The Richat structure in Mauritania is the closest known match to Plato’s description of Atlantis. There is no positive evidence to directly tie the two together or of an ancient civilization in the Richat, but it is in the right place, matches the geography of Plato’s Atlantis, and it has a layout and size in line with the description.
Do you know where Atlantis is? Me neither, but for over two-thousand years we have, as a civilization, wondered where it was. For most of its time, Atlantis was taken as either a fable or evidence of a long lost society, a city state consumed by the sea.
Now evidence is beginning to arise that suggests there may be truth to some of Plato’s ideas. Sure he was using it to make a philosophical point about ethical city states and wanted a counterpoint to Athens, but he gave specific details.
No place, no proposed locale, came even close to matching these details. It was assumed, as with the date of the event, to have been made up. Then evidence came to light of an environmental cataclysm around 9,600 which ended the Younger Dryas era. This is the same date given by Plato for the flooding of Atlantis.
What is the Richat structure?
Then came satellite technology and the discovery or rather global rediscovery of an obscure, unique structure on Earth – The Richat. Located in Mauritania, the Richat looks like a frozen water ripple just after something has dropped into it to disturb the surface. Now, finally, we have something which roughly matches the description.
The Richat structure appears to be a set of concentric rings nestled into a line of low mountains. It is bordered to the southeast by the Sahara – unremarkable miles of sand. It is a largely uninhabited area. Nicknamed the Eye of the Sahara, the Richat is something of a mystery, but it is most definitely natural.
How did the Richat structure form?
What caused the Richat structure to form if it was not man made? The first reaction of many is to assume it is some kind of impact crater – something which immediately attracts those interested in finding the causes of the start and finish of the Younger Dryas.
However, this is much older. Studies suggest it is not a crater, after all it has concentric rings rather than a higher rim with a modest rise in the centre as seen in most impact craters. The most likely answer is that it is an eroded volcanic dome.
Imagine a big bubble blowing up and up until it bursts. Perhaps different sized bubbles bloomed then burst over time forming the rings. Each one left a ring which has slowly been eroded into a flatter area and most definitely one of Earth’s most interesting formations.
What did Plato say about Atlantis?
This is a summary of my longer article which can be found on my personal site. I’ll try to be brief here by giving you some quick facts in bullet points relating to what Plato said about Atlantis:
- Plato set Atlantis up as an inferior moral system to Athens, but he also gave rich data on the island kingdom.
- Atlantis was consumed by the ocean 9,000 years before Solon visited the Egyptians, so that means around 9,600 BC.
- Atlantis sat in the Atlantic, but these days it is no longer navigable.
- Libya and Asia formed islands around the Atlantic.
- Atlantis sat west of the Pillars of Heracles which are understood to be the narrowest point between Africa and Spain.
- Atlantis sat on a long thin island with a flat plain and mountains to the northwest of the city. The stone was red, black, and white.
- The city was between 14.6 miles (23.5km) and 16.5 miles (26.5km) wide depending on whether you use Greek or Egyptians stades which were different lengths.
- Atlantis was comprised of a central island surrounded by circles of alternating land and sea with a connection to the coast roughly five miles away (50 stades).
- The city was destroyed by earthquakes, fires, floods, and a wave of mud.
So if Richat was to be Atlantis it would have to relate to some of these items. Let’s now turn to comparing Plato’s Atlantis with the Richat to see if it is plausible.
What evidence of Atlantis would survive if it was the Richat?
When Randall Carlsson was on the Joe Rogan podcast – I forget which episode it was, but it could’ve been the one with just Joe or one of the ones he did with Graham Hancock – he did a cool thought experiment. Imagine humans disappeared today and came back 10,000 years into the future, what would remain?
The answer was possibly Mount Rushmore and almost certainly the Pyramids. He believed virtually nothing else would remain or would be easily identifiable as human made. Certainly all steel, all metal, and even all plastic materials would be gone. Glass might survive that long but would be broken down into tiny, miniscule beads.
Even big concrete constructions would fall apart. If you want evidence of how fragile our creations are, see how quickly a car disappears when left in a field. These things happen due to the law of entropy. Nothing survives unless you work to maintain it. The Golden Gate Bridge would fall apart within a few decades if not maintained constantly.
What archaeological finds have been found on the Richat?
Therefore the only thing which could survive this epoch of time would be stonework. However, time will weather it to such an extent that it is hard to identify as manmade. That being said, we do have some stone tools from deeper into the past.
Furthermore, some stone tools have been found in the Richat. This is crucial. If the stone tools are in context and have sat there for thousands of years, then we can conclude that the Richat was not occupied more recently or by more developed technology.
For the tools to be there and to be in context it would mean the upper layers were totally wiped away – scraped off the face of the earth or into a different part of the Sahara. It can’t be ruled out, but the Richat looks relatively undisturbed save for the weathering of time.
An additional possibility is that disturbances of time have scattered the tools onto the structure. This would mean the stone tools are out of context and therefore cannot be used to date the layers. It could mean that the city was destroyed, the Richat decayed and geological effects and the weather moved these tools and other detritus onto the landscape.
I do not know enough about the archaeology of the site to know if the tools are in context or not. All we can say is that no physical evidence of classical Atlantis has been found on the Richat, but older more basic tools have been.
Is the Richat west of the Pillars of Heracles?
The Pillars of Heracles are commonly understood to be the closest points between Europe and North Africa where the mouth of the Mediterannean sea narrows. This would be in the Strait of Gibraltar. The Richat is located in Mauretania in the western Sahara region (not to be confused with Western Sahara, a region occupied by Morocco). Here are the GPS coordinates of the two:
GPS of Strait of Gibraltar: Latitude 35.998947942330574 and Longitude -5.427410722167938
GPS of Richat’s centre: Latitude 21.04906197292738 and Longitude -11.477787614257782
The GPS confirms what you can see with your eyes, the Richat structure is indeed west of the Pillars of Heracles. My guestamate would be that the Richat is just over 300 miles (450km) or more west of the Strait of Gibraltar’s narrowest point.
Does the Richat match Plato’s location of Atlantis?
In addition to saying Atlantis is west of the Pillars of Heracles, Plato states that it is in the Atlantic. Of course this is a big problem for the Richat which is stuck firmly in the Sahara, but we’ll get to that. Let’s look at how Plato defined the limits of the Atlantic.
In Timaeus and Critias Plato says that the Atlantic is ringed by islands including Asia and Libya. Now we know Libya is in modern-day Africa and we know Asia is to the east of Africa and Europe. The oceanic element has led many to naturally go west to the Azores or perhaps to America or more unrealistically given glaciation in the north, to sunken landmasses off of Ireland.
Plato’s precise location is a tad vague, but it suggests that Asia formed an eastern boundary and that Libya was an island boundary which separated the Atlantic with the Mediterannean sea. I therefore suggest that the Sahara was the sea of Atlantis during the time in question.
Was the Sahara always a desert?
No. Quite simply, no. The Sahara hides a rich treasure trove of geological, paleontological, and archaeological evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, many maps and accounts, including from Herodotus, suggest the Sahara was once a lush savannah and also contained a rich network of rivers.
The desertification of the Sahara began relatively recently and after 9,600 BC. Much later in fact. It is now believed that desertification occurred around 4,200 BC, so five thousand years after the cataclysm. Over time it has slowly dried up as monsoon rains moved south to what is now the greener, more tropical parts of Africa – it’s middle belt.
This rainfall theory is actually consistent with another theory in North Africa. Robert Schoch’s theory relating to the age of the Sphinx. Erosion of the rim of the pit in which the Sphinx was carved plus erosion of the sphinx’s body itself, suggest the structure was made during a wetter period, more specifically prior to 9,600 BC in the time of Leo.
Was the Sahara once a sea?
Yet while there is evidence of this, we are still not seeing a sea. There is evidence of the Sahara as a sea some 30 odd million years ago due to the whale bones of Wadi el Hitan and possibly other sites. However, we need more recent evidence.
For much of the last 30 million years ago or so the African plate has been diving under the European plate. This helped form the Alps by raising the European plate up. According to research cited in National Geographic the reverse may now be happening with the European plate going under the African plate in a process which takes millions of years.
Let’s look at the effects of this subduction reversal on the plates. Africa going under Europe caused the Alps to rise, but surely it would also push down the African plate? Furthermore, when the roles reversed – and what a shock that would’ve been to anyone in the vicinity – that would have caused the African plate to rise and the European one to sink a bit.
It is possible that the point of change between one plate going under another may have been a great shock. It would have caused a large earthquake and triggered a large tsunami. We know Atlantis suffered from such things even if it was east facing with mountains to protect it from western waters. If you look at a satellite view the Sahara you can’t help but feel like a great wash of sand and mud crashed in from the west and covered the sea making it no longer navigable.
That would be my theory – the sea was filled with mud including the city then the land began to rise up and dry off. The sea became a savannah with rich rivers. The final nail for the old Atlantic region as it became a continent instead of an island filled sea was the southern movement of the rains.
The rivers began to dry up slowly until only the Nile remained. This turned Atlantis, destroyed by the tsunami and earthquakes, into an odd feature in the middle of an inhospitable desert few could traverse.
Does the Richat match Plato’s description of Atlantis?
We can conclude thus far that the Richat is in the correct location and could have matched the geography of Plato’s Atlantic in 9,600 BC. Unfortunately we also have to say there is no archaeological evidence to support this hypothesis. Just remember that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Plato did describe Atlantis in some detail. I’ve listed some of them above and in more detail in my personal blog post on the subject. We can’t see evidence of the 50 stades (about 6 miles) from the sea or of the canal connecting the city to the sea. There is enough geographical hints to suggest where we should look if we could remove the sand.
On the positive side of its local geography, we can see that there are mountains to the northwest of the Richat. Furthermore we can see the three types of stone and the springs as mentioned in Timaeus and Critias.
Is the Richat the same size of Atlantis?
The city, according to Plato, comprised a central island surrounded by an inner ring of water, surrounded by a middle ring of land, surrounded by a middle ring of water, surrounded by an outer ring of land, surrounded by an outer ring of water. Here’s their dimensions in Greek stades:
- The Central Island – 5 stades in diameter (0.57 mile or 0.92 km)
- Inner ring of water – 1 stade in breadth (0.11 mile or 0.17 km)
- Middle ring of land – 2 stades in breadth (0.22 mile or 0.34 km)
- Middle ring of sea – 2 stades in breadth (0.22 mile or 0.34 km)
- Outer ring of land – 3 stades in breadth (0.33 mile or 0.51 km)
- Outer ring of sea – 3 stades in breadth (0.33 mile or 0.51 km)
In Egyptian stades this would be:
- The Central Island – 0.64 mile or 1.42 km
- Inner ring of water – 0.13 mile or 0.21 km
- Middle ring of land – 0.26 mile or 0.42 km
- Middle ring of sea – 0.26 mile or 0.42 km
- Outer ring of land – 0.39 mile or 0.63 km
- Outer ring of sea – 0.39 mile or 0.63 km
This means the city according to Plato has similar dimensions to modern day Madrid. It would have been between 14.6 miles (23.5km) and 16.5 miles (26.5km) depending on which stade you use. This gives us a base to compare the Richat.
Looking at satellite images of Richat, you can see there is a wide central area with a possible lower ring, then a ridge-ring, then a lower ring, then a ridge-ring, and a lower ring. It resembles roughly speaking the description given by Plato though painted images of Atlantis give a flatter feel to the land rings.
I must note that we cannot prove they would or could have been rings of land and rings of water. There is no evidence of that and I’d need to see a full geographical survey to work that out. And to visit it myself to better understand such things. It may be possible to argue that 10,000 years of weathering has flattened those things out. That’s true. If you look at hillforts you’ll see the elements and gravity have made slopes more gentle and ditches more shallow than they once were.
In terms of size, overall the Richat is about 1.5 times the width of Plato’s Atlantis if we use Egyptian stades. NASA records the Richat at 45km wide. However, the exact dimensions of each ring and the central island; especially the central island which is ten times bigger than given by Plato, are off. It’s enough to make a positive comparison between the hypothetical Atlantis and the Richat.
Is the relationship to Plato’s Atlantis coincidental?
The two most likely arguments to be had and which have been considered here, are that either it is the remains of Atlantis or is a pure coincidence. Both lack conclusive positive or negative evidence, but if it would be one hell of a coincidence. This means it’ll fall down to personal opinion and gut feelings about the notion of Atlantis in general.
All we can say is that the orientation of the structure, its location, rough dimensions, water sources, and geology align with Plato’s description. That in itself does not prove it was Atlantis unless archaeological finds are present, which as we’ve discussed above is unlikely.
It is therefore possible that Plato or Solon or most likely the Egyptians pinned the story of Atlantis to the structure, which somehow, was known to them. Perhaps this is a memory from a time when the Nile lapped the feet of the Sphinx and the Sahara was green.
If the Richat is not Atlantis, then my explanation for its close looks would not merely be coincidence, though it can’t be ruled out, but that both the story of Atlantis and the Richat were known. The two then became linked together so that the original story of Atlantis fit the Richat structure and explained it. This helped the Egyptians understand their own past too.
Solon and then more so Plato then gave the story a Greek twist. They added Greek names and Greek iconography, ideas, and so on. Furthermore Plato added moral qualities to Atlantis in order to make his morality comparison against Athens work. In the story, the fabled Atlantis has to compare badly with his perfect state, Athens, but also it handily helps explain the known catastrophe of 9,600 BC.
Conclusion: Is the Richat structure Atlantis?
My personal feeling, and it is no more than a feeling, is that the Richat gave rise to the story of Atlantis. Much of its details have been changed and I can’t rule out the above theory that the two were merged together to explain each other, but given that the Richat matches the location and many of the features of Plato’s Atlantis, I concluded that when Plato was talking of this fabled city state he was thinking of the Richat.