Later tonight, Ancient Aliens will explore the profound question of whether aliens invented tattoos. In the meantime, we might as well pile on Ashley Cowie some more since he published yet another crappy article this week trying to spin mystery out of discovery in the belief that ancient history needs to be sexed up with fakery and myths to attract the attention of the public. Today’s subject is Atlantis, which Cowie understands at about the Wikipedia level of research, citing as sources Atlantipedia and an article in National Geographic. It makes me wonder why I bother researching primary sources when, apparently, one can get paid to surf the web and summarize the results like a high school book report.
The long and short of it is that some Minoan artifacts were recently discovered on the islet of Chryssi, off Crete, and Cowie decided to label them “Atlantean treasure” to make them seem sexier.
By now many of you will be tapping your fingers briskly, thinking to yourselves “so where are the artifacts from the lost continent of Atlantis?” […] [A]ccording to Atlantipedia, many archaeologists support The Minoan Hypothesis, including K.T. Frost, a professor of history at Queen's University in Belfast; archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos, and seismologist A.G. Galanopoulos. Essentially, this theory points towards the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea as the inspiration for Atlantis…
At the end of the article he states that Minoan treasures are “maybe” Atlantean, though he makes no effort to support the claim beyond recycling the Minoan hypothesis, which is the actual subject of his article. As with so many of his pieces, there is a brief news peg followed by a lengthy rewrite of information easily obtained from a Google search, and then a mealy-mouthed conclusion that uses weasel words to avoid actually saying anything of substance, letting rhetorical questions and “maybe” stand in place of argument and analysis.
In other words, it’s a waste of space designed for click bait.
But it’s interesting to see how Cowie’s slipshod language elides an enormous amount of information necessary to understand what he is saying. I wonder how much is purposeful obfuscation and how much is simple ignorance. He writes, for example, of K. T. Frost in the present tense as an archaeologist who currently “supports” the Minoan hypothesis. Not only is Frost long dead, but he actually invented the Minoan hypothesis in 1909, codifying it in an influential journal article from 1913. In it, he stated that “the Minoan Empire, the sack of Cnossus, and the exploits of the Mycenean sea-raiders furnish the underlying historical facts which can be recognised in the legend” of Atlantis. The Thera volcano claim, which Cowie is happy to (wrongly) merge into the Minoan hypothesis on the mistaken belief that the volcano ended Minoan civilization (though the Minoans went on for two centuries afterward) was not originally part of Frost’s argument. It was first proposed by Louis Figuier in 1872 after he witnessed the 1866 eruption of the same volcano and came to believe that the sinking of Atlantis could have happened the same way: “We believe that this event, which would have left such a deep impression, and which would have been transmitted from age to age, was a volcanic eruption that suddenly engulfed an island in the Greek archipelago beneath the waters” (my trans.).
Now, granted, old claims are not necessarily wrong claims, but in this case, more than a century of searching for evidence to support them has turned up nothing.
I am amused to see Cowie play-acting like these claims are exciting recent developments, but his lack of historical understanding of the themes he discusses is misleading. His efforts to sex up real archaeology with recycled century-old speculation, however, are less amusing, and quite misleading.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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