They seek it here, they seek it there – did it even exist? Here we look at some of the reasons why the fabled Atlantis may have existed in North Africa. And, to provide some balance, why it might not have done.
Ten reasons for Atlantis in the Sahara
The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world, dubbed ‘the greatest desert’. It stretches across much of present-day north Africa, and is comparable in size to the area of the United States or China. So how come some people think that the Sahara was once the location of the lost island of Atlantis?
- The Eye of the Sahara: The main reason is the Richat Structure (Guelb er Richât), also known as the Eye of the Sahara. Located in eastern Mauritania, this is understood to be a natural formation – a dome of sedimentary and igneous rocks eroded down to form large scale concentric rings (or ridges). Of course, the city of Atlantis as described by Plato was built on concentric rings of land, with concentric rings (or canals) of water in between. Could the Richat Structure have formed the basis of ancient Atlantis?
- The dimensions of the Eye: It has been suggested that the concentric rings of the Richat Structure match the dimensions given by Plato for Atlantis. The YouTube video by Bright Insight says that Plato gave the diameter of Atlantis as 127 stadia, or 23.5 km (38 miles). The entire Richat Structure is 40-50 km wide, yet the outermost raised concentric ring is not far off 23.5 km in diameter. Perhaps this could indeed have been the location of Plato’s Atlantis?
- The context of the Eye (mountains and plain): The environment of the Richat Structure has parallels with Plato’s Atlantis. Plato said that the area surrounding the capital city of Atlantis was sheltered by mountains in the north and open to the south, and that the island had a vast central plain, itself surrounded by mountains. The Richat has hills or mountains to its north, and it opens out to the south. The Visiting Atlantis documentary (website / YouTube) refers to a vast elevated plain (part of the Adrar Plateau?) that took them four hours to drive across. All looking good.
- The context of the Eye (rocks and metals): Plato referred to the walls of the city of Atlantis being constructed using red, white and black stones. Stones of these colours are said to be found in the area of the Richat Structure today, and are used in the construction of buildings. This is cited in the Visiting Atlantis documentary and several videos on YouTube. Plato also referred to an abundance of metals and gold in Atlantis, and Mauritania today mines iron core, gold and copper. So Mauritania seems to have many of the right rocks and metals to be ancient Atlantis.
- The location of the Eye (Athens and Egypt): The Richat Structure is geographically well related to places associated with Plato’s Atlantis. The Mediterranean Sea lies to the north of Africa, and the Atlantean navy is said to have besieged ancient Athens on its shores (pre-supposing Athens existed back then). Over in north-east Africa lies Egypt, from where Plato apparently received his information (via Solon) about Atlantis. It has also been suggested that Egypt used to be a colony of Atlantis. Thus far, it’s all looking promising.
- The location of the Eye (Atlas Mountains): The Richat Structure lies around 700 km (440 miles) south of the Atlas Mountains, which are associated with the legendary Atlas of Greek mythology. Atlas was said to have been the first king of Mauretania (meaning ancient Maghreb or north-west Africa, rather than the modern country). According to Plato, Atlas was the first king of Atlantis and the son of Poseidon. So there appears to be some sort of link between Atlantis and the Atlas Mountains, which are near to the Richat Structure.
- Ancient maps: There are some interesting references on ancient maps of the north-western part of Africa. Herodotus, the ‘father of history’, drew up a map in around 420 BC that showed the ‘Atlantes’ in north-west Africa. He stated that they were the inhabitants of ancient Mauretania. Could the Atlantes people have descended from the original Atlanteans? Another map, ‘The World’ by Pomponius, labels ‘Atlantae’ in West Africa. These maps and more are explored in this Charles Kos YouTube video.
- Ancient artefacts: The Richat Structure is not known for its archaeology or ancient ruins, yet some artefacts have been found there. The Visiting Atlantis documentary and the Indie Archaeology video feature artefacts in makeshift museums in the desert near to the Richat. These include stone spheres with a flat side, stone arrowheads claimed to be 10,000 years old, and copper artefacts. These may not prove that an advanced ancient culture existed, but they do suggest that the area was inhabited in ancient times.
- The prehistoric climate: Plato depicted Atlantis as a place with a warm climate, lush vegetation and a multitude of animals, including elephants. The Sahara today is a vast desert of sand. Nonetheless, there is evidence that it once contained river systems and inland seas (see Sahara Desert – Atlantipedia.ie). And it could have been a ‘sub-tropical paradise’ prior to around 5000 years ago (see The Sahara Desert – Thunderbolts.info). The remains of elephant teeth have been found near the Richat, and the (Neolithic) Agrour rock paintings in the nearby Amojjar Pass depict giraffes, cows and people in a green landscape. This all points towards an ancient climate conducive to human civilisation.
- Evidence of sea water and inundation: Atlantis is said to have disappeared into the depths of the sea in a single day and night, during violent earthquakes and floods. Various evidence points towards the desert around the Richat Structure having been underwater at some point in the past. Non-fossilised whale bones and sea shells have been found in the Mauritanian desert, with plenty of sea shells found in the area of the Richat. There is said to have been a salt water well in the middle of the Richat, and Alternative World Media found evidence of salt pans. Perhaps somewhat controversially, one of the Bright Insight videos cites west-east striations in the land (see photo below) as possible evidence of a tsunami flooding across the land – could this have destroyed the ancient Atlantis?
The ten reasons set out above provide much food for thought, although further research is needed in nearly all the areas being referred to. And, for balance, here’s some reasons why the Eye of the Sahara may not have been Atlantis as described by Plato…
Reasons for Atlantis not being in the Sahara
First and foremost, many believe that Plato’s Atlantis is an entirely fictional place, conceived by Plato as an allegory on the hubris (or arrogance) of nations. In which case, Atlantis wouldn’t have existed anywhere, let alone in the Sahara Desert.
Secondly, even if Atlantis existed (or was based on a real place), it was apparently located in front of the Pillars of Hercules, which are interpreted as the promontories flanking the Strait of Gibraltar. In which case, the Richat Structure isn’t a particularly good match. It would have been reached by travelling through the Strait and then heading a fair way to the south.
Thirdly, there may be some evidence that sea water was once in the Mauritanian desert, but this does not explain how the Richat Structure – as Atlantis – could have sunk into the depths of the sea, yet it now lies on a continental landmass, some 400 metres (1300 ft) above sea level and 500 km (310 miles) inland. A fair amount of movement of land and/or sea would be needed to create the circumstances of Atlantis as described by Plato.
For more criticisms of the Richat Structure as Atlantis theory – see Jason Convalito’s blogpost, plus the various attempts at debunking the theory on YouTube.
To conclude, this article summarises some of the main reasons why the Eye of the Sahara may have been Atlantis, and also why it might not have been. No doubt other reasons exist which we’ve not mentioned here. And of course, other circular structures have been spotted elsewhere in the world (for example, see southern Spain as featured in Finding Atlantis). For now, the enduring mystery of Atlantis lives on.