In the current issue of Ancient Mysteries & Advanced Archaeology Review, hydraulic engineer Dhani Irwanto has an article promoting his book from last year alleging that Plato’s Atlantis could be found in Indonesia. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Graham Hancock made the same claim based on the similar speculation of Indonesian geologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, the excavator of the allegedly “Atlantean” ruins of Gunung Padang on Sumatra. Irwanto, with his less than fluid English, is less effective than Graham Hancock at making the same point, but he earns points for trying to cram all of the Timaeus and the Critias into his homeland.
Irwanto states that he came to believe that Atlantis had to be real because it was described in “lengthy words,” which suggests that no one would bother to make up fake details for an imaginary city. He has clearly never visited the Panchaea of Euhemerus, the various imaginary islands of the Odyssey, or the complex topography if Hades in Virgil and Dante. Yes, no one in Antiquity would ever make up fake details for imagined geography.
He next argues that the ancients did not identify the Atlantic Ocean of myth with the body of water we call by that name. Instead, he believes that the Atlantic Ocean was the entirety of the world-encompassing River Ocean. This isn’t entirely true, though, for Strabo (3.1.7), identifies the Atlantic as the western sea (including the Arctic Ocean), as opposed to the River Ocean. Elsewhere (Geography 1.4.6), Strabo tells us that while Eratosthenes once said that the world was a sphere in which Iberia and India were separated by the Atlantic Ocean, he also thought that a second inhabited world (i.e. another continent) might be located between the two. From this, we could conclude that Strabo was open to their being an ocean on both sides and therefore did not consider the Atlantic to also be the Pacific. Earlier writers, like Homer, it is true, believed in a River Ocean around the flat disc of the Earth, but he never spoke of the Atlantic, which was unknown to him.
To be more specific, the first reference to the Atlantic occurred in the time of Herodotus, and it referred only to the Western Sea, the Sea of Atlas, attached to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Irwanto wants to confuse this with the River Ocean in order to suggest that Plato’s Atlantic was all of the Ocean, and therefore placing it “beyond the Pillars of Heracles” could make it east rather than west of Europe. He also takes issue with the phrase “Pillars of Heracles,” arguing that the word used for “pillars”--stelai—referred only to “monuments” and not to standing stones, as is the plain meaning of the word.
Thereafter, Irwanto attempts to graft the size, shape, and features of Atlantis onto the size, shapes, and features of Sumatra and Java as they appeared in the Ice Age, when lower sea levels united them as a moist landmass full of rivers known as Sundaland. He attempts to prove this by calculating the conveying capacity of Atlantis’ rivers, something that simply can’t be done based on Plato’s scanty information. Irwanto claims to know the length, depth, and “gravitational energy slope” of these rivers and so concludes that their capacity is identical to those of Ice Age Indonesia.
It’s probably worth noting that the maps of Sundaland that Irwanto relies upon are speculative; the exact coastline in the year 9600 BCE cannot be known with such precision. Different models yield different reconstructions of the land. Therefore, making specific claims about the geography of Sundaland requires much more support to justify an identity with Plato’s Atlantis. At any rate, even Irwanto admits that Sundaland did not have circular lands in alternating rings of water, like Plato’s Atlantis.
What a shock: A hydraulic engineer claims that hydraulic calculations prove the identity of Sundaland and Atlantis.
The article concludes by directing readers to the author’s website, where he explains his ideas in greater detail. He identifies the Indian Ocean as the Atlantic Ocean, the Java Sea as the “Atlantic Sea,” Bawean Island as the capital of Atlantis, Java and Sumatra as “the country of Atlantis,” and Australia as “the opposite continent” to the Pillars of Heracles.
He is silent, though, on why there is no evidence of Indonesians invading Athens in 9600 BCE, or how it came to pass that Indonesia continues to exist despite Atlantis vanishing in a single day and night. Plato, presumably, is wrong on any inconvenient details.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that Irwanto is not content merely to locate Atlantis in his homeland; he also says that Indonesia was the Biblical Garden of Eden, and a bunch of other mythic and legendary locales. This is because Kalimantan Island has four rivers that contain important natural resources, just like the Biblical account of Eden.
In short, for Irwanto, his homeland is the center of world history, just like every other fringe writer’s shocking discovery that he, his family, or his country are somehow the cynosure of all creation.
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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