In Search Of… S01E10 Atlantis

Cold open on Easter Island, many, many miles from the Atlantic. Nimoy proclaims the famous statues a mystery, which they were. I mean, I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that they were still a big mystery in the 1970s, though these days we've got a decent idea of how and when they were made. But that's not what gets me. What gets me is the In Search Of… three step. 1: Identify something as unexplained. 2: Assume that 'unexplained' is 'inexplicable'. 3: Explain it anyway. It's not good science, but damn it's fun to watch!

Atlantis

Now Maya (or maybe Olmec, I'm no expert) statue heads, stand a distance from where they were carved. See the connection yet? No? Me neither. Macchu Piccu and Californian petroglyphs, the Cerne giant (I think) and some other big statues. These indicate advanced technology, Nimoy says, which I guess is true for certain values of 'advanced'.

Now, remember a few weeks ago when anything that might have been tricky for old-timey people to accomplish was actually the work of aliens? Turns out it was actually the work of Atlanteans. I know, right? Wild.

We are assured that we are closer than ever to finding Atlantis. Its funny how many things this show proclaims as immanent are still absent forty years later. Tell you what, when I see them get one right, I'll put it in big letters at the top of the post.

There's a short, heavily edited version of Plato's story of Atlantis played over footage of lava. Then Nimoy asks if the story was real or the product of someone's 'wild imagination.' He suggests that Atlantis was technologically advanced, and says that descriptions of it can be found in the writings of 'the great Greek philosopher: Plato'.

To recap: if Atlantis is real, our understanding of it comes from a great philosopher. If it is not, or understanding comes from 'someone'.

And we're off to the Aegean. Santerini? Yeah, Santerini. Nimoy points out that this tiny island doesn't seem to fit Plato's description, but… Well it's Atlantis anyway, I guess? Nimoy points to the ruins of an ancient ruin dug from volcanic ash on Santerini. There's some nice footage of the island and a pretty decent travelogue.

Now, real Santerini is a fascinating archaeological site. Ancient dwellings on the island were buried in a volcanic eruption, and some real archaeologists have speculated that this eruption caused such havoc in the Aegean that it lead to the collapse of the Minoan civilization of Crete. Some have even gone a step further to suggest that this collapse was analogous to the Atlantis story.

Nimoy points out that Plato would have known the island of Santerini as Thera. I guess this is meant to link Plato to Santerini, but really it just leads to the question, 'if Plato knew Thera was Atlantis, why didn't he just say so?'

Then the dumbest thing ever: Nimoy says that the walls of the ruined city of Santerini are broken, but if you view the walls as 'shattered pots' then the place fits Plato's description 'with uncanny accuracy'. If buildings are pots... Eh, whatever. Nimoy then reads out some of Plato's descriptions, and that sounds nice at least. Plato says out that Atlantis had temples and baths and other interesting buildings, and what do you know so did Santerini. And like everywhere, I guess.

Next up: the Antethekera Mechanism. Again, a legitimately fascinating artifact, a geared calculation device, for making astronomical calculations. It really is awesome -- and I mean that in the literal sense of 'inspiring awe', not the Ninja Turtle sense of 'quite good, actually'. Hell with it, why not both? It's awesome in several ways. Nimoy dates it as being two thousand years old, which means it was built long after the eruption on Santerini. 'But it may have derived its origin from Plato's Atlantis.'

Now Nimoy points out what I wondered about earlier: Plato did not describe Atlantis as being in the Aegean. It's in the Atlantic. The clue's in the name, you know. So now we're looking in the Atlantic for Atlantis, effectively chucking out the first eight and a half minutes of the episode.

I love this show. Did I mention I love this show? If some cable channel was making an Atlantis show nowadays, it would run ten seasons of people looking in the water and nothing happening. This show will find Atlantis, and it will find it multiple times in the same episode.

Atlantis was a great landmass, bridging the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Why? You can find bits of ruined buildings on the floor of both seas. Pay attention! The Eastern Port of Atlantis can be found near Cadiz, Spain. (I've been there. It's a pretty cool town, and a little off the tourist trail. Check it out.)

An underwater archaeology expedition of Cadiz discovered amphorae, and allegedly the ruins of a city older than the other Greek and Phoenician sites. But then the expedition had its permits revoked by the Spanish government, so if we don't know where Atlantis is, it's Franco's fault.

Now, Atlantis drifted south and became Antarctica. Moving on without elaboration, we're talking about stone blocks discovered on the ocean floor thanks to the psychic visionary Edgar Cayce, and I'm at nine hundred words and I'm only halfway through the episode. Nimoy does the usual thing we do when talking about clairvoyants, listing his correct guesses and glossing over his wrong ones. Important point, though, is that Cayce foresaw the discovery of Atlantis.

The discovery of square stone shapes in the Caribbean in the late sixties is said to confirm this prediction. We are told these blocks are either paved roads or the tops of walls, though most serious geologists believe that the so-called 'Bimini Road' is a naturally formation.

We see an expedition to search for Atlantis in the Caribbean. Nimoy claims the expedition discovered a three thousand year old Phoenician vessel. Some marble columns were also discovered. A sensible guess might be that they were Spanish colonial artifacts, and headed for the construction of a church or mansion. The explorers concluded that they were twelve thousand years old.

"There are more tests to be made," Nimoy dryly tells us, before going into a nice description of what may have happened there, if it was Atlantis.

Next up, Nimoy tells us that the Atlanteans fled Atlantis, and that they may be responsible for building Easter Island, Macchu Piccu and Central American cultures. Because Lord knows that these things couldn't have been built by the people who lived there, right? Oh, also Egypt. Now we're doing this superficial 'the Egyptians had this and so did the Aztecs' so they had to have come from the same root culture.

Spoiler: no they didn't. Egyptian and Aztec pyramids don't look all that similar, and were used for completely different purposes. Cultures around the world aligned things to the sun because the sun is important. Yes, ideas spread from culture to culture, but they are also discovered independently. It happens today that unconnected people independently come up with similar ideas, it should come as no surprise that this happened in the past too.

Now we're looking at ancient Peruvian pottery that supposedly depicts 'Negros and Orientals'. Let's pause for a brief shudder before continuing. And we're done.

And the summing up, similarities between cultures are the result of a common origin of all civilization. Blah blah blah, Caycee, Egypt, Atlantis, rising music, fade out on picture of Pharaoh. Bored now.

So there we go. Basically it's Ignatius Donnelly's theory only Donnelly doesn't rate a mention. It's underpinnings are that sort of ultra-diffusionist theory that all culture and civilization comes from a central source; an idea that only works if you examine the similarities between disparate cultures but ignore all the differences. It's a silly theory that really has only two things behind it. Firstly: it's tidy, turning  the chaos of human history into a neat, branching progression. Secondly: it happens to justify certain aspects of colonialism.

All in all, not my favourite episode. The constant direction changes are fun up to a point, but it has that 'no one can figure out how to make shapes by whacking stones together, unless told how by a superior race' ugliness that takes some of the fun out. Nimoy's heart doesn't seem in it, after his enthusiasm last week. The music isn't at its best, and the stock footage is only sporadically interesting.

Best Lines

A little dry this week.

"The memory of Atlantis is no myth, it is history."

"Never before have explorers been so close to finding Atlantis."

Summing Up

Clarity of Argument: 4/10, Stock footage: 5/10, Racism: 7/10, Music: 5/10, Nimoyness: 5/10. Overall" 26/50. Pass.

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