Lost continent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 12:00am

Greek philosopher Plato described Atlantis as a vast island-continent west of the Mediterranean, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.

The Greek word Atlantis means the island of Atlas, while the Atlantic means the ocean of Atlas. But can the waters of the Atlantic really be hiding the remains of this lost civilisation? According to the myth, visited many times in film and television, Atlantis was governed in peace, was rich in commerce and was advanced in knowledge, still unsurpassed to this day in its spiritual and creative genius.

But according to Plato's story, the people of Atlantis became complacent and their leaders arrogant. The gods destroyed Atlantis as punishment, flooding it and submerging the island in one day and night.

After Plato, Atlantis was forgotten until Ignatius Donnelly revived the myth in 1882, seeing it as the logical explanation for common traits in civilisations around the world, such as the pyramid building of ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilisations.

Theories have since abounded as to where Atlantis was. Antarctica, Indonesia, the North Atlantic, the United States and the Arctic are just a few of the locations identified by archaeologists and dreamers.

Some, such as Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots Of The Gods, famously claimed the lost civilisation came from outer space.

The island of Santorini in the Adriatic, destroyed by a volcanic eruption that could in turn have brought the Minoan culture of ancient Crete to an end, provides the most plausible archaeological explanation to the myth. Orthodox archaeology has long dismissed Donnelly's theory of a common root to civilisation, claiming that far-flung ancient civilisations evolved independently.

Supernatural Science (Pearl, 10.45pm) revisits the debate and tries once more to pinpoint the lost paradise. It visits locations in Turkey and the Mediterranean that historians and archaeologists have suggested to be the original site. It then explores what it bills as a new theory - that Atlantis was a city in South America.

Certain sites in South America apparently fit Plato's description, though supporters of other locations use similar evidence to bolster their case. The programme also examines the theories of the trading links between Atlantis and the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, which provided the source of the myth.

Archaeologist and adventurer Graham Hancock's theories on ancient civilisations and their global communications have already made intriguing television in the Lost Civilisations series. This documentary will fuel the interest further, even though it is unlikely to have the final word on the subject.

The destruction of a more recent land and culture is the topic of A New World: Healing The Wounds, Regreening The Land (Discovery, 10am). This revisits the terrible destruction of Vietnam during its long war with the United States, which destroyed huge tracts of rain forest.

It introduces viewers to one man, Dr Vo Quy, who is now at the forefront of efforts to 're-green' Vietnam, holding informal meetings in villagers to spread the message of environmental awareness and show them how to restore their land.