Skip to comments.Archaeologist Roots Out Historical Hooey
Posted on 11/27/2004 10:16:34 AM PST by forsnax5
CCSU researcher says lost city of Atlantis a myth
Dr. Kenneth Feder, a professor of anthropology at Central Connecticut State University, is an expert in archaeological hoaxes and has written a book about the myth of Atlantis. He rejected a recent Atlantis discovery claim and the countless others that have come before it with the same simple argument namely, that Atlantis' only location was in the imagination of Plato, the man who first described it.
The lost land of Atlantis has been discovered. Again.
In a press conference last week, a U.S. researcher named Robert Sarmast announced that his six-day expedition had detected evidence of man-made structures on the Mediterranean seabed off Cyprus. Not only had sonar scanners picked up the ghostly contours of walls and trenches on a rectangular landmass, he said, but these features matched the descriptions in the original account of Atlantis.
In the years before he died in 347 B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis as a wildly advanced civilization that was wiped out in a flash 9,000 years before his time.
We cannot yet provide tangible proof in the form of bricks and mortar, as the artifacts are still buried under several meters of sediment, Sarmast said in an accompanying press release, but the circumstantial and other evidence is now irrefutable.
When he read about this declaration on the BBC's Web site, Kenneth Feder didn't even have to get out of his desk chair to dispute it.
An archaeologist who has taught at Central Connecticut State University for more than 25 years, Feder rejects Sarmast's claim and the countless others that have come before it with the same simple argument namely, that Atlantis' only location was in the imagination of the man who first described it.
But that rationale hasn't prevented Feder from using the myth for his own purposes.
My agenda is to use this stuff to teach what we really know about the past, he says.
Feder, who lives in West Simsbury, focuses most of his own field work along the Farmington River, unearthing evidence of the Indians and settlers who subsisted there. But through the years, Feder has nurtured an expertise in historical hooey on the side.
First published in 1990, his book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology is about to go into its fifth edition. Last month he lectured on Atlantis at a gathering of skeptics in Italy. And he holds forth on the watery mystery in a documentary scheduled for broadcast on the National Geographic Channel program Naked Science.
Tucked in his stuffed campus office where the Donner Party Cookbook sits on a shelf below a cartoon of a pre-human Homer Simpson, Feder says he makes one demand of Atlantis enthusiasts.
My rule is you can't even use the word Atlantis in a sentence unless you can tell me you've read Plato.
The legend of the lost continent emerges in dialogues between Socrates and his students that Plato wrote down. The point that many people miss, Feder says, is that most of these instructive dialogues were fictional, like conversations between characters in a play.
Atlantis is a plot device. Plato has a very specific agenda in his mind, and he needs Atlantis to prove what he's trying to say, Feder says.
The student Critias tells his teacher the true story of the powerful but morally corrupt land of Atlantis, which goes to war with the weak but noble Athens. The evil empire gets whipped in battle by its worthier opponent before eventually getting swallowed in a cataclysm of floods and eruptions.
That is the Atlantis story told by Plato, Feder says. It's Star Wars' circa 350 B.C.
That's the line that a producer wanted Feder to use in a documentary a few years ago. But there was a catch. Would Feder be willing to tailor his yarn to make Atlantis seem real? Or at least leave its existence open-ended?
Feder refused and soon discovered that the documentary film was in fact a glorified advertisement for the 2001 animated Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Feder says several of his colleagues who had signed on unwittingly later watched in horror as their drastically edited words were spliced with cartoon scenes of underwater action.
But maybe that kind of appropriation explains why the legend still lingers. Severed long ago from the context that a famous Greek gave it, Atlantis becomes a ghost story, a lost treasure, a mysterious monster.
For a lot of people, this would just be really cool if it were true, Feder says. It would be really cool if Bigfoot were real. I don't really know that it is or isn't, but it's cool to tell stories about it at 2 in the morning.
The big legends wax and wane with the years. The Bermuda Triangle. Ancient astronauts. The UFO encounters at Roswell. But Feder thinks he's seen an increase in people's belief in the unbelievable.
The professor often starts new classes with a survey, asking students about their take on certain aspects of history. Twenty years ago, about 30 percent of his students said that Atlantis existed. But by 2000, almost half of the surveyed students were believers.
I think that pattern directly reflects how many documentaries on (pseudoscientific subjects) show up on television, especially cable TV, Feder says.
Whether the media drives public interest or vice versa, it's obvious that legends like Atlantis will always hold cultural currency.
Perhaps that's why Robert Sarmast, who gave up a career in architecture to pursue Atlantis, rushed to announce his findings to the international press instead of trying to publish them in a peer-reviewed journal, the only way to secure credibility in the scientific community.
I'm going to assume that the guy's honest and sincere and he really thinks there's this connection, Feder says of Sarmast. But for anyone looking at it from the outside, there just isn't enough information.
Oh, man...no SG-1 spinoffs. Bummer.
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