Gateway to Atlantis P.3: Seven Cities, El Dorado

There follows in Collins Gateway to Atlantis, a detour into pre-Columbus legends of Antilia and the Seven Cities, El Dorado and the like. The Phoenician theme is then resumed with the conclusion that the a-t-l element of the name Atlantis is a Phoenician root, out of the Semitic linguistic context of the Phoenician language, meaning "elevate." Certainly, this is as good a philological speculation as any other and may well explain the background of the Atlas myth and the naming of the Atlas Mountains. It is not obvious that it would have anything to do with Plato's naming of his lost island. He presumably wanted to give his island a name in the setting of his own culture's mythology and in keeping with the location he chose for it in the already named Atlantic Ocean (so called after the mountains that ran down to it). He may very well, as we have seen, also have had in mind recent memories of the flooding of the little island of Atalante, close to Athens. There is absolutely no reason to connect Atlantis with the fantasy island Antilia (or an earlier version as Atulliae) of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century European maps. This island, as we have seen, was most likely a conjectural reflection of the shape of Portugal projected on to the western Atlantic. The Portuguese "Ante ilha" is at least as good a philological speculation to explain the name Antilia as anything to do with a-t-l.

Collins' next step is to recall certain American legends of their peoples' coming to their present homes from islands to the cast the Aztecs' Aztlan is, not surprisingly with a name like that, the site we have heard most about. These stories were, of course, recorded very late on by Christian or Christianized writers and local origins for them have been proposed by orthodox historians. When such legends involve emergency crossings of waters in the dark over sands or stepping stones, Collins thinks they might hark back to forced emigrations from some larger landmass in the region of the West Indies that was flooded by the rising sea levels of the end of the ice age. On this interpretation, the peoples of Mexico and Central America (and some of the south-east states of North America) could have come to their historical homelands from somewhere in the Caribbean or the waters of the Bahamas. Collins tells us that seven caves are often mentioned in the folklore as the place of genesis of the people who later left for the mainland: seven caves like the seven bays or seven cities of the fabulous island of the pre-Columbian maps, though the seven in the latter case may be related to a legend of seven bishops who fled to sea from the Moorish conquest of Spain. As a way of putting the ancestors of the Aztecs and so forth on an Atlantis that was more or less the same place as the Antilia of the old maps (until flooding reduced it, that is), all this seems pretty thin, one faint possibility heaped on another, as with Lewis Spence.

By now it is becoming clear that Collins has set his sights on Cuba as the last, best relic of old Atlantis - for him, Cuba is Antilia, as others have suggested despite the different shapes and orientations of the real island and the cartographic fantasy. So Collins wants to cry up the archaeology of Cuba. It is one of the admirable things about his writing that he does often candidly sketch in the objections to his ideas that he clearly recognizes. In this case, he admits that the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Cuba, the Taino, with their New Stone Age style of life weren't really up to much as potential heirs of Atlantean civilization and, worse still, probably only came to Cuba themselves in about AD 500 having originated in the region of the mouth of the Orinoco in Venezuela at the other end of the island chain.

In the search for something a little more impressive than the Taino, we get reports of late nineteenth-century claims of mounds, enclosures, a jade axe, a black idol on Cuba: a paltry haul, I should say, and most of it not available for inspection any more. More modern archaeology reveals a picture of mesolithic life on Cuba before the neolithic Taino, with flints, bones and shells, back to perhaps 5000 BC. Some standing stones and earthworks have been compared to the products of farming people in Florida at about 2000 BC and this seems to hearten Collins to go on and write of  "prehistoric culture of immense sophistication," but I should say that would depend on your idea of sophistication. The prospect of cave art is raised before us in this connection, but it doesn't turn out to be anything like Lascaux or Altamira. There are stick men, animals and fish, attributed to the Taino, in certain Cuban caves. Some drawings may be the work of black slaves on the plantations. But there are also, in Cave I on the "Isle of Youth" off the southern coast of Cuba, some geometric and abstract designs that Collins feels are in a different league.

The piece de resistance on this Isle of Youth is a complex of concentric circles, about a metre in diameter, with a "double arrow" reaching out from its centre; this reminds Collins, as he told us right at the start of his book, of our solar system. He is keen to say how super all this geometric stuff is (no stick men here) but it can't be said that the two small photographs in his book do much to encourage us to share this view.

The fact that the caves with geometric designs have what are apparently artificially constructed light holes in their roofs and that the cave with the circles and arrows possesses "roughly seven bays" encourages Collins to speculate that this was the site of the birthplace of the chiefs of old Antilia (with its seven bays): and further that the circle design with arrow represents the sunbeam penetrating into the womb-cave of their nativity! As to the date of all this, well 'the cave art on Mona [another small island between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, with art derived from Cuba] probably dates back to somewhere between 5000 BC and AD 250. In other words, it probably has a vague date of some sort. So all this bric-a-brac of idols and axes and standing stones and might-be-old cave glyphs is being used by Collins to suggest that Cuba could have been the place from which the later Meso-Americans - or at least their chiefs and teachers - originated, to develop their Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Toltec and Aztec civilizations on the mainland. Cuba and its little island with a cavern of 'roughly' seven bays is Antilia of the Seven Cities, Aztlan, Atlantis!

There follows a straight-faced discussion as to whether Cuba or Hispaniola better fits Plato's description of Atlantis - this despite Collins' earlier recognition that Plato cannot be regarded as wholly reliable in detail and, in any case, neither Caribbean island could conceivably fit Plato's description taken as a whole and at face value. Still, for Collins the mountains of north-west Cuba are Plato's ring of mountains on Atlantis, Cuba's western plain is the great (rectangular?) plain of Atlantis, the Isle of Youth is Atlantis City itself at one end of a now submerged connection to the main island, and the caves of the Isle are the place where Plato's Atlantean dynasty was born. The ever-reliable candour of Collins prompts him to say that "Sadly, no evidence of a true Atlantean city has been found . . . we have no Atlantean kings, no circular hydraulic systems, no canals and no evidence of maritime activity before the arrival of the earliest Palaeo-Amerindians sometime around 6000 BC" I like that reference to "a true Atlantean city" when there's no city there at all, true Atlantean or otherwise, and one wonders at the scale of maritime activity that went on after the arrival of the Palaeo-Amerindians for that matter.

The best Collins can come up with in the way of any more corroboration of Plato on Cuba consists of a couple of pictographs of exceptionally poor quality, apparently representing bulls. One is of unknown provenance somewhere on the island and the other is from the province of Havana. Neither is dated. Associated stick men call the poor old Taino to mind, but perhaps the bulls and men together represent bullfighting and were done by African slaves after Havana built a bullring. Collins would like to think these pictures somehow took us back to Plato's bull sacrifices on Atlantis, but he admits that no bovine bones have ever been found in old archaeological sites in Cuba. It's all a bit thin again.

Not for the first time in the literature of Atlantis, it is myth and folklore that fill the breach when hard archaeological evidence is lacking. Collins talks of Caribbean tales about the Antilles as previously one great island that turned into a string of separate isles in the aftermath of floods; he says there were similar stories in the Bahamas. He rules out a volcanic tsunami (at least in the Bahamas) as the cause of this flooding, which would not of course be permanent if such was the mechanism. He sees that the postglacial rise in sea level was a slow process that submerged, say, the Grand Bahama Bank over many, many centuries between about 8000 and 3000 BC. And then he remembers his cave on the Isle of Youth and has second thoughts about that design of concentric circles and double arrow. Perhaps it doesn't show the sun sending out a beam to fertilize the womb-cave of the old chiefs after all, which may come as a relief to any of us who had difficulty with that interpretation. Recalling, of another cave design, that "for some reason it bore a resemblance to a comet in the sky," Collins concludes that it must have been a comet that broke up old Antilia and thereby destroyed Plato's Atlantis. The big design with the circles and arrow is an image of comet debris hitting water, like what you see when you kick a pebble into a puddle: a non-seismic, non-volcanic tsunami. "What if," he asks, "this cave imagery was recalling some kind of oceanic impact?" He confides in us that "the feeling that at some time in prehistory the Bahamas and Caribbean had been devastated by a comet impact would not leave me."

These writers are always seeing "resemblances," "for some reason," always asking themselves "What ifs?" (and building an awful lot on them), speculating about "some kind" of something or other and "having feelings" that, no matter how hard they may try, they just can't avoid.

An unusual landscape feature of the region, called the Carolina Bays, is brought on as possible evidence of some antique cometary impact, rather like the Tunguska event of Siberia (which, incidentally, other exponents of "alternative history" have interpreted as a UFO crash).

Next part four, Nov. 17, 2002: Atlantis: die Urheimat der Arier.

See also:

Cuba's Gateway To Atlantis P1

Cuba's Gateway To Atlantis P. 2: Cocaine

Gateway to Atlantis P.4: Urheimat der Arier

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