As many of you know, a broken monolith was uncovered in the waters off the coast of Sicily, and this massive piece of stone is believed to have been raised at least 9,350 years ago (though it is likely older), according to the scientists who discovered it. They speculate that the Mesolithic monolith might have served as a marker for sea-travelers in the Sicilian Channel since it is near what was then the sea coast. Naturally, this led to some bad reporting. It was bad enough that Discovery News mistakenly claimed that the stone was 3.2 feet tall, when it is in fact 12 meters (39 feet) tall, or that an Australian publication said it was carved from an outcropping “300” away, leaving out the “meters.” But then came the Atlantis crew—and just months after another claim for “Atlantean” metal off the Sicilian coast!
Rob Waugh of Yahoo! News inexplicably stopped a straightforward article on the monolith to declare, halfway through, that “Some interpretations of Plato’s stories of ‘Atlantis’ identify the legendary ‘lost’ island with Sicily.” The scare quotes are in the original, presumably to distance the author from his own sensationalism. Stuart Hooper of 21st Century Wire, an alternative and conspiracy publication, asks whether the monument was a sign of Atlantis, asking whether readers “believe there are huge chapters of human history missing from the textbooks?” Worse, the Inquisitr, a content farm masquerading as a newspaper that proudly tells readers that it writes stories faster than it checks the facts, asked whether this was “new evidence of Atlantis.” Even though researchers found no artifacts or other signs of human occupation around the monoliths, the Inquisitr declared it evidence of “a mysterious civilization that was submerged by the sea, just as in the ancient legend of the lost civilization of Atlantis.” Atlantis was not mysterious to Plato, the oldest source for the Atlantis myth, since he described it in excruciating detail.
It goes without saying that there is no evidence of a lost kingdom on the order of Plato’s fictitious city-state anywhere in the Sicilian Channel, nor anything that matches Plato’s details. The only part that comes even close is Plato’s claim in the Critias that the Law of Poseidon was “inscribed by the first kings on a pillar of orichalcum, which was situated in the middle of the island, at the temple of Poseidon” (trans. Benjamin Jowett). This pillar is not made out of any species of metal, orichalcum or otherwise, nor is it at the center of Sicily, in either its current or Ice Age size.
So why do fringe types—and often enough the mainstream media—reach for Atlantis to discuss something as straightforward and easily understood as “big old rock found underwater”? The metaphor isn’t necessary to understand the story, and it contributes nothing to it. The answer can only be that “Atlantis” conjures up ancient mysteries and fantastical adventure, while the truth doesn’t quite appeal to the romance of antiquity.
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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