Team Led By UofH Professor May Have Found Lost City Of Atlantis


Team Led By UofH Professor May Have Found Lost City Of Atlantis


Roger Catlin

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A computer-generated depiction of Atlantis. (National Geographic Channel/Associated / March 11, 2011)


Since it was first described by Plato in about 360 B.C., the legend of Atlantis has stayed alive in story, song, film and the popular imagination.

Explorers seeking the city that disappeared have so far searched the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans and even Antarctica.

But a team led by University of Hartford professor and archaeologist Richard Freund may have pinpointed the long-sought city somewhere completely unexpected — in a vast marsh in Southern Spain.

After identifying the shapes Plato described through electro-imaging systems designed for gas and oil exploration, an international team of archaeologists has found artifacts and other evidence that points to the lost city.

"It's the best possible candidate that's ever been discovered with the most amount of evidence," Freund says in an interview. His process and the extent of the discoveries are outlined in "Finding Atlantis," a new National Geographic Channel special premiering Sunday night.

In the special, Freund's team comes into the out-of-the-way marsh flats in Spain with equipment that better pinpoints possible buried structures first identified in satellite pictures. Using equipment that Freund describes as "an MRI for the ground," electrical pulses can determine what's in the ground down to about 60 feet.

"It's translated into color-coded maps and tells us what's there," Freund says. "For example, the resistance of fired pottery is different than resistance of sand; the resistance of bone is different than the resistance of metal. And it all comes up in different colors."

The equipment is from a company that developed it for exploring possible oil-drilling sites, convinced that lending it out would be good public relations at a time when drilling for oil doesn't always get great press.

The location is in the middle of a marsh that dries out for just one month a year, between August and September, so it's important to find where to excavate immediately, Freund says. "We can pinpoint archaeology in an amazingly quick fashion to help teams already in field. Part of our project is to help them figure out how to solve the problem that they have."

After German researchers found an anomaly in a satellite photograph of the vast 250-square-mile marsh, Spanish architects got involved, as did Canadian researchers and Freund's group, which includes students from the University of Hartford.

If Atlantis was destroyed in a day, as Plato said, there is thought that it was wiped out by a tsunami.

"If it was a tsunami, it brings water in and sucks things out," Freund says. So he directed the team to look at a place where the water came in, and some ancient walls were found.

He also thought about the refugees of Atlantis — where would they have gone if the city were destroyed? He looked to seven "ritual cities" 150 miles away in Spain, discovered only in recent decades, that may have been paying homage to the lost city. Similar memorial cities had been found in other cultures, from the Aztecs to the Israelis. Indeed, a stone from one of the ritual cities had a mark that indicated the concentric circles and single city entrance of Atlantis that Plato had described.

In addition, carved artifacts were found near the surface of the site they were searching, and when explorers took a core sample reaching more than 40 feet, they found ancient wood dating to 440 B.C.

Also found in the core sample was a layer of methane, an indicator that a lot of living things — people, animals, plants — died all at once.

"Finding this one layer of methane is a very telltale sign of a society that is destroyed in one fell swoop," Freund says. "This was in the middle of nowhere, and there was no methane layer found in the area except where we were working."

While other searches for Atlantis were conducted elsewhere, Spain seemed a logical place to look he says, based on writings made decades ago.

"I like to tell people I found Atlantis in Harlem," Freund says. "In Harlem, there's a Hispanic Society of America that has all the records of all the most famous Spanish archaeologist of the 20th century, Jorge Bonser. In the archives, there is a description of an excavation he did between 1923-25 in the same location."

Which is right where Plato said it would be.

"I take ancient writings seriously, but not literally," Freund says. "Plato says it was just beyond the Pillars of Hercules — that's the most famous navigation point for all people on the Mediterranean, located where the Straits of Gibraltar are today."

Despite all this evidence, it's still tough to declare definitively that this is Atlantis, he says, although continued excavations are planned.

"It's never like finding the Titanic. It's never like finding Tutankhamen's tomb. That's the way, in the best of all circumstances, that you find something intact." Freund says.

"You'll not be able to convince all the people all the time," he says. "But what's very exciting is that National Geographic actually went out and tried to look at some of the other serious sites, in Crete and Turkey," but neither had as much convincing evidence.

Freund has worked with many film companies and has appeared in more than a dozen productions on various networks, including CNN, PBS, Discovery and the History Channel.

No money comes from the TV appearances (he raises his own private funds for his research), but there is the benefit of exposure.

"We really have to keep the public aware of how much more there is to know about the world," Freund says. "This is what I call public science. There are continual changes in technology and in our understanding of the ancient world. This is how you interest kids in history and archaeology. They're educating the public on why science is important, and I applaud their efforts."

He's putting together his own research in a book due out this fall, his fifth, titled "Digging Through History, From Atlantis to the Holocaust."

As a result, he'll likely be asked to speak all over the world, something he's done before. "I'm very famous when I go on the road," he says, adding that he gets much less attention locally. "It's very hard to be a prophet in your own country."

But since he came to the UofH from the University of Nebraska at Omaha 12 years ago, he's been able to accomplish a lot of international investigations. Because of the efficiency of the equipment, he's sometimes able to do three to five investigations a summer. And what he finds often is the basis for a new TV special.

"Pretty good for a small liberal arts college in Hartford," Freund says. "It gives you a sense that you don't' have to be at Harvard to give you a chance to do the kind of work that's done at Harvard."