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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsDR HELEN FARR: So Fraser, what do you think about Atlantis?

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsDR FRASER STURT: Well, that's a really good question and it's one we obviously get asked a lot. So where are these submerged cities? And what that may then mean. And it's not surprising that many cultures have these stories of submerged worlds that have disappeared. So we have Atlantis. More locally to us, we have the landscape of Lyonesse, which we think may be referred to as the Isles of Scilly. Now there, to take a good example, we know that transgression actually happened relatively recently, with the major landscape change occurring in the Bronze and Iron Ages so that's really quite recent in terms of major landscape change. And it is quite possible that people had a folk memory of this.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsOr perhaps the other element that occurs is that these are often shallowly submerged. So modern fisherman, or fisherman over the last few hundred years, would frequently have been encountering this material. So these aren't abstract places that might have been seen, but things that you can know and engage with. So around the world, we have submerged forests which show up in the intertidal zone that clearly demonstrate that that was a landscape that was land once. Similarly, in the Mediterranean, we have the submerged cities. And in around Britain, we have these other forms of prehistoric sites. So again, these aren't abstract. These are things which people can recognise on their own.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsAnd you may have seen them yourselves and begin to create an understanding of. And that's potentially where these stories of submerged cities came from. People having to understand, what is this stuff that is a terrestrial landscape, which is now under water.

Submergence, memory and the myth of Atlantis

In this video, Helen and Fraser discuss some of the myths to do with submerged cities and landscapes, and why they may persist in folk memory.

The myth of Atlantis, the city lost beneath the waves, is one that captures the imagination and has inspired countless books and films. Where was it located? Is the legend historical or fictional?

Many hypotheses have been put forward suggesting a variety of possible locations where flooding or tectonic events may have caused rapid coastal submergence: from Thera on Santorini in the Mediterranean, to as yet unknown locations in the mid-Atlantic. What we can say for sure is that this myth of a civilization lost to the waves is not unique; folklore around the world regularly includes accounts of flooding and submergence.

From Biblical floods to Arthurian legends of Lyonesse, from Arnhem Land in northern Australia, to flood stories in Peru, most cultures have a tale of flooding or land lost to the sea. As to whether these folklores are fictional or historical events? Well, we know that many settlements were flooded by Holocene sea-level rise or volcanic and tectonic events, and the flooding of the North Sea is one such example.

Coastlines have changed dramatically within human history; in some places these changes have been rapid and in others more gradual, but even incremental change could be perceived by people over generations and woven into their history and cultural identity. In many places, this long term social memory would be supported by the visual evidence, where the remains of terrestrial landscapes can still be seen in shallow waters or exposed at low tides. From the remains of submerged forests with tree stumps still in situ to the remains of abandoned cities such as Pavlopetri in Greece, and the many other submerged villages and structures around the Mediterranean. Whilst the details of Atlantis may have been pure fiction, they are based on a true narrative of sea-level rise and coastal change and so it is no wonder that these stories are so common around the world.

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This video is from the free online course:

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology

University of Southampton

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Welcome to Week 1
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    Welcome to Week 1 of Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology with Dr Julian Whitewright, University of Southampton.

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