The problem with sunken continents

Earth's tectonic plates
Earth's tectonic plates

Put simply, continents do not rise and fall into the oceans; they are composed of tectonic plates, moving across the earth very slowly and in different directions. As they move and run into each other, they cause earthquakes and the formation of mountain ranges. One plate may push underneath another, slowly to be absorbed back into the mantle (as is happening, famously, in Los Angeles), or adjacent plates may be travelling in opposite directions, causing earthquakes. In either of these scenarios, the continent itself does not disappear beneath the ocean; either the collision produces new mountain ranges (The Himalayas, for instance) or one plate is slowly drawn under the other. Plato’s – and Hancock’s – idea of a rapid sinking is not part of plate tectonics.

Although it is possible that a small land mass once existed in the Atlantic Ocean around the Azores at a time of much lower sea level, this does not correspond in size to Plato’s dimensions of Atlantis. We cannot have it both ways: if Plato was right about the existence of Atlantis, he remains our sole source of information about it, so if we want to find Atlantis, it absolutely must match his description in every detail, otherwise it is not Atlantis. Locating it in the Andes, the North Sea, on Santorini or anywhere other than in the Atlantic Ocean renders it something other than Atlantis and is not a solution.

Churchward’s claim that Mu was an island continent in the Pacific is more easily discounted. The Pacific is the deepest of the oceans and has the thinnest crust on its floor of any part of the earth’s surface. In the Pacific, there are not even any submerged highlands around the base of island groups (like the Atlantic Azores). Churchward’s Mu cannot, in short, have existed and there is no room for debate.

There is a greater problem. If the known civilisations of the world descend from a ‘lost’ civilisation that formerly existed on a continent now covered by the ocean or on a continental shelf drowned by rising sea levels, there is a legitimate question that can be asked. Where did this earlier, hitherto unknown civilisation come from? Donnelly, Hancock and their kind see the origins of humanity’s diverse civilisations as problematical and need an earlier prototype to account for those civilisations we do know about, following diffusionist logic. This then begs the question of how and why this ‘lost’ civilisation developed. Unless, of course, you believe that civilisation came from beyond earth…

21 Replies to “The problem with sunken continents”

  1. You are forgetting that volcanic islands are prone to collapsing into the sea. This is a well established fact. For example, there are underwater avalanche plumes around the Hawaiian islands, some of which have been measured at 5000 cubic kilometers in volume. Just for reference, the total volume of material moved in the Mount St. Helens collapse was 0.003 cubic kilometers. Island flank collapses also lead to consequent underwater avalanches which result in tsunamis. I think it is entirely possible that the Azores were once a joined landmass many times larger than they are today, which collapsed due to violent earthquakes that caused massive floods, both of which are mentioned by Plato in the Timaeus.

    If Atlantis was a real island with a real civilization on it, then you are right that we would have to account for its origins. This is actually not very hard. Theoretically, the island could have been colonized by indigineous western Europeans (Silurians) some time in deep pre-history. The settlers probably wiped out whatever megafauna was at hand within a few generations, and had to fall back on the oceanic ecosystem for food. For skilled mariners, the oceans of pre-history were pretty much a limitless source. This was largely the case for most of recorded history as well, up until fishing became industrialized. So there would have been sedentary coastal settlements that relied on fishing for sustenance, which developed over time to form cities and then perhaps an empire that consolidated all of the surrounding islands. It’s the same story as the rise of civilization in the Levant, except that you have a different resource base. Rather than cultivating grasses in the soil, you have people relying on marine resources.

    This is all speculation on my part, and I have no hard evidence that Atlantis was real, but I definitely think that it should be seriously explored, which it is not. Don’t dismiss it so readily.

  2. it’s believed that islands even continents can be created because of volcanic erruption and hence consequential lava flow. and hence after coral and other things can growthe elevation required. so don’t be amazed and feel bias of plate tectonic theory.

  3. ite pedantic to insist that one must match Plato’s description in every detail before identifying an island Atlantis. I think his account was likely based on some kernel of historical truth ( perhaps old, garbled stories of the Thera explosion).

    1. I would have agreed with you at one time, but after reading Paul Jordan’s wonderful The Atlantis Syndrome, I came to agree with hime that once one alters any of the details supplied by Plato, one is no longer dealing with Atlantis. Yes, Plato may have taken inspiration from stories of the Thera explosion (although it’s interesting that no other Classical writer seems to have any inkling that it happened), along with the destruction of the town of Atanlate, but these were not Atlantis as such. The details from real life simply add verisimilitude and colour to a fiction.

  4. The problem with skepticism is having a narrow focus and succumbing to that unfortunate human thing called confirmation bias. Most skepticism of the James Randi school of thought falls within the close-minded and rude variety. Which is a shame. For example, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. In Plait’s determination to debunk all the crackpot and fringe nonsense out there, he has become subjectively biased and closed-minded. He has fallen into the trap of assuming we know everything and everything we don’t know is not open to speculation, especially if it does not conform to establishment theories. Well the problem with that kind of reasoning is establishment theories. By the way, I think it’s ironic that James Randi is not a professional anything other than a professional magician of all things.

    There are major issues with some aspects of science, especially anything of a political nature with money riding on it. This is the primary reason, for example, that the recent African origin hypothesis of mankind is still alive (and mostly in the West, mostly in the US) despite the “anomalous” fossile record and genetic evidence that has long sealed it’s coffin shut. Then there is literally junk science which can also be a political nature. Junk science of the science fiction sort such as the big bang theory, special relativity, the ridiculous concept of space-time, and all this unprovable nonsense is even being taught in our schools and holding us back from progressive forward. You cannot prove these theories but you cannot disprove them either. You can test for them and experimentation bias can always spin results to support them just as you could “support” 2+2=5. And the biggest problem is taking theories to be facts and using them as a standard to judge other stand-alone theories. Even a theory backed by a consensus by professionals compared to little-supported theory means absolutely nothing. The majority can be wrong and often is the more politics and money are involved.

    Having said that, there are no such thing as tectonic plates. Plate tectonics is a theory, and an absurd theory at that. Yes the continents have moved but not because they are connected to plates moving under each other and being born anew and what not, driven by a convection cell that doesn’t take the Earth’s rotation into account (among other things) and changes direction (with no explanation) or something once a super continent is formed. No explanation for how this offsets that Earth’s rotation either having all the continents on one side. Plus none of the ocean ridge markings support this, they support an inflated Earth. And the Pacific Ocean closes with the Americas fitting nicely like a puzzle into Asia if you take the ocean floor mapping into account. Plate tectonics is scientific dogma. You need to have faith in to to believe it no different than religious faith.

    Do continents “sink”? Does land not collapse? Ever been to an underground cave? A massive Earth cavity can collapse and cause part of a continental shelf to collapse. Whose to say that an island can’t collapse, especially a volcanic one? What if a meteor impacts it? Most people never bother to read Plato’s account, a celestial impact is the reason for the “sinking” of Platonic Atlantis. The Phaeton myth is used as an analogy to explain this. This does not make it a true story obviously, but that’s not my point. My point is land can sink. Of course the water levels can rise and fall also, there are plenty of submerged continental shelf regions and islands, even large ones in the South Pacific. There are also older maps with markings of some of these small islands as if just a few centuries ago they were above the sea.

    As for Atlantis, many an author has written books about it placing it everywhere. Everything that can be said about Atlantis has already been said. One thing that is not certain is Atlantis being in the Atlantic Ocean. There is no ancient consensus on where the Pillars of Hercules were. They were most certainly NOT the Straits of Gibraltar in ancient times. Even Herodotus does not appear to be certain and it is only after Herodotus that we begin to see the Pillars associated with the straits. They’ve also been associated with the Bosphorus. Herodotus alludes to them being near Carthage in his North Africa account. Which makes sense because they were once associated with the Strait of Messina. Plato also says Atlantis subjugated Europe as far as this part of Italy, and Africa as far as Egypt. Everything outside of the Aegean Sea has also been called (in Plato’s time and before) Oceanus or Atlantic when technically it’s the Mediterranean. They moved the “goal posts” by moving the pillars as their knowledge expanded. Herodotus even mentions the Phoenicians forgetting where the original Pillars were and being unable to find them or something like that (been a while since I’ve read Herodotus).

    So now the candidates could really be some place like Crete or something in the Black Sea. Possibly Malta or Sardinia. I even read that the “10,000 years) could be months and not years placing it around the Sea People invasion which did possibly come from these islands. Maybe it was Majorca or the British Isles. Or Greenland. Speaking of Greenland…

    “There is a greater problem. If the known civilisations of the world descend from a ‘lost’ civilisation that formerly existed on a continent now covered by the ocean or on a continental shelf drowned by rising sea levels, there is a legitimate question that can be asked. Where did this earlier, hitherto unknown civilisation come from?”

    Greenland maybe? Oh but it’s been covered by an ice sheet for thousands of years. We know the date from ice cores and such and other unreliable and unproven dating methods. The Norse settlement was a farming community buried under the permafrost. Mercator’s Greenland map matches the lower right portion of it’s topography under the ice. For all the fuss about the Piri Reis map (which IMHO is meaningless) there are a few other maps with interesting possibly non-coincidental details. The Indo-European homeland in the Avesta is written as being Winter for 10 months out of the year. It says onetime it snowed and never melted. Then there are all those Solar cults linked to the Equinox and Solstice which make more sense at a latitude where its more noticeable. Myths of perpetual darkness and perpetual sunlight, ancient accounts of the midnight sun. Of course they could also be viewed from Scandinavia.

    My point here is not to defend the Atlantis account. It’s to attack the dogma that infects our scientific knowledge as if it were fact. To point out the flaws in skepticism. To show that we don’t know everything we think we know and that there is a lot of knowledge most are ignorant of. Mythology might appear useless to science, but comparative themes can help point us in the right direction. The enemy of the truth is believing. Having faith and belief in unproven theories that are way off the mark is idiotic. We can reasonably assume the continents have moved because of much evidence. There is no evidence of Tectonic Plates though. This despite the fact that people believe there is. Some of these people criticize not only crackpots but religious devotees. How are they different? How is faith in dogmatic political junk science backed by money, fame, reputation, politics, feelings, political correctness, etc. and everything but concrete evidence different than faith in religion?

    1. You, James, have absolutely no understanding of science, history, nature, or skepticism. Everything you posted is, at best, misrepresented or, at worst, a flat-out lie. Your imagination does not trump reality.

      Your first sentence sets the tone for your abysmal tirade. Skepticism has a narrow focus? Ha! Every fringe claim fails precisely because it is narrowly-focused, and evidence from other areas (pointed out by skeptics/scientists) shows how the fringe claim contradicts known and settled facts of nature. Every fringe claim falls victim to confirmation bias because its author concentrates only on what supports his vision, and ignores, denigrates, or hand-waves away any contradictory evidence.

      Your post is all downhilll from there.

    2. James. You represent the best form of critical thinking . What is the base of every investigator . You will be not well liked in your life . I support your way of thinking . Good luck.

    3. Relatively as a religion? Relativity is part of what makes the GPS device in your car work, due to the different passage of time for a satellite in orbit as opposed to your car on the planet’s surface. Skeptics don’t claim to know everything, they simply point out your egregious errors.

    1. This is a very, very ancient “lost continent”, from long before there were even land animals, let alone human beings. It’s of interest ot geologists and palaeontologists, but as for archaeologists…

  5. A thought on those volcanic island flank failures; Sonar readily shows the size of such slumps and their oft-gigantic run-outs. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff on the bottom but, adding it up, NOT enough for even a mini lost-continent, even with a lower sea level. FWIW, the enormous oceanic plateau recently discovered in mid-Pacific never reached the surface beyond isolated sea-mounts. Again, no surprises…

    That area in the Atlantic off Cadiz does bear watching for other reasons than any hypothetical Atlantis; IIRC, recent work suggests that a subduction zone *may* be forming…

  6. The NOAA and I think NASA have very detailed global relief maps of the surface of the Earth. I don’t think that any of them show any areas for sunken continents. The extra bonus is that the data used to create the images is available for download and for personal use. I am writing during my lunch hour so i don’t have time to dig further and provide better detailed images. However if someone has the time, I’m pretty sure that there are very, very detailed maps legitimate relief maps that are zoomed in close that will show lots of detail of the ocean floor for specific areas.


  7. I agree with nearly all of your disagreements with alternative-archaelology proposals. My only disagreement with you is where you seem to be taking the defense of “orthodoxy” a bit too far, regarding your certainty about the Pharoh-origin of the Giza Lion statue–a matter discussed in “Hancock’s Egypt”, a subtopic in “Hancock’s Lost Civilization”, which is a subtopic in “Lost Civilizations”. (Briefly, you seem to imply that it’s a certainty that a community, or set of affiliated communities, lacking a busy-building culture, in the then sparsely-populated region, couldn’t or wouldn’t have built a statue).

    But I’m posting here to express disagreement with your choice of world map projection in your article above. You used an NGS Winkel Tripel map of the tectonic plates.

    NGS Winkel’s distorted shapes are ugly. Notice its drastically skinny Africa and South America. In fact, though it doesn’t show very well on your small map, the U.S., like Africa and South America, is likewise severely east-west compressed in NGS Winkel.

    In fact, the entire low-latitude part of the Earth, from lat 30 to lat -30, is unusually badly shape-distorted in NGS Winkel. That’s half of the Earth’s surface.

    For comparison, another popular flat-polar compromise map, the Robinson projection, has much better shapes, and less magnification of the Arctic….and a lot more popularity in my poll, in which NGS Winkel was well-rejected.

    Winkel introduced Winkel Tripel during the 1920s. It’s been used in various versions. The version used in your plate tectonics map, above, is the one adopted by the National Geographic Society (NGS), and is also the version preferred by Winkel himself. But Wilnkel Tripel has been used in other versions, by the Times World Atlas, and by the Oxford World Atlas. Their versions don’t share NGS Winkel’s vertical expansion and consequent extreme shape-distortion.

    Michael Ossipoff

  8. The closest thing to a sunken continent I have ever heard of is the Kerguelen Plateau, of which only the Kerguelen Islands and Heard Island today reach the surface; but it is said that large areas of this structure were once dry land. It is not a true continent, geologically speaking, but could have had the size of a minor continent such as Madagascar. For the most part, I agree that sunken continents is a nonsensical notion.

  9. There is at least one more problem with the idea of “sunken continents”. The continents and larger areas of shallow sea mainly consist of rocks richer in aluminium. In contrast, the deep oceans consist of almost entirely of rocks richer in magnesium. This means that the former is less dense than the later. Consequentially, the continents will always be higher than the deep ocean floors, flooded or not. Together with conservation of energy this makes “sunken continents” impossible.

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