The lost continent of Atlantis, first mentioned in Plato’s Dialogues, has inspired debates about its historical authenticity for the last 2200 years. In the 20th century, archaeological expeditions unearthed two remarkable Bronze Age Aegean island civilizations on Crete and Thera (Santorini). This led to suggestions that mythological memories of these lost cultures served as models for Plato. A divergent approach looked to the sinking of the city of Helike as the inspiration for Atlantis and its fate. Archaeologist Robert R. Stieglitz proposes to resolve the mystery.
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. What Does Plato Actually Say About Atlantis?
Plato presented fascinating details about an ancient Atlantic empire, at war with Athens, that was destroyed when the victorious Greek army was “swallowed by the earth” as Atlantis sank. Ancient interpretations of the story were mostly skeptical, though some believed it plausible. Recently, Minoan Crete or the volcanic devastation of Thera have been seen as historical inspirations for the Atlantis tale.
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Eteocretan Palace Civilization
In 1900, British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans undertook a 5-year expedition that discovered two fabulous cultures on Crete, the Eteocretan (Minoan) and Mycenaean. (The digs also uncovered two lost scripts, one of which came to be known as Linear B.) The identity of the Cretan palace builders, dating from about 1950 B.C., remains unknown. Around 1450 B.C., mainland Mycenaean Greeks displaced the Eteocretan rulers and subsequently left a rich heritage whose best-known hallmark is the House of Minos of Knossos.
12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. The Late Cycladic Town at Akrotiri
Like Pompeii, Akrotiri (Santorini) was buried by layers of volcanic material about 1525 B.C., after most of Thera had exploded and collapsed into the sea. Among the thousands of finds were three-story buildings with numerous frescoes that provided glimpses of the town. Some writers speculated that Thera, not Crete, inspired the Atlantis tale.
3 to 4:15 p.m. The Sinking of Helike and the Atlantis Allegory
Helike, together with Boura on the Corinthian Gulf, sank and disappeared overnight in the winter of 373 B.C. Rescuers found no survivors along the coastal plain, and the cataclysm—thought to be an earthquake and subsequent tsunami—was recorded by various Greek and Roman writers. Plato composed the tale of Atlantis, the realm of Poseidon, as an elaborate political allegory five years after the disappearance of Poseidon’s cult city of Helike.
Stieglitz, a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, specializes in ancient maritime interconnections. He has excavated at various harbors in Greece and Israel, and has led many archaeological tours in the eastern and western Mediterranean.