American architect-turned-archaeologist Robert Sarmast claims to have discovered the lost city of Atlantis, off the southeast coast of Cyprus. Sarmast says his latest sonar readings reveal submerged walls that closely resemble those described by Plato, the first person to ever mention Atlantis in print. In Timaeus, written around 360 B.C., the renowned philosopher portrayed Atlantis as "a great and wonderful empire" that was destroyed by earthquakes and floods in a 24-hour span. How many times have researchers previously claimed to have discovered the vanished island-state?
Oodles—and that's not even counting the numerous psychics and crackpot "Atlantologists" who've placed the city everywhere from Nicaragua to Ceylon. The hunt began in earnest in the early 19th century, when Guatemalan Dr. Paul Felix Cabrera proposed that Hispaniola—the island where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are now found—was the site of Atlantis. Several researchers—such as the husband-and-wife team of Augustus Le Plongeon and Alice Dixon—speculated that Atlantis had been located near Mexico, based on their interpretation of Mayan codices that supposedly mentioned a lost island continent. The Mayans, the theory went, had interacted with the ancient Egyptians, who in turn passed the tale of Atlantis down to the ancient Greeks. This line of conjecture has been discredited over the years, in part because of a lack of physical evidence, and in part because it later became obvious that the early Mayanologists didn't fully understand the culture's complex hieroglyphs.
The world went atwitter in 1912 when a man calling himself Paul Schliemann published an article titled "How I Found the Lost Atlantis" in William Randolph Hearst's New York American. Schliemann claimed to be the grandson of Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who excavated Troy. He wrote that his grandfather had passed down Trojan artifacts that revealed Atlantis' true location, submerged in the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the United States. (The Azores were supposedly the tips of Atlantean mountains.) Schliemann disappeared soon after the publication of his fantastic account, however, and it's now widely viewed as one of the great "yellow journalism" hoaxes.
The British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett thought he'd solved the mystery in the 1920s, when he argued that Atlantis might have been located in the rain forests of Brazil. (He apparently based this belief on a stone idol he was given as a gift, which had reputedly come from a lost city in the Amazon.) Fawcett embarked on an expedition to find Atlantis in 1925, delving deep into the Brazilian back country; he was never seen again.
Almost a half-century later, a pair of reputable archaeologists, A.G. Galanopoulos and Edward Bacon, published Atlantis: The Truth Behind the Legend, which suggested that Atlantis was, in fact, the Greek island of Santorini. The island's Minoan population, they noted, was likely wiped out by a massive volcanic eruption circa 1450 B.C., a cataclysm that may have inspired Plato's tales of Atlantis being wiped out by floods. (Tsunamis, or gigantic tidal waves, are a direct aftereffect of volcanic eruptions that occur near water.)
A Soviet oceanographer added his own theory to the pile in 1979, when he charted a sunken plateau about 560 miles off the western coast of Portugal. He claimed to have "spotted almost clearly half-demolished walls and giant stairs" and added that the geological shape of the site closely paralleled that described by Plato. The last word came in 1985, when a piece of marble recovered from the ocean was supposedly being taken to the Soviet Academy of Sciences for top-level analysis. And that, apparently, was the end of the Soviets' involvement in the search.
The past year has been a particularly active one for Atlantologists. Aside from Sarmast's discovery, a German physicist, Rainer Kuehne, claimed in June that Atlantis was merely a region in southern Spain, near Cadiz. He based his conclusion on satellite imagery, which reveals a large marshy area surrounded by what appears to be concentric rings of Earth or water—geographic details that Plato noted.
Another European scientist, Swedish geographer Ulf Erlingsson, argued earlier this year that Atlantis wasn't near the Mediterranean at all but was actually Ireland. He says the Emerald Isle's size syncs up nicely with Plato's estimate and that the destruction myth was inspired by the submerging of Dogger Bank, a North Sea shoal, around 6100 B.C.