Atlantis – Fact or Fairy Tale? Directions

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Atlantis – Fact or Fairy Tale?

Directions: Read the two passages below discussing the lost city of Atlantis. As you read, circle/highlight at least 5 words that are “unfamiliar” to you. Once you have finished reading, use a dictionary in class or on your phone to define these 5 words on a separate sheet of paper. Then, respond to the questions at the end of the articles.


Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valor. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end.

This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbor, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia.

Some of their buildings were simple, but in others they put together different stones, varying the color to please the eye, and to be a natural source of delight. The entire circuit of the wall, which went round the outermost zone, they covered with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the next wall they coated with tin, and the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with red light…

Such was the vast power which the gods settled in the lost island of Atlantis; and this they afterwards directed against our land for the following reasons, as tradition tells: For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, and well-affectioned towards the gods…
But when their divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted too often and too much with their mortal flesh, and the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see grew visibly debased, …they were full of avarice and unrighteous power. Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceived that an honorable race was in a woeful plight, and wanted to inflict judgement on them, that they might be punished…
...Afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune…the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.”

  • Plato, Greek Philosopher and Historian - 320 BC

“More than two thousand years ago, the Greek historian Plato wrote about Atlantis, the fabled advanced civilization that was swallowed by the sea. But the origins of Plato’s story have never been identified. It is only recently that some archaeologists have begun to believe the legend may have started on Crete. They are hoping that scientific investigation can provide an actual link to Plato’s ancient folk memory.
Five thousand years ago, the Minoans, Europe’s first great civilization, flourished on the island of Crete. The sophisticated inhabitants, named after the legendary King Minos, were the first Europeans to use a written language, known as Linear A, and the first to construct paved roads. They were an advanced society of highly-cultivated artisans and extremely skilled civic engineers. They constructed everything from giant palaces, to indoor plumbing and a complex sewer system. The Minoans were excellent ship builders and sailors, and their maritime empire was so vast, it rivaled that of the ancient Egyptians. They were an enigmatic people, worshiping snake priestesses and engaging in human sacrifice with origins not linked to Europe as expected, but to ancient Iran, which may explain why they were so different from the Greeks who rose to power after them. Such practices gave rise to Greek myths about the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull that ate human flesh in his forbidding labyrinth.
But inexplicably, at the height of their power, the Minoans were wiped from the pages of history. The reason for their disappearance has perplexed historians for generations — until now.

The island of Santorini, 70 miles north of Crete, was home to the wealthy Minoan seaport of Akrotiri, a place where the wall paintings discovered portray their landscape with happy animals and farmers harvesting saffron. But the Minoans had built their prosperous city on one of the most dangerous islands on earth, next to the volcano Thera. Around 1600, B.C., Akrotiri was shaken by a violent earthquake. Sometime later, an eruption occurred. The Theran eruption was one of largest in human history — blasting more than 10 million tons of ash, gas, and rock 25 miles into the atmosphere. Incredibly, despite Crete’s close proximity to the volcano, the debris from Thera largely missed the major Minoan towns.

On Crete, strange and chaotic layers of soil, broken pottery, building materials, and even cattle bones can be found along the eroding coastline near the ancient town of Palaikastro. With the help of soil scientist Hendrik Bruins, archaeologist Sandy McGillivray discovers that the soil also contains micro-organisms that are normally found only on the ocean floor. The only way they could have been deposited on land is by a powerful tsunami. The presence of Theran pumice that could only have been washed ashore on Crete by powerful waves seems to indicate that the volcano caused the tsunami, and carbon dating of a cow bone found in the chaotic layer of sediment confirms that it was deposited there around 1600 B.C., the same time that Thera erupted.
Archaeologists are only now beginning to understand what happened in the decades that followed. One of the most remarkable clues is a small statue that was found in Palaikastro. It was discovered in an archaeological layer deposited a hundred years after the disaster. A statue made of ivory tusks, gold with a serpentine head, a prime example of one of the great masterpieces of Minoan art, which has been vandalized, suggests ritualized violence against the Minoan culture. Additional signs of such deliberate destruction have been found in other places on the island. Archaeologist Maria Vlasaki believes the answer lies in an unusual cemetery in Chanea. The bodies have been dated to the period of widespread unrest in the Minoan world. Similar bodies have been found near Knossos, the Minoan capital, as well. Their weapons were not Minoan—they resembled those used by the ancient Greeks. The invaders from the Greek mainland slashed and burned their way across Crete, overwhelming the weakened Minoans. The tsunami not only left the Minoans ripe for an attack, it gave the Greeks an important military advantage.
At long last, the story of the Minoan disappearance has been unearthed. Five thousand years after it hit, an epic natural disaster can be blamed for their collapse. A wave that washed away an empire is strikingly reminiscent of a mystical city that sank beneath the waves. And though we may never know for sure if Crete was Atlantis, we at least have an explanation for the downfall of Europe’s first great civilization.”

  • Sinking Atlantis – PBS.COM

Document Based Questions:

  1. In Plato’s account, how does he describe the lost city of Atlantis? For what reasons was the ancient city destroyed?

  1. According to Plato, how did the city of Atlantis come to an end? How is this different or similar to the fate of the island of Santorini?

  1. According to the article “Sinking Atlantis”, what cause other than natural disasters may have led to the downfall of Minoan civilization? What evidence supports this?

  1. What evidence is presented in the articles suggests that the Minoan civilization and the lost city of Atlantis might be the same?

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