Legends Of The Lost City Essay, Research Paper
Legends of the lost city The Future of the Past: Archaeology in the 21st Century Eberhard Zangger 285pp, Weidenfeld Eberhard Zangger explores our knowledge of the lands bordering the Mediterranean before the golden age of ancient Greece (yes, the title is a little misleading), and pushes the general thesis that archaeological orthodoxy currently has it all wrong. His first targets are catastrophist theories of cultural change in the region, ideas that have been widely disseminated in popular books and TV documentaries in recent years. For example, major upheavals in the Minoan civilisation of Crete around 1700BC, 1500BC and 1200BC – the latter marking the Mediterranean-wide transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age – have traditionally been ascribed to natural disasters. The culprits for the first and third are thought by many to have been major earthquakes (with perhaps climate change for the last), while the collapse of the New Palace civilisation in the middle of the second millennium BC is widely thought to have been caused by the eruption of the nearby volcanic island of Thera. Zangger disagrees with these explanations, and his counter-arguments are rather convincing. He can find little evidence for earthquake damage in the ruins of Minoan settlements and no evidence for the tsunami, or tidal wave, that supposedly inundated Crete as a result of the Theran eruption. What about the fallout of volcanic pumice and ash from Thera? Wouldn’t this have made life intolerable for the Minoans? Probably not, he argues. Ash deposits on Crete are nowhere more than five millimetres thick, and they seem to have been deposited only on the eastern tip of the island. Archaeological evidence also suggests that the Minoans collected and stored the pumice that fell on them during the eruption, hardly the actions of a people in the midst of a civilisa tion-busting natural catastrophe. If nature was not to blame for the periodic collapses in Minoan civilisation, what was? The proximate cause in most cases seems to have been fire. Earthquakes can start fires, as the residents of Kobi will attest, but it seems unlikely that toppled oil lamps could have wreaked such wholesale destruction. The same can be said for lightning. The most absorbing section of the book is a rehash of Zangger’s previously published speculations on the legend of Atlantis. Was Plato’s tale of the mighty island and its noble people based on a real place? If so, which? Suggested candidates, ranging from the serious to the crackpot, include Crete, Uppsala, Spitzbergen, the Canary Islands, the Bahamas, Iceland, Greenland, Mongolia, Bolivia, Australia, Antarctica and even Britain. (Perhaps the most likely provenance of the full tale – somewhere between Plato’s ears – is rarely considered by Atlantis enthusiasts.) Zangger believes with a passion that Atlantis was the city of Troy in present-day Turkey. One immediate objection to this idea is that Troy was not an island. But ancient Egyptian priests, from whom the Greek traveller Solon supposedly garnered the original tale, tended to refer to all the poorly known lands beyond their northern shores simply as “the islands”, so Troy cannot be discounted on this point. Another possible objection is that, according to Plato, the demise of Atlantis occurred 8,000 years before Solon’s visit to Egypt, long before any Mediterranean civilisations worthy of the name had come into existence. However, it now seems likely that Egyptian priests reckoned their history in lunar years – that is, months. Eight thousand months before Solon’s visit puts us squarely in the timeframe of Mycenean Greece and the Trojan war. Plato’s descriptions of Greek weaponry, armour and fortifications, and their excellence in art, handicrafts and writing, also suggest the same period in prehistory. Further, Troy was the only known enemy of Greece at this time, so Troy and Atlantis must have been the same place. Can this startling claim be true? Is Atlantis really to be found in western Turkey? Zangger argues a convincing case, but then he always does. Manfred Korfmann, on the other hand, an archaeologist who excavated at Troy for 15 years, maintains that Zangger’s conclusion is “completely out of the question”. And the philologist Dietrich Mannsperger thinks Zangger’s desire to excavate Atlantis is about as sensible as a desire to excavate Plato’s Republic. Who is right? Excitingly, archaeology in the 21st century may just yield the answer.