Atlantis – The Evidence Review: Plumbing The Depths

June 2, 2010 by  
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Bettany Hughes is rapidly becoming the voice of history – every historical documentary seems to involve her in some way (see also the excellent Alexandria: The Greatest City). If she keeps this up much longer, she’ll be almost impossible to separate from her subject (in the same way that it’s impossible to think of David Attenborough not surrounded by foliage of some sort) and the thought of her walking around a modern city will blow your mind.

Hughes has a good voice for the work; you can almost imagine her soothing tones narrating a bed time story. That’s not to say that she’s boring, quite the opposite in fact – she’s always passionately enthusiastic about her subject but her voice is the soft insistence of a primary school teacher and not one of bellowing authority. She’s back to talk about the evidence for the fabled lost city.

As this is a BBC production, everything’s going to be taken very seriously. You can’t help but wonder how this might have turned out had it been on Channel 5 or Bravo who’d no doubt spend time reconstructing some of the more extravagant theories – that Atlantis was an alien colony or was dragged into the sea by a giant squid perhaps.

Atlantis according to Plato was a significant city famed for its wealth and prosperity which was sunk by the gods because of its (immorality) – a simple morality tale if you like, an Athenian Sodom and Gomorrah. But did Plato base his story on an actual event or did he make it up off the top of his head?

Hughes travels to the island of Thera near Greece to find out. Apparently there are several striking similarities between the Atlantis that Plato described and the remains of Minoan society which was devastated by a massive volcano.

She spends a lot of time regaling us with what life would have been like on Thera – they were a clever bunch and occupied a strategically important location for trade and their civilization thrived as a result, had some rather fancy pottery and were the envy of antiquity. What she reveals is certainly interesting but crucially, there’s nothing much more than circumstantial evidence to link Atlantis to Thera.

It’s a disappointing and misleading title: Hughes spends most of the time explaining what Atlantis might have been had it existed rather than finding out whether it actually did. All in all, it conjectures much, but ultimately proves nothing.