What did Atlantis look like?

Werner Hennings / Andreas Wenzel
Atlantis - legend, reality or utopia?
An interdisciplinary teaching material for geography and history in upper secondary level
Volume 105

Reading sample

What brings two geoscientists who have been working at the Upper School College for more than 25 years to look after the traces of Atlantis?

It is certainly science as an adventure, the “theory adventure”, which we have established as a main topic within the framework of the supplementary lessons at the Oberstufen-Kolleg. In this main topic, we are primarily interested in the principles and operations involved in the construction and deconstruction of scientific hypotheses. In addition, it is the aura that has always surrounded the history of Atlantis itself. But then there is also the attraction of being a geoscientist to track down an island kingdom of considerable proportions that has disappeared from the surface of the earth, if it has existed.

In his dialogue “Kritias”, PLATON tells the story of a fabulous island kingdom. In great detail and in great detail, Kritias reports the path of tradition and the history of Atlantis itself to the scholar Socrates.

The dialogue about Atlantis, left unfinished by Plato, has stimulated a vast number of scientific and unscientific works, speculations and fantasies, the authors of which have set out in search of the legendary empire. Thousands of non-fiction books and magazine articles have been published, as well as novels and poems or even operas depicting the story of Atlantis. Atlantis has hardly been a topic in school so far, although it almost naturally suggests itself, because as numerous as the publications themselves are the considerations as to where Atlantis may have been. Almost every continent or ocean is represented here. In very concrete terms, different authors named more than 50 localities on earth as locations for Atlantis.

All authors find or invent scientific and unscientific evidence, hypotheses or theories to prove their ideas. To do this, they combine content and methods from a wide variety of sciences. Above all, however, they are convinced that they have finally resolved the Atlantis problem. Every means seems right, no matter how adventurous the theory may seem.

The reconstructions of the sinking of Atlantis, about which one of many translations of the Atlantis tradition says: “But later, huge earthquakes and flood disasters occurred in a single day and night full of horror all your warriors were engulfed in the earth, and likewise the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea. Therefore the sea there is also impassable and unexplored, because muddy shallows hold up the ships there, and this is because the island has sunk there ”(Luce, J.V. Atlantis, Bergisch-Gladbach 1969; p. 25). Was the cause now an earthquake, the impact of an asteroid or meteorite, a seaquake or a gigantic volcanic explosion? The tradition offers many possibilities for interpretation, which are widely used by the various authors.

Or did Atlantis not exist at all and Plato made up the story and wrote it down as political fiction, as his student Aristotle suspected?

Fig. 1:
Was that what Atlantis looked like?
Reconstruction in "Der Spiegel"
53/1998 p. 156 f.

As geoscientists, we were naturally interested in the question of whether Atlantis existed and where it could have been, the true paradise on earth, which according to myth it must have been.

Given the abundance of the present hypotheses, however, we did not find it sensible to go looking for our own Atlantis. It seemed more interesting to us to review the procedures and methods of some Atlantis researchers.

The result was a very promising approach for an interdisciplinary course that develops an understanding of how theories arise from everyday ideas and the effects of theories on science and everyday understanding and the opportunity for a fundamental examination of unfamiliar perspectives, theoretical models and methodological processes that seem to To question the self-evident and the familiar, offers.

3. Construction of Otto Muck's hypothesis:

"The sunken continent Atlantis lay in the Atlantic"

3.1 Introduction

Otto Muck's theory about the location of the sunken Atlantis is based on the Plato tradition, according to which the legendary island is said to have been "outside the pillars of Heracles" - according to today's understanding, beyond the strait between Morocco and Spain, the mountains of the Atlas Mountains on the one hand and the Rock of Gibraltar on the other.

His hypothesis is based on the climatological observation that the mean annual temperatures of the east coast of North America at the height of Newfoundland and those of Western Europe, at the same geographical latitude, are significantly different: on average about 10 ° C lower in North America. A finding that looked completely different at the time of the last ice age: at that time the extreme limits of the glaciation in both continents were roughly at the same geographical latitude, which suggests the same temperature conditions. Muck's conclusion: the Gulf Stream did not arrive in Europe at the time. His thesis: A "blocking island X", the legendary Atlantis, prevented the Gulf Stream from flowing to Europe. Only the catastrophic sinking of the island cleared the way and thus ended the Ice Age in Europe. According to Muck, the point in time of the end of the last glaciation coincides almost exactly with the point in time given by Plato for the sinking of Atlantis: around 12,000 to 13,000 years ago - the circle is complete.

In the construction of his theory about Atlantis and to prove his considerations, Muck uses an almost unbelievably comprehensive, versatile, diversified and differentiated knowledge. Among other things, he deals with the circulation of the oceans, the topography of the Atlantic floor, glacial morphology, biological behavior research (migration of eels), migrations, prehistoric and early historical cultures (Neanderthals and Cro-magnon), Indian advanced cultures, theories of continental drift, volcanism, cos- mix disasters (meteorite and planetoid impacts) and flood scenarios.
We have summarized the most important stages of his theory construction in a lecture script. It is divided into four parts, two of which are more geographically related (parts I and IV), the other two more geological topics (parts II and III):

Overall, the work is so extensive and varied that it does not seem easy to imagine that Muck's theses could be worked out by the students themselves on the basis of individual text excerpts. We have therefore decided in favor of the teacher's lecture / lecture and set a total of 6 double hours for it - a reduction to 2 or 4 double hours is feasible if individual sub-areas of the overall theory are dispensed with.

However, we consider the above summary to be completely indispensable: these would be the work steps 1 - 4 listed in the overview, volume: 2 double hours:
- Acceptance of the location according to Plato
- Evidence of a "blocking island X"
- Evidence on the Azores as a location
- Evidence at the time of the sinking

An extension to 4 double hours would then also be included
- Drift of the continents
- cataclysmatic movements in the Atlantic
- cosmic disasters: asteroid impact.

Finally, a word on the subject of “rules of the game”. The primary learning objective of this part of the course is to understand and comprehend Muck's “construction principles”, his linking of assumptions, hypotheses, evidence, considerations and conclusions. Of course, the learners have a lot of questions and doubts. In our experience, it is important for this part of the course that only questions about the expert are allowed so that Muck's self-contained conceptual structure is first of all fully acknowledged and appreciated in its entirety. If there are any doubts about its plausibility or if contradictions arise, the instructor should point out that the intended systematic place in the course will then take place: the deconstruction, i.e. the systematic, again self-contained review of Muck's theory on the basis the current state of scientific knowledge (course part 4).

5. Construction and deconstruction of selected Atlantean hypotheses

1. Introduction

In this section of the course, four overarching learning objectives are in the foreground

  • On the basis of a selected theory of the Atlantis, subject and even interdisciplinary contents are to be worked on in context and in their entirety.
  • The elementary operations of scientific work, which we have already learned about, are to be consolidated in their entirety by applying an example: construction, i.e. construction and demonstration of a hypothesis and theory as well as their subsequent deconstruction, i.e. checking in the light of the current state of scientific knowledge.
  • Demanding and complex topics and materials should be dealt with independently (nonetheless supervised) by the learners, i.e. in a student-centered manner.
  • In the interplay between specialization (on a partial aspect of a topic) and an overview of the entire topic, modern working methods and attitudes should be practiced: individualization and specialization on the one hand, cooperation and teamwork skills on the other, with the result of joint responsibility for an overall product of the work group, which is then called this would also have to be optimally presented to the public (ie the course plenum) (marketing, use of the media).

2. The hypotheses at a glance - selection

2.5 Atlantis a political utopia
The myth of Atlantis has repeatedly given rise to considerations that the island did not exist at all, but was deliberately only used by Plato as an imaginary image and utopia in order to vividly present his own, ideal-typical political ideas and to help them through the proven historical ones Relation to send a quasi empirical proof.
Other thinkers then tie in with this construction of ideas, especially those who criticize traditional state ideas and wanted to establish new, better political structures. Early political philosophers of the modern age and the Enlightenment in particular tread this path: an island, undisturbed by foreign, perishable influences, for the construction of the ideal, isolated state:
- Thomas More: Utopia
- Thomas Campanela: The Sun State
- Francis Bacon: Nova Atlantis.

2.6 Atlantis model for nationalist and right-wing extremist ideas
Like the philosophers of the Enlightenment, the ideologues of the Counter-Enlightenment also act. Since the emergence of nationalist ideas in the 19th century, Atlantis has been used again and again as a model for nationalist and right-wing radical ideas: Atlantis as the early and original culture of the Germanic master race (with changing locations and finds from Thule to Helgoland to the Externsteinen) was above all spread by National Socialism, but also today by neo-Nazi movements (on the Internet).

With both topics, we are concerned with an examination of the fundamental ideas of the political-philosophical construction and a review of these ideas with the question of what remains of Plato's tradition - complementary to this would be to ask critically about the purpose and meaning of the respective Atlantis theory.

We have set a total of 18 double hours for working on this program: 6 for preparation in small group work, 12 for the presentation of the work results in plenary sessions.
For the implementation in the school, a restriction to one or two topics could be useful:

As a holistic location theory that is interesting from an interdisciplinary perspective, the following could be particularly interesting:
- Marinato's hypothesis about the Bronze Age Minoan civilization, which is said to have perished in the context of the explosive volcanic eruption of the Thera with the subsequent tsunami in Crete or
- Zangger's hypothesis about the Bronze Age Troy, which, according to Homer tradition, was finally destroyed by the united Greek armies after a long struggle.

In our opinion, depending on the additional domestic preparation time, both topics would be feasible in 4 - 6 double hours. For one of the two philosophical-political topics, another 2-3 double hours would have to be scheduled.