I’ll admit it—the idea of the lost continent of Atlantis is both intriguing and dubious to me. The theories about its location and the culture of its inhabitants seem nothing but wild speculation. Were they Hyperboreans who dwelt at the North Pole? Were they an advanced civilization located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that received their technology from extraterrestrials? Atlantis is the realm of conspiracy theorists and crackpot pseudo-historians—or so it seemed to me. That’s when I picked up Gavin Menzies’ The Lost Empire of Atlantis on audio.
Menzies’ other books, 1421: The Year China Discovered America and 1434: The Year A Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited The Renaissance, have invited controversy. I have not read either one of the aforementioned titles, but since this book about Atlantis declared that it would unveil “History’s Greatest Mystery,” I figured I’d give it a try. Besides, it would help to kill time during traffic jams.
Instead of the mysterious mystical Atlanteans, Menzies’ Atlantis is the island of Crete, with its advanced Bronze Age culture of the Minoans that created a vast trading network. Just like Atlantis, the island of Thera in the Aegean Sea disappeared overnight, destroyed by a huge volcano that sent a tsunami wave that destroyed the palace at Knossos in Crete. Like a detective, Menzies uncovers the fingerprints of the Minoans everywhere from Egypt to India to the Iberian Peninsula. Bits of Minoan culture (beside trade goods) appear to have permeated local traditions: the bull-jumping that was depicted on Minoan frescoes as long ago as the 18th century BC is still a semi-ritual amongst peoples as far flung as southwestern India and Spain. Some of Menzies’ claims, however, seem rather mind-boggling–that Minoans and other ancient civilizations obtained pure copper for the smelting of bronze from Lake Superior, for example. I’m still not convinced of some of his arguments, but it makes for an interesting story with well-detailed travels to exotic locales. I’ll let you, reader, make up your own mind.