Via the Huffington Post, which is sort of a magnet for really outlandish and unsubstantiated claims, we find this rather dubious announcement that the lost city of Atlantis has been found:
Undersea archaeologists have found the ruins of an ancient city on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, and researchers claim that it is the fabled and lost city of Atlantis. The satellite photos do show something that could be a city, and the researchers believe that what they’ve found would predate the pyramids of Egypt. Indeed they claim to be able to make out a pyramid and other city-like structures from the satellite photos.
The archaeologists have so far refused to divulge their identities or the location in the Caribbean. They say they are raising money for an expedition to confirm their findings.
This immediately earned me a face palm. The text as written has all the hallmarks of sloppy, even cranky, research: immediate and unjustified speculation that the structures predate the pyramids, refusal to divulge the identities of the “researchers”, coupled with an immediate plea for funds for further exploration. Couple that with the fact that the speculation is based on satellite photos, and the reality that any sort of remote sensing and mapping can introduce unexpected artifacts (such as the Google Atlantis fiasco, here and here).
I also cringed every time that Dylan Ratigan, the MSNBC host in the Huffpost video, referred to the lost city of Atlantis — the story of Atlantis was introduced by Plato in his dialogues (as I’ve blogged about before), and according to Plato it was “an island larger than Libya and Asia combined,” in other words a continent. Even though he knows nothing about the history of Atlantis, at least Ratigan seemed to show a good amount of skepticism at the claims.
Looking at the original Herald de Paris article, though, we find that the Huffpost article is really, really distorting some of the researchers’ words:
Asked if this city is the legendary city of Atlantis, the researchers immediately said no. “The romanticized ideal of Atlantis probably never existed, nor will anyone ever strap on a SCUBA tank, jump in the water, and find a city gateway that says, ‘Welcome to Atlantis.’ However, we do believe that this city may have been one of many cities of an advanced, seafaring, trade-based civilization, which may have been visited by their Eurocentric counterparts.”
How’s that for journalism? Herald de Paris: “Asked if this city is… Atlantis, the researchers immediately said no. ” Huffpost: “researchers claim that it is the fabled and lost city of Atlantis.”
Could they have actually found something? Color me really, really doubtful at the moment. The researchers have released their unenhanced images, which is to their credit, but what I see looks like a bunch of lines that may very well be an artifact of the imaging process (the Atari 2600 effect: everything looks square), or some sort of natural formation (see the Bimini Road in this post, another candidate for the site of Atlantis). It is way, way, way premature to be spotting pyramids and other buildings. Dim satellite images can act as a Rorschach test: people can see in them whatever they want to see.
I’m always open to the possibility of something surprising being discovered, but I suspect we won’t hear much more from these researchers, whether or not they do get their funds to explore.
Mystery solved. I work with satellite imagery and these patterns appear where the image is very low contrast (I could show you an example from the waters around Manhattan). The “unenhanced images” are already stretched from the raw data (which looks black)The patterns are produced by noise in the sensor, exacerbated by compression/expansion and contrast stretching during post-processing. I actually spend quite a lot of time trying to get rid of them…
Thanks for the comment! I was quite sure that there would be a very simple, non-Atlantean, explanation for the grid patterns. The real question now is why the news organizations couldn’t be bothered to get the opinion of any professional who works with such images regularly.
No, the real real question is how Atlantis could have been lurking just outside Manhattan all these years without anybody noticing! (-: