Friday, 21 December 2018

The background to Citizen Para-archaeology's Atlantis Fantasy

An interesting comment by an archaeologist on the background to some current some pop-culture fantasy (David Anderson, 'Aquaman's Atlantis - Truth, Fiction, Or Something In Between?' Forbes Dec 21, 2018)
Attempts to find physical evidence of Atlantis also began in the 19th-century. The public’s interest in the ancient Greek culture had been peaked [sic - piqued] in the 1870s when German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann claimed his excavations at the site of Hisarlik, Turkey, had confirmed that the site was the legendary city of Troy. Schliemann’s claims are controversial, but as far as the public was concerned, if one legendary ancient Greek city could be found why not another? In 1882, the book Atlantis: The Antedilluvian World by Ignatius Donnelly was released to great success, once again reshaping the public’s vision of Atlantis. Donnelly claimed that while he could not find the actual city of Atlantis, he could use archaeological evidence to prove it once existed. Employing an extreme form of diffusionism, Donnelley argued that the ancient temples and pyramids of the Egyptians and the Maya were so similar that they had to originate from one source, Atlantis. To find these similarities, however, Donnelley had to ignore countless differences in chronology, culture history and tradition. On occasion he would even stretch his evidence to fit. For example, while his claim that both ancient cultures had glyphic writing systems is true, it ignored the fact that these writing systems were fundamentally different in the structure of their characters, the uses to which they were put and in the languages they represented. Despite the deep problems with Donnelly’s argument, he helped to build a wave of Atlantis popularity as well as a century-long tradition among ‘alternative history’ authors whereby superficial similarities among ancient cultures are used as shocking evidence of cultural contacts. Donnelly’s legacy lives on with each new ‘discovery’ of Atlantis, but the reality is there are no historical or archaeological data that support the claim that Atlantis was ever a real place. Plato’s story was always intended as a moral parable, not a tale of human history.
To be honest, I'd not thought about the connection between Schliemann and Donnelly before.

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