An amateur explorer claimed this weekend to have found the legendary lost city of Atlantis, but other researchers said there is a total lack of evidence and called the whole expedition a hoax.
American architect Robert Sarmast said sonar scanning 50 miles southeast of Cyprus, in the Mediterranean, revealed walls and trenches he claims must be of the ancient city that legend refers to as a utopia.
"It is a miracle we found these walls as their location and lengths match exactly the description of the acropolis of Atlantis provided by Plato in his writings," Sarmast said.
The claim was reported by the Associated Press and other wire services and carried by major media outlets around the world. It is not the first time someone claimed to find the lost city.
"This latest theory should be taken with a very large pinch of salt," said Despo Pilides, an archaeologist at the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus. "Archaeologists only work with hard evidence. There is no evidence whatsoever to give credence to this hypothesis and we have no intention of investigating it."
Realm of fantasy
Atlantis was said by Plato to be an island in the "western sea," which others have interpreted to be the Atlantic Ocean. An earthquake submerged it, the story goes. Some researchers have said Atlantis may have been in the Mediterranean. Most historians, however, consider Atlantis to be a legend, something Plato meant only as an allegory.
In The Daily Telegraph of London, Pilides said "serious archaeologists tend to place the search for Atlantis within the realm of fantasy."
Other experts were similarly skeptical.
"More proof is necessary," Pavlos Flourentzos, the chief government archaeologist of Cyprus, told the Associated Press.
Sarmast's six-day, privately funded expedition cost about $200,000. It comes about a year after he originally proposed his theory and predicted he would make the discovery. Part of the funding came from the Cypriot Tourist Organization. Sarmast published a book about the project last year.
"We cannot yet provide tangible proof in the form of bricks and mortar, as the artifacts are still buried under several meters of sediment," Sarmast said in a statement. "But the circumstantial and other evidence is now irrefutable - and we hope that future expeditions will be able to uncover the sediment and bring back physical proof."
But Sarmast's "selective interpretation is nothing more than the blinkered reading of very ambiguous and unconvincing images," says Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. "Anyone with a critical eye can pick out that these images are far too vague and uncertain to be regarded as compelling evidence for any manmade structures.
Today, Peiser criticized the mass media for running stories about the claimed discovery without much critical review. He moderates an electronic newsletter called CCNet that focuses on disasters and the effects on humans and society.
"The very foundation on which the hoax is based is completely bogus," Peiser wrote today. "According his theory, Mr. Sarmast claims that the Mediterranean basin was 'flooded in a deluge around 9,000 BC which submerged a rectangular land mass' he believes was Atlantis. The problem is: there is no evidence whatsoever for any large-scale flooding of the Mediterranean basin at that time."
Peiser notes that Atlantis has been found many times before.
"It the past, Atlantis discoveries used to be treated with a high degree of skepticism and essentially left to the fringe and New Age media," Peiser said. "Today, it almost looks as if large sections of the mainstream media have become the new outlets for sensationalist pseudo-science."