7 Sunken and Lost Civilizations

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The sea; powerful, capricious, capable of giving and taking away. We pull delicious fish and crustaceans from its waters. We bask on its beaches and swim in its balmy shallows. We also see the dark side as our ships are swallowed up and giant waves crash into our cities, causing floods, panic, and death.

Sometimes the waves don’t recede. When massive tsunamis surge out of the ocean and melting ice sheets cause rapid sea level rise, entire continents can get gobbled up. Some are the stuff of myth and folk-lore, some are widely documented, all tell the tale of doomed civilizations, submerged or lost lands and reminds us that we are all at the mercy of the benevolence of the sea. On this episode of “What Lurks Below” we examine seven lost or sunken civilizations.

7. Ferdinandea

Ferdinandea is shrouded in mystery and located 31 kilometers off the coast of Sicily…. At least that’s where it should be located. Ferdinandea has disappeared and remerged from the ocean hundreds of times. When it peeks up out of the waves, only the mountain tip is visible.

Since Ferdinandea is constantly pulling a disappearing act, nobody can decide what country it actually belongs to, causing an air of international intrigue to the elusive isle. To make matters more interesting, Ferdinandea tends to have an explosive presence when it pops up to say hello, showering down volcanic ash before retreating into the waves.

Ferdinandea has been spotted and lost since the time of the Punic Wars, around 3 BC, and has become the stuff of legends for those who would scan the Mediterranean for a glimpse of her shy mountain across the expanse of ocean.

6. Doggerland

Did you know that Britain wasn’t always an island? Until about halfway through the Pleistocene Era is was a peninsula connected to the mainland by a vast stretch of land known as Doggerland. Doggerland was a huge, icy mass of land that stretched across what is now the North Sea. It fell victim to two catastrophic weather events.

The first was rapidly melting ice sheets that led to sea level rise and swamped Doggerland in chilly waves. The second was a mega tsunami that towered 80 meters high over the condemned continent. It was caused by the Storegga Slide, which altered the coast of Norway and reshaped Europe as we know it. Today, the remains of Doggerland and what’s left of its unlucky inhabitants only exist in the history books and deep below the frosty northern sea waters. Doggerland and our number six pick are both reminders that we’re all at the mercy of the sea and its whims and what was once solid land could be consumed without warning.

5. Zealandia

Aerial view of Ball’s Pyramid, Lord Howe Island Group, NSW, Australia

Zealandia is considered the eighth continent and unlike some of the entries on this list, there is absolutely no doubt that it existed and is buried just beneath the waves near Australia. New Zealand and Caledonia are the remnants of what was once an enormous land mass that would have rivaled the United States in size before the ocean reclaimed it and sank it to the depths.

What finished Zealandia? Continents are positioned on Teutonic plates, huge geographic features that dictate where the sea ends and the land begins. These plates are constantly grinding up against each other as if jockeying for space on the surface of the earth. The tension can cause all manner of problems, from volcanic eruptions to tsunamis.

Nowhere is the stress greater than the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire. It was these underwater sea explosions and continental skirmishes that drowned Zealandia and possibly condemned our number four pick.

4. Mu

Underwater structures claimed to be remnants of Mu, near Yonaguni, Japan. Photo taken by jpatokal http://wikitravel.org/en/User:Jpatokal

The vast Pacific ocean that stretches from the Philippines to Hawaii conceals a secret. A giant continent that was the cradle of mankind and contained an advanced civilization of telepathic warriors was condemned to the depths during ancient times. It’s existence was discovered through a recovered Mayan text called the Madrid Codex, and thus began the search for Lemuria, or Mu.

The fantastical story of Mu has inspired writers and artists for decades for understandable reasons. It was an advanced civilization of 60 million inhabitants and spanned the Pacific Ocean. The people of Mu were giants with telepathic abilities. Some say they were ape-like creatures who communicated with aliens. Although no credible evidence of Mu’s existence has been found, it doesn’t stop people from romanticizing this submerged super-human continent. The Stelle Group, an American society that claims to be descendants of Mu, is intent on restoring their civilization. Modern vocabulary, such as the word “luminary” invokes ideas of these ancient and lost people.

How did Mu falter? Some speculate that it fell victim to the same Teutonic Armageddon that sunk Zealandia. Mu might be considered by most to be the stuff of legends, but we know more about the solar system than our own oceans, so who’s to say that the Pacific depths don’t hide a lost and advanced civilization?

3. Ys

La Fuite de Roi Gradlon; his daughter Dahut was possessed by a half-fairy, half-woman who he had rejected and became the most evil woman in Brittany; stole keys to sluice gate and the seas invaded the city of Caer Ys; tried to rescue his daughter as he was unaware of her evil; St. Gwendole pushed Dahut into the sea and the waves calmed;

Whether ill-fated Ys fell victim to carelessness or a trick of the Devil, we will never know.
Ys was an ancient Celtic City built by the King of Cornouaille for his daughter Dahut. Dahut loved the ocean and the below sea-level metropolis was her paradise, full of arts, music and thriving commerce. Ys was a wealthy and cosmopolitan city protected by a dike and seawall that was only opened for ships at low-tide to keep the water from swamping the low-lying city. By now you’ve probably guessed what caused the demise of Ys. Who left the door open?

In an ironic twist, Dahut, who the city was built for is responsible for its destruction, condemning her idyllic home and its people to certain death. Some say Dahut was drunk. Some say the Devil appeared and tricked her. Still others claim that Dahut and the Devil were lovers and worked together to plot the demise of Ys. However it happened, the residents of Ys didn’t stand a chance. When the sea gushed through the open gate they were trapped and drowned in a violent flood that buried it.

2. Hy-Brasil

Ireland as depicted on the 1572 map of Europe by Abraham Ortelius. Interesting are the prominent featuring of St. Patrick’s Purgatory and the curious island of Brasil.

Hy-Brasil has nothing in common with the Brazil we know today. It was a fantastical place off Galloway Bay in Ireland, populated by gargantuan black rabbits and a benevolent wizard who bestowed favors on people lucky enough to wash up on its shores. Like Mu and other ancient lost civilizations and lands, Hy-Brasil is thought to have been influenced by an advanced race of people, most likely extra-terrestrials and lesser Irish Gods who bestowed their knowledge on the wizard and passing visitors. Hy-Brasil was a magical and peaceful place, hidden well by the ocean to shield it from unwanted attention or occupation.

Unlike most of the other places on this list, there are no stories of Hy-Brasil suffering a devastating, watery fate. Instead, it seems like the sea protected this special island, sheathing it in mist and making it visible once every seven years to a fortunate few.

1. Atlantis

No other lost civilization has captured our imagination like Atlantis. The ruined mecca of advancement, culture, and commerce that dominated the ancient world and was lost by the whim of the sea or the wrath of Poseidon. Far from being a city, the empire was enormous, larger than both Asia Minor and Ancient Libya put together. It was also aggressive, attacking Athens from the sea and generating the displeasure of the Gods.
Most consider Atlantis to have sunk in the Mediterranean Ocean, famously in a night and day- giving her residents zero time to escape certain death- but others speculate that its ruins are near Bimini or in the Bahamas. Some even think that Atlantis is entombed in Arctic sea ice, having been hurled towards the poles when Pangea split.

Nobody knows for certain where the ruins of Atlantis exist, or if they do exist. Plato’s famous story about the mythical country located “beyond the pillars of Hercules” could be completely allegorical or inaccurate. That doesn’t stop Atlantis from dominating popular culture and mariners and adventurers will never stop looking for the fabled land under the waters of all seven seas.

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