Mythos 70 – Atlanteans of Africa

 

Few documents in human history have caused as much speculation as Plato’s reference to Atlantis, yet the word Atlantis was not used by the Greeks in relation to the land Plato had referenced, instead the term Island-of-Atlas (Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος) was used. Plato’s description of the location of Island-of-Atlas was fairly clear:

For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent.- Plato (1)Plato (circa 375 BC) Timaeus, 24e–25a

Greek States and Colonies Circa 550 BC

Greek States and Colonies Circa 550 BC

This places the Island-of-Atlas in the region of the Straights of Gibraltar, and described as being larger than Cyrenaica (Libya) and Turkey (Asia) combined. At the time of Plato, Libya was a Greek colony in modern Cyrenaica, Eastern Libya, and Greek colonies existed along the coasts of Turkey which the Greeks called Asia. Both Cyrenaica and Turkey were considered larger landmasses than Greece, and therefore symbolic references to a large island. Plato claimed the story had been handed down to him through several generations from Solon, who had heard it from a priest at the Temple of Neith in Sais, Egypt. It is a historical fact that Solon visited Egypt around 2,600 years ago (circa 590 BC), and so it is likely that he considered Egypt to be a part of Asia as Greeks generally did at the time.(2)Arnold J. Toynbee (1954) A Study of History, Volume 8, Pages 711-712 Africa, then called Libya, did not firmly become a continent in the Greek world-view until the time of Herodotus around 2,400 years ago, who still included Egypt with Asia, and placed the division between Asia and Libya in between Egypt and Cyrenaica.(3)Herodotus, as translated by George Rawlinson (2000) The Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Book 2, Page 18 It is therefore likely that Solon saw the inhabitable regions of the North African coast, such as Cyrenaica, as islands as they were not part of either Europe or Asia. This would indicate a high probability that the Island-of-Atlas was the Atlas Mountain Range of Northwest Africa.

Berber-languages

Whether the Island-of-Atlas was the Atlas Mountains or not, the ancient Greeks did call the people of the Atlas Mountains Atlanteans, along with several other names including Libyans, which was a generic term for light skinned Africans; dark skinned Africans were called Aethiopians, and were known to live to the south of the Libyans. These ancient Libyans were the ancestors of the Imazighen people, more commonly known in European languages under the term Berber, which is derived from the Latin barbarus, meaning barbarian. The ancient Imazighen lived across the Sahara from Siwa in Egypt to the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and off the coast of Africa in the Canary Islands of the North Atlantic. The Imazighen are one of the oldest surviving civilizations on the planet, whose civilization clearly peaked long before the Greek civilization. By the time of the Roman Empire the Imazighen had descended to a state of barbarism, yet their ancestors left artworks across the mountains of the Sahara dating back at least 12,000 years.(4)Hsain Ilahiane (2006) Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen), Page 112

Cave Painting Chariot Pulled By Two Horses, Wadi Tashwinat Valley, Southern Libya

Cave Painting Chariot Pulled By Two Horses, Wadi Tashwinat Valley, Southern Libya

These ancient artworks depict a very different landscape than the people of the Sahara face today; they show a fertile land with giraffes, elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and crocodiles, as well as clothed humans riding cattle. These carvings and paintings have been discovered at more than 3,000 sites across the Sahara, including the Gilf Kebir area in Egypt, the Tibesti Mountains and Ennedi Plateau in Chad, Masak Settafet and the Acacus Mountains in Libya, Tassili n’Ajjer, Oran Province, the Djelfa region, and the Hoggar Mountains in Algeria, as well as in Figuig region and along the Draa River in Morocco, and in the Aïr Mountains of Niger. Over 15,000 ancient Imazighen rock engravings have been identified in the Tassili n’Ajjer region of southeast Algeria alone. These rock paintings and carvings depict a fairly advanced society, with use of chariots, boats, and various historic weapons, such as swords, spears, and bows and arrows. It isn’t clear how much of the rock art is pre-historic, and how much would have been painted during the historic era. In the historic era various Imazighen nations did go to war against Egypt, the Greek colonies in North Africa, and Rome. Unfortunately the OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dating of the paint used only indicates that the rock-paintings of the Tassili n’Ajjer were made no earlier than 10,000 years ago,(5)Norbert Mercier, et al (2012) “OSL dating of quaternary deposits associated with the parietal art of the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau (Central Sahara),” Quaternary Geochronology, Volume 10, Pages 367–373 and the carvings cannot be accurately dated at this time.

Ancient Carving in Tifinagh, From Dougga in Tunisia

Ancient Carving in Tifinagh, From Dougga in Tunisia

The ancient Imazighen also had a written script, which is today called Tifinagh, but has also been labeled Libyco-Berber by scholars. The oldest accepted Tifinagh documents are two bilingual inscriptions, found at Dugga, Tunisia, that date back to around 2,600 years ago.(6)George L. Campbell and Christopher Moseley (2012) The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets, Page 58 The source of the Tifinagh script is debated, with some scholars claiming it is descended from Phoenician, while others claiming it was an indigenous invention. While it is conceivable that the Imazighen could have developed the script after coming into contact with the Phoenicians circa 3,000 years ago, it is equally plausible that they could be developed the script after making contact with the Egyptians sometime before 5,000 years ago, or they could have been using it since before the peak of their civilization 12,000 years ago.

References   [ + ]

1. Plato (circa 375 BC) Timaeus, 24e–25a
2. Arnold J. Toynbee (1954) A Study of History, Volume 8, Pages 711-712
3. Herodotus, as translated by George Rawlinson (2000) The Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Book 2, Page 18
4. Hsain Ilahiane (2006) Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen), Page 112
5. Norbert Mercier, et al (2012) “OSL dating of quaternary deposits associated with the parietal art of the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau (Central Sahara),” Quaternary Geochronology, Volume 10, Pages 367–373
6. George L. Campbell and Christopher Moseley (2012) The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets, Page 58