Special Edition of National Geographic Promotes Atlantis, Curses, and Other Shopworn "Mysteries of History"
Bioarchaeologist Steph Halmhofer posted to Twitter an excerpt from National Geographic’s recent “special issue” on “Mysteries of History,” and the cover is a depressing look into what journalists think qualifies as “history,” and basically it’s mythology. The three stories teased on the cover are Atlantis, King Arthur, and the Curse of the Hope Diamond. Of the three, Atlantis is fictitious, King Arthur is a myth (or at best a composite legend), and the Hope Diamond curse is fictional. It’s good, I guess, that the magazine asks “What’s real, what’s fantasy, and what’s still a mystery,” but it’s sad that the only “history” on the cover is the picture of Stonehenge.
It’s worth noting that the magazine’s National Geographic moniker is a marketing gimmick. The special edition was produced by Time Inc., a subdivision of the Meredith Corporation, made up of the remains of what used to be Time Warner’s publishing arm, minus Time, which it recently sold. In other words, it’s a fake slapped together by an outside company to exploit the National Geographic brand for cash. Time, Newsweek, and other publications have similarly licensed their names to outside companies, which have produced other exploitative “special editions.”
Like many such products, the quasi-National Geographic leans toward fringe views, though without entirely endorsing them. In discussing Atlantis, the magazine suggests that that the most plausible candidate for Plato’s sunken city is Santorini, ancient Thera, which was destroyed by a volcano around 1600 BCE, burying its ancient city of Aktrotiri. It proposes this because
… the city and its island were blown apart around 3,600 years ago in an enormous volcanic eruption, which may also have triggered a tsunami. The lingering memory of this cataclysm may have shaped Plato’s tale. However, seekers after historical Atlantis have also found suggestive ruins in Spain, the Bahamas, and India, among other places. Explorers continue to look for Atlantis, or its inspiration, in sunken cities around the world.
The idea that a volcanic eruption in the Aegean inspired Plato was put forward by Louis Figuier in the 1870s, and there remains no proof that any legend of the Thera eruption persisted 1,300 years after it occurred. It seems doubtful that Plato would have recalled a volcanic eruption that no other Greek or Egyptian made mention of in any surviving record.
But this view does have some scholarly support, so it is not entirely inappropriate for an article about Atlantis. Much more disturbing is the suggestion that sites in Spain, the Bahamas, and India could be related to Atlantis. The Spanish claim appears to refer to the complex and largely unsupported claim of Richard Freund (on the National Geographic Channel!) that Atlantis had been inspired by Tarsessos, a semi-mythical harbor city in southern Spain, outside the Strait of Gibraltar, and that Tarsessos was also the legendary Tarshish of the Bible, of no certain description or location. The identification of Tarsessos with Tarshish goes back to 1646, but is a minority view, and some epigraphic evidence suggests Tarshish was the name of the Phoenician settlement on Sardinia. Freund attempted to identify a Spanish archaeological site as Atlantis, but the excavators of the site took issue with the claim and accused him of acting in bad faith.
The claim that Atlantis was in the Bahamas has even less support because it is based on Edgar Cayce’s psychic readings. The “ruins” in the Bahamas—the so-called Bimini Road—are a natural formation.
The claim for Atlantis in India really shouldn’t need much discussion since Plato clearly knew the difference between west and east, but the claim identifies the underwater ruins of ancient Dwarka with Atlantis.
None of these claims is without problems, and to lump them all together as “suggestive” is ridiculous. The Bimini Road isn’t even ruins; it’s just natural rock.
But the crowning glory of the small paragraph is the way it implies that “seekers” and “explorers” hunting for Atlantis have some sort of legitimacy beyond their own fantasies. Imagine, for example, writing that “seekers after phlogiston…” or “explorers continue to search for unicorns…” Time Inc.’s writing team—or, let’s be honest, more likely its lowest-bid freelance crew—ought to be a bit more careful about how it summarizes Google searches to enshrine them in print.
9/26/2018 10:24:25 am
The discussion of the road/wall off the Bahamas was old hat 40 years ago. I remember looking at photos of it in some of the old fringe paperbacks and thinking, "Nope." But as long as people pay to consume this stuff, they will continue to produce it.
9/26/2018 10:37:42 am
I don't understand your criticism. It's called 'Mysteries of History', so what topics in your opinion should they discuss in such a paper? Death of Stalin? It's obvious that they will cover such topics like Atlantis, because it's one of the most popular themes. We can argue that there is little science in that, but there is nothing wrong with covering such topics like Atlantis, lost civilizations or even ancient astronaut hypothesis when you approach this using scientific methods. It's no coincidence that millions of people all over the world are fascinating about these things. In fact you should applaud National Geographic for covering this using scientific approach. You should remember that when mainstream don't say anything about some issues then it creates more mess because people think they don't want to say the truth or something like that.
9/26/2018 10:50:18 am
When you're talking about mysteries of HISTORY, sweetie, you should be using HISTORY, not FICTION. Atlantis belongs in an article of "Greatest Literary Mysteries" or "Greatest Mythological Mysteries." Mysteries of HISTORY might include "Where did the Roanoke settlers go?" and "Who was Jack the Ripper?" and "What happened to the Princes in the Tower?" You know, things that ACTUALLY HAPPENED in HISTORY.
9/26/2018 11:21:25 am
I think that the writers would have better to headline the article: Mysteries of the Myths.
9/26/2018 11:58:37 pm
I do not know what I am doing
9/27/2018 09:08:08 pm
Oh, lovely. I've been targeted by the not so elusive Troll of the Internet, who is attempting to put words into my mouth! For the record, I know quite well what I'm doing, and what I wrote is only "rubbish" to people who are too stupid or too deliberately pig-ignorant to understand it.
9/27/2018 09:32:15 pm
Pretty obvious it wasn't you above V. Mimic's problem is that they have no distinction, and feeds off others accordingly. The more upset you are about it, the more likely they'll continue.
9/26/2018 12:32:11 pm
Major Major Major
9/26/2018 12:51:48 pm
My Rhino just had his bowel movement in the living room. Help, help, it's going to take me the rest of the day to shovel out.
9/26/2018 02:56:23 pm
Coming next month -
9/26/2018 03:58:16 pm
Nat Geo's television channel now features Hitler Saturdays. Right after Pick a Puppy...
9/26/2018 04:23:11 pm
"Atlantis is fictitious..."
An Anonymous Nerd
9/26/2018 08:54:43 pm
I'm a little more tolerant of this kind of material than most of my fellow skeptics are, so long as the television show or article or what have you ends up coming down on the side of reality.
9/27/2018 12:00:40 am
Give me more mysteries and myths
9/27/2018 09:11:01 pm
I've gotten overall VERY irritated with these types of shows because 1. they never have anything NEW on them just the same old trite crap that's been around forever, and 2. they NEVER seem to acknowledge even the possibility that Atlantis might have been a fictional place. You wanna give me a show about looking for what INSPIRED Atlantis, and treat it like a show about how New York and Toronto inspired Metropolis and Gotham City? PLEASE, I would watch the CRAP out of that. You want to give me a show about how the myth built over time? YES, PLEASE. But "hunting for Lost Atlantis"? BOOOOOORING! WAY more boring than "Reality Sucks" thinks REALITY is.
9/27/2018 02:04:33 am
Reality is scintillating with weirdness.
9/29/2018 02:08:12 pm
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