Yes, The Curse of Oak Island returned last night, but as it has dragged on, the program has become a reality show more than a documentary series, and the deaths of two cast members make it much less fun to criticize the increasingly rickety program. When and if they uncover anything worth mentioning, I might return to talking about it.
The Daily Mail ran another of its stupid clickbait articles, and it has earned quite a bit of play across the fringe internet for reasons that baffle me. The new article implies, without bothering to explain, that the city of Nan Madol, in the South Pacific, had something to do with the lost continent of Atlantis. The news peg is that the Science Channel took some satellite images of the city, which the internet quickly misunderstood as meaning that Nan Madol had been “newly” discovered. This, in turn, prompted the Daily Mail to write about the online speculation as though it had substance.
Technically, the article doesn’t say that Nan Madol is itself Atlantis. That would be fairly impossible since Atlantis appeared in the works of Plato nearly two millenniums before Nan Madol was built. But, the Mail writes that “New footage of an ancient city in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has sparked theories that the fictional island of Atlantis could be real.” This was the article’s only mention of Atlantis, despite the sensational headline; the body of the article contains claims recycled from previous articles about Nan Madol, because basically the Mail is a click farm masquerading as a newspaper.
It’s interesting to note that the basalt city of Nan Madol has long been seen among occultists and hipsters as an outpost of some sort of lost civilization. After its discovery, it served as an inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft’s sunken citadel of R’lyeh, and later is became identified as part of the sunken continents of Lemuria and Mu. Frank Joseph, the former American Nazi leader turned fringe historian, went so far as to note in The Lost Civilization of Lemuria (2006) that the history of Nan Madol was that of Atlantis: “Parallels may even be made between the first Saudeleur, or lord of Nan Madol, Olisihpa, and Elasippos, a king from Atlantis mentioned in Plato’s fourth-century-B.C. dialogue, Critias.” That would be a neat trick since the entire discussion of Elasippus is contained in one sentence: “Of the fourth pair of twins he called the elder Elasippus, and the younger Mestor.” Mostly Joseph means for us to see the names as looking similar, part of a long series of alleged parallels between Nan Madol terminology and Old World names. These, however, weren’t Joseph’s discovery; instead, he had taken them over from David Childress, who got them from Lemurian cultists. Joseph considered himself sophisticated by instead arguing that Nan Madol and Atlantis shared a common Ice Age ancestor in a lost civilization.
More seriously, Bill Sanborn Ballinger called Nan Madol “the ‘Atlantis’ of the Pacific” in a 1978 book, but he meant it figuratively.
But this is really a secondary development out of the primary fringe fantasy about Nan Madol. That one, of course, is that it was the capital of the lost continent of Mu, the brainchild of Brasseur de Bourbourg and Augustus LePlongeon and the fever dream of Col. James Churchward, who wrote in his first book on Mu that “To my mind, the various ruins on Pohnpei are ruins of one of the Motherland’s capital cities.”
The irony of all of this, of course, is that Churchward’s Mu was a derivative of nothing less than Atlantis. Churchward borrowed Mu from LePlongeon and endowed it with the attributes of Theosophy’s Atlantis, but LePlongeon had taken the name and continent from Brasseur de Bourbourg, who had misunderstood Mesoamerican text to create it as the Mesoamerican name for Atlantis. Basically, he thought he figured out how to translate Mayan hieroglyphs, but he hadn’t really, so he more or less invented a fable as a translation of the Troano Codex by which Mu vanished in a single night in a volcanic eruption around 13,000 years ago. The influence from Plato’s Atlantis was unmistakable, and in a later attempt at interpreting a winged circle in the Mesoamerican Codex Borgia, he makes this quite explicit: “The wings designate the lowlands intersected by canals, compared here to the pipes of feathers of a wing, for a large part of Atlantis was composed of islands, and this is expressed beautifully in the Mexican language, where the word for wing, atlapalli, simultaneously means ‘black and moist earth’ (palli), ‘lying on the seas’ (atla)” (my trans.).
In short, the Atlantis myth governed the minds of the people who came across supposed “evidence” for Atlantis and other lost continents, like an ouroboros eating its own tail.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.