Atlantis Sinking

Paul Jordan. The Atlantis Syndrome. Sutton, 2001.

A piece of splendidly splenetic scepticism, taking the demolition hammer to the Atlantis legend and its latter-day purveyors. Jordan traces the development of the legend from Plato onwards, noting how various authors add different layers to the myth, not in Plato's original. The original, a political and religious allegory contrasts Atlantis, a land of corrupt wealth and barbarian splendor, with noble and virtuous Athens. Out of their own imagination later writers turn Atlantis into the centre of world culture, a place of advanced technology (always the technology that the lay people of the particular age are familiar with), and "ancient wisdom".

From the writings of such people as Scott-Elliott, Churchward, Donnelly, Lewis Spence and their later followers such as the Flem-Arths, Graham Hancock and Andrew Collins, Jordan extracts what he calls the Atlantis syndrome, the unwillingness to credit human beings with the power of creative imagination, so that myths and works of art are seen as sober history. This is an essentially racist and colonialist view of the incapacity of 'savages' to produce civilization, which is seen as always being imported in from elsewhere. Associated with this is an fundamental hostility to established archaeology, a reliance of old and out of date sources, and a tendency to descend into occultism.

The Flem-Arths and Hancock come in for the main treatment, and there is a detailed demolition of their world views and claims. Hancock is seen as a representative of 'Atlantis by any other name', as although Hancock mostly avoids using the A-word, the implications are clear. The pseudo-archaeology of these writers is contrasted with a brief sketch of the view of human evolution, prehistory and ancient history that arises from a basic consensus of mainstream archaeology.

The effectiveness of this pub-fighter school of scepticism, as practiced by Richard Dawkins and Martin Gardner, is perhaps open to doubt. It is entertaining, as a good punch up always is, but a combination of ridicule, exasperation and what could easily be mistaken for argument from authority is unlikely to convert many of the adherents of 'alternate archaeology.' There are times in which a cooler, more forensic approach can be more effective. There are also times when, even from the viewpoint of current mainstream archaeology, Jordan's views seem a trifle old fashioned, with a nostalgia for an unreformed uniformatism. This is not to say that in broad terms Jordan is wrong in his assessments, and the essentially pseudoscientific nature of the Atlantis syndrome. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 77, March 2002.

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