Could South America be Atlantis?

Regardless of whether it’s entirely mythical or simply missing, the “lost” island of Atlantis is one of the most sought after real estate in history. The oldest source of stories of a once mighty land now gone beneath the waves is that of Plato Dialogs (4th century BC). But at the same time Timaeus and criteria place Atlantis beyond the “Pillars of Hercules” (i.e. the Strait of Gibraltar) into the ocean which still bears its name, evidence of Atlantis has been proposed and presumed in places as far away as Sardinia, Antarctica, Cuba and Indonesia.


These days, most serious scientists prefer one theory over all others; that the drowning of Atlantis is a folk memory of a catastrophic volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (now Santorini) around 1600 BC. J.-C. which caused a tsunami, annihilating the Minoan civilization. Many pre-modern scientists supported Plato’s original thesis that Atlantis was once washed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. One of them was Athanasius Kircher, who produced this map in his book Underground Mundus (“The Underworld”, ca. 1665).

A biography published in 2004 titled Kircher (1601-1680) was titled The last man to know everything, and the interests and expertise of the German Jesuit were certainly broad and deep enough to rival those of Leonardo da Vinci. The two would be close contenders for the Ultimate Renaissance Man title. Kircher wrote 40 books, on subjects as diverse as geology, music theory, Coptic grammar, and magnetism (typically for his syncretic style, both gravitational and amorous).

Like Da Vinci, Kircher was fascinated by the invention and perfection of mechanical devices. He designed what has been described as the world’s first megaphone, perfected a magnetic clock and invented a cat piano, in which a pin pierced the tails of animals which then howled at specific pitches (he is not clear whether Kircher ever made this scheme, although Monty Python in one of their sketches adapted the idea to a ‘mouse organ‘). He is also credited with the invention of the magic lantern.

That Kircher’s international fame was overshadowed by rationalism later in his life can be understood from some of his wilder theories. Although still considered one of the founding fathers of Egyptology, he believed that Egyptian was so ancient that it must have been the language of Adam and Eve. Centuries before the hieroglyphs were deciphered, Kircher convinced himself that he had cracked the code, producing volumes of absurd translations. An equally early pioneer of sinology, Kircher believed that the Chinese descended from Ham and that Confucius was identical to Moses. In Arca Noahhe discussed the logistics — including feeding schedules — of the Noah’s Ark trip.

Underground Mundus is a mixture of vision and error typical of Kircher. He correctly posits ‘fires’ raging inside the earth, but links the tides to interaction with an underground ocean. Included in the work is this map of Atlantis, placing the lost island (or rather mini-continent) between Spain and America. For some reason the map is oriented upside down, with south at the top. The main island of Atlantis is accompanied by two smaller, unnamed ones to its right (west).

The Latin inscription says: Location of the island of Atlantis, once engulfed by the sea, according to Egyptian tales and the writings of Plato.

The story doesn’t end there, at least not if you’re a true Atlanticist – seeking truth where others don’t see it. Some have noticed the similarities between the shape of Kircher’s Atlantis and the geography of South America. Could it be that Plato was really talking about this continent?

These two maps compare South America as shown in Ortelius’s Orbis Terrarum-type (1592) with Kircher’s Atlantis (now oriented with north up). The similarities are striking, from the double-scalloped coast in the northwest of the mainland (A,B) through the long straight coast in the southwest (C) and the narrow point in the south (D) to the coastline in withdrawal in the east (E,F).

Another map goes even further, naming half a dozen geographic similarities, including three of the continent’s major rivers (Amazon, Orinoco, Plata), two mountain ranges (Cordillera, Andes) and theorizing that the smaller unnamed islands are actually the West. Indies.

Looks and sounds plausible? Before you fall into the Atlantology hole, take a look at this map comparison: doesn’t Greenland also look a bit like Atlantis?

Oops… Too late! Have a good triptravel companion!

Many thanks to Barry Ruderman for sending Kircher’s map. A larger scale image can be seen here at Mr. Ruderman Rare Cards. The website has a special section detailing many other old prints curiosities, both cartographic and otherwise. The lettered comparison card found here at Maps of Atlantis. The one labeled found here. The image of Greenland found here.

Strange Cards #394

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