at that time vexed with the Caribs, who were then very bad, and had ceased offering him any more cassava and ouicou caused rain to fall so heavily for several days, that nearly all the Caribs were drowned, with the exception of some who saved themselves by means of small boats and landed on the top of a mountain, which was then the only one. This deluge caused the formation of hills, rocks, and the separation of islands from the mainland. When asked where the waters came from, they say that there are rivers in the higher regions and that the first waters came from the urine and sweat of the Chemeens. This is why the sea is salt; and they say that fresh water is the result of water from the sea passing through the earth and getting purified. (trans. G. J. A. Bosch-Reits)
Gaffarel ran the two together without considering the missionary influence, and thus produced a more Noachian account that also ended up sounding more Atlantean to Ashe. But clearly we can see that the second account bears a strong coloring of the Noachian Flood myth, just as the Atlantis story bears coloring from the Near East flood myth known to Plato. It is not confirmation but rather influence that we see at work.
The Classical argument is similarly sketchy.
Pseudo-Aristotle (De mirabiblibis auscultationibus 84 [= Aristotle 836b-837a]), writing around 300 BCE, says that the Carthaginians discovered an Atlantic island, but it is only Diodorus Siculus (Library 5.19-20), writing 250 years later, who made them Phoenicians. (Classical scholars believe these islands to either be made up or semi-fictitious versions of the Azores or Canaries.) If Carthaginians found it, then the island could not have been reached before 814 BCE, the founding date of Carthage. Either way, it Collins’s argument forces us to abandon one of the key claims of Plato, namely that the Atlantis myth came from Egyptian records dating back thousands of years. Similarly, Collins’s claim that Theopompus of Chios’s account of an infinitely large opposite continent beyond the ocean, staffed with great cities and filled with giants (Aelian, Various Histories 3.18) proves knowledge of America is uncertain at best. It reflects a philosophical belief, older than Hesiod and Homer, that the disk of the flat earth was surrounded by the River Ocean and a further ring of land, the land of the dead (here euhemerized as human but blessed immortals and the warlike violent damned). Theopompus wrote around the same time as Plato. If knowledge of “America” were so well-known and obviously true to the Greeks, then what reason did Plato have to attribute knowledge of Atlantis to the Egyptians because it was somehow unknown to Greece? (Collins considers it a conspiracy in which only “a select few” were allowed knowledge of America and yet somehow chose to publish the secret in their books for all to read.)
But there is no point in re-litigating a book from 2000 that caused no great fuss, sparked no revision of history, and settled into a dutiful obscurity that this reissue will not undo. I believe I have made my point that its foundation is unreliable. Instead, let us consider the new content added to this edition.
A new introduction to the republished text specifically cites the same set of evidence Hancock provides for a comet impact that caused the Younger Dryas and, like Hancock, similarly attributes to it the end of an advanced civilization identified as Atlantis. Collins, though, wants his readers to know that he thought of the idea before Hancock and should therefore be given all the credit: “When this book was originally published in 2000 … I used what data I could find to demonstrate that the mechanism responsible for the destruction of Plato’s fabled island empire was the Younger Dryas comet, which I referred to as the Carolina Bays impact.”
He also discusses the same researchers cited by Hancock, including Allen West, a convicted criminal who falsely claimed to be a licensed geologist, and his coauthor Richard Firestone, a nuclear chemist who turned to fringe publisher Inner Traditions (the same company publishing Collins’s book) to publish a book on catastrophism in 2006, The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophe.
Notably absent from Collins’s discussion is Hancock’s Magicians, which had duly cited Collins. Also absent is Ignatius Donnelly, whose Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel made the same case Collins made, with much of the same evidence, in 1883. Odd that he leaves out both his competition and the fringe writer who most famously preceded him with the same “solution.” Collins even throws cold water on Hancock’s advocacy of the recent claim that “Atlantis” was located or had an outpost in Indonesia. His only mention of Hancock in his new introduction is to laugh at him for his 1995 support of the claim by Rand and Rose Flem-Ath that Atlantis might have been located in Antarctica.
Collins goes on to imagine what life would have been like for those people alive when the comet hit, and he speculates that such a disaster could never be forgotten. Therefore, most myths and legends referring to massive disasters, including Plato’s Atlantis story, are memories of that event, filtered through myth. If that is the case, it would be a truly rare oral traditional that maintained its integrity across 12,500 years. Some Australian Aboriginal geographic lore has been plausibly shown to go back something like that far, and some have argued that mythological figures like Heracles, Cybele, and Attis have roots in the Neolithic. It’s not impossible, but given how frequently disasters of all kinds occur somewhere on Earth, one is hard pressed to attribute stories to a single disaster that, by definition, those most affected by it would not have survived. I certainly cannot concur that Plato was “almost certainly” inspired by the Younger Dryas comet “whether Plato recognized it or not.”
Indeed, Plato’s account of the destruction of Atlantis is most clearly inspired by the Near Eastern Flood myth. Not only does Plato talk about the Flood in similar terms elsewhere in his writings, but the final lines of the unfinished Critias dialogue, one of two on Atlantis, are a quite close parallel to God or the gods’ decision to destroy the human race with the Great Flood. One might believe, like Collins (and Donnelly and Edmund Halley before him), that the Flood myth is itself a memory of the comet, but that too is unclear and unproven, especially since the Flood myth first appears in Mesopotamia and the Levant, places where the Younger Dryas comet’s floodwaters would not have reached. (Advocates of the hypothesis suggest mysterious Sumerian-speaking migrants brought the story.) Flooding is so common a crisis that the only way this claim makes sense is to imagine, like Collins, that imagination was only invented in recent times and that ancient people were stenographers with faulty memories.
In one particularly odd part of his new introduction, Collins criticizes mainstream scholars and “one of the world’s largest and most influential TV channels” (presumably the BBC) for promoting the idea that the Atlantis story reflects the destruction of Minoan Santorini in the Thera volcano, a claim I have disagreed with in the past on other grounds. Collins claims that no Atlantis theory can willy-nilly discard parts of Plato to produce specific results. He is, when convenient, a literalist.
But here Collins makes an astonishing accusation: He says that the academics and television producers are willing to shorten Plato’s timeline by “fudging” his solar years into lunar months because they are “biased toward the belief that civilization began in the Bible lands in the centuries following the Great Flood, c. 2350 BCE…” Seriously? He knows that isn’t true if for no other reason than from his own “research” into Göbekli Tepe, a temple complex dated to 8000 BCE. It's especially disturbing since Collins seems not to know that his own evidence from the Caribs is infested with Noachian bias. And it’s more disturbing that Collins “forgot” that he himself happily jettisoned Plato’s claim of Egyptian records and other details he found inconvenient, such as the claim that Athens was around in the days of Atlantis, which he considers a fiction added by Plato.
Collins of course gets to pick and choose among Platonic facts because his analysis is somehow objective, while all others who cherry pick are doing so from “bias.”
It’s probably worth noting that in his acknowledgements Collins thanks Greg Little, frequent gigantologist, acolyte of Edgar Cayce, and sometime Atlantis theorist. They’re all connected!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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