Gavin Menzies’ Lost Empire of Atlantis is far too long to go through line by line the way I do with ancient astronaut theorists’ threadbare efforts, so you will forgive me if my review is somewhat spottier than past practice. As it happens, even I have a limit for how much ill-informed speculation I’m willing to carefully parse in one sitting. Today I'll finish out "Book One," covering chapters 2-7.
In chapter 2 Menzies presents the history of the Greek island of Santorini, known officially as Thira and called by Menzies Thera after its classical name. This island is fairly well known as the site of an incredibly powerful volcanic eruption c. 1600 BCE that weakened the Minoan civilization and therefore may have indirectly contributed to the Mycenaean takeover of Crete 200 years later (hardly overnight). In discussing Thera, Menzies subtly begins to cast doubt on mainstream archaeology by pointing to nineteenth century theories that twentieth century discoveries overturned. The implication is that Menzies’ own theories will supersede those of modern science despite the fact that it was, you know, discoveries that changed past views, not speculation.
Menzies is an old man now, but, really, who among us seriously thinks of the Bronze Age—the time of ancient Egypt, the Mycenaeans, Mesopotamia, and more—the way he does?
That’s the “Stone Age” you’re thinking of, Gavin, and the Stone Age wasn’t that way either.
I also need to insert here a note that Menzies relies for his information about Minoan culture and cult on the amateur historian Rodney Castelden, who, despite being published by Routledge, has churned out many books that include grossly inaccurate speculation unsupported by scholars in the field. Castleden preceded Menzies in making the case for Crete as Atlantis in Atlantis Destroyed, which is quite clearly Menzies’ inspiration.
I am beyond annoyed that Menzies fails to footnote the source for his claim, apparently unique to him, that an American tobacco beetle (singular) was found buried in Thera’s volcanic ash, proving a connection to America. How can we evaluate a claim with no source? I did Menzies work for him and discovered what happened. In 1982, J. R. Steffan reported that he had found a single specimen of Lasioderma serricorne (commonly called the tobacco beetle) in the mummy of Ramses II. More turned up in Egypt (one was found in Tut’s tomb), and in 2000 Eva Panagiotakopulu reported a specimen found on Santorini. However, as it happens, this species is apparently pan-tropical and may have been indigenous to the Mediterranean region in the past. In fact, the discoverer of the beetle on Santorini said as much: the beetle “was part of the pest fauna of the period, and [the Santorini find] points to a Near Eastern rather than New World origin.”
In this chapter Menzies introduces Atlantis, which he, reasonably enough, dismissed earlier in life as a mere story spun into legend by crackpots—that is, until Menzies got on the case. He begins poorly by following a “guidebook” in believing that Atlantis existed as oral legend until Plato wrote it down—four centuries after the beginning of Greek literature and 1,300 years after Thera’s destruction. Now, over that time even the gods failed to follow the remarkable longevity of Atlantis. Whole deities disappeared (Drimios) and some merged (Paean and Apollo). If even the gods failed to survive that long, what chance did the obscure story of Atlantis have?
He entertains the possibility of Atlantis because of frescos depicting humans of different colors and hairs styles (I’m not going to make racial assumptions as Menzies does) testifying, he says, to widespread trade, a well known archaeological fact he seems to think has been hidden by anti-alternative forces. Well, it is in those guidebooks you keep referencing.
At least this chapter was refreshingly short.
Superficially, this chapter is about Crete and the impact of the Thera volcano on it; however, its real purpose is to show archaeologists as stuffy dogmatists by rehashing the controversy over whether the eruption produced a tsunami that reached Crete. Since some archaeologists doubted it until the evidence was more secure, this therefore means archaeologists aren’t able to accept dramatic new theories like, let’s say, that of Gavin Menzies. Never mind, of course, that evidence carried the day. It’s not like Menzies has any use for that.
By the end of this chapter, Menzies has discovered what has been known for decades, that the Minoans had an extensive trade network that covered the eastern Mediterranean. This is not a revelation and contributes nothing to the “inspiration” for Atlantis since Minoan Crete was not destroyed by the Thera volcano (it soldiered on for 200 more years) and the Mycenaeans had trade networks perhaps even larger than the Minoans’, with amber routes that reached to northern Europe (though the Mycenaeans didn’t go there personally).
Menzies borrows from Rodney Castleden the fatally wrong assumption that Mycenae was a “Minoan colony.” It was not. It was a Greek culture that adopted Minoan influence and absorbed Crete, much the way Rome borrowed from Greece and then absorbed it. He also relies heavily on Robert Graves for his understanding of “the deepest layers of pre-Greek myth,” even though Graves’ The Greek Myths was repudiated by scholars upon its publication for its inaccuracies, eccentricities, and unsupportable interpretations centering on Graves’ own imaginary world goddess cult. Great research, Gavin!
But mostly this chapter was filler, with Menzies describing his research process, which, by his admission, involves using out of date books to pick and choose the conclusions he likes best. Oh, and he really isn’t convinced Atlantis was Crete… at least not in this chapter.
Gavin Menzies is either ignorant or thinks his readers are. He describes the imperative to form trade networks to obtain the raw materials for bronze, another well-discussed archaeological fact. Then he states how amazing it is that the Minoans traveled to Africa “a full 4,000 years before Vasco da Gama and the ‘Age of Discovery’.” Now, does he really think that we don’t know that Crete is scarcely more than 500 miles from Egypt? He purposely conflates the Africa known to the ancients (the Mediterranean coast) with sub-Saharan Africa, a land not reached until the Carthaginian Hanno explored the west of it in the seventh century BCE (though the Egyptians explored the east coast around the 25th century BCE, with one mission, weirdly enough, led by a guy named Hannu in 1950 BCE). What’s worse is that he suggests that “perhaps even Asia” was involved in these trade networks—as though Turkey and the Levant weren’t part of Asia. He again conflates classical Asia with the modern sense of the Far East in service of his false claims.
At the end of chapter 6 Menzies rhapsodized about the “racial … influences” in Minoan Crete from Europe, Africa, and Asia. Why? Well, because he wants to talk DNA! He again turns to Castleden, whose research can be used only with extreme caution, caution Menzies fails to take. From this, Menzies connects the proto-Minoans to the Anatolian Hittites (not a terrible stretch, but not really relevant) before showing that DNA takes the common ancestor of both back to 10,000 BCE—certainly of no use to studying the Minoans of 1600 BCE. He leaves this chapter, and the first section of his book, with the vague notion that there is something important—what, he never says—to be learned from the shared DNA of the ancient ancestors of the Minoans, Etruscans, and Hittites. He tells us that the Lycians wore feathered headgear like that seen on the Phaestos disk. So does anyone with plumage on a helmet. Come back when you have something good, like when archaeologists actually found the Mycenaean boar’s tusk helmet described by Homer 400 years after the last one was worn.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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