Helike, a possible Atlantis, found in 2001
October 6, 2012 9:18 PM   Subscribe

On a winter night in 373 or 372 BC, a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami destroyed and submerged Helike (or Helice), the principal Greek city on the southwest shore of the Gulf of Corinth. Also destroyed was the temple of the Heliconian Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the sea. The destruction of city was foretold by several events, including the appearance of some "immense columns of flame" (Google books), which have since been classified as a type of earthquake lights. The submerged ruins of the city disappeared slowly, as centuries later tourists could still see the walls beneath the water. Silt finally covered the ruins, turning the ocean into land again. The city, once a founding member of the Achaean League, was lost and remembered only in writings. A coin from Helike was discovered in 1861, but it wasn't until 2001 that not one but two ancient cities were discovered, including an entire Early Bronze Age town, dating from about 2400 BC.

Helike is one of the many hypothetical locations of Atlantis, with the theory indicating that Plato fabricated the story of Atlantis based on the real disappearance of Helike.

It was only natural that Helike would be the center of a Poseidon cult, for this region is one of the most active earthquake zones in Europe. In 1861, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake caused eight miles of coastline dropped about six feet. Then in 1995, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck the region (Google preview, original PDF), at that time it was the worst earthquake in Greece since 1980.

The story of Helike didn't disappear as the city itself had. "It's something that goes with the area. It goes for generations, from father to daughter," said archaeologist Dr. Dora Katsonopoulou, who grew up some 5 miles from the site, and heard stories of local history from her father. Searching for the city since the 1980s, first looking to the current-day lagoon, as Jacques Costeau and other notables had done in decades past, then drilling boreholes in 1991, when she and her team finally found remnants from a past civilization. In 1995, the team uncovered a large Roman building. In 2000, they uncovered a 20 foot wide Roman road and part of a large 4th century AD Roman, with evidence of the building being an earthquake ruin. In 2001, further digs discovered prehistoric ruins, indicating a development pre-dating the Helike that Katsonopoulou's team had hoped to find.

The future of the excavations are in question, with increased development along the coastal regions of Greece, and the Greek National Railway is planning to straightening an existing rail line that would cut through the heart the ruins, earning the Helike site a place on the World Monuments Fund list of top endangered sites, in both 2004 (PDF) and 2006 (Wikipedia).

This interactive map of Ancient Peloponnese will locate Helike, if you search for the city by name.

The ancient city has inspired modern poetry and opera (Helike Athanatos I, III, IV, and V). There was also a BBC program in 2002 about the rediscovery of Helik (Helike: The Real Atlantis, part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
posted by filthy light thief (28 comments total) 150 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent post!
posted by christopherious at 9:32 PM on October 6, 2012


awesome! Thanks especially for the video link - stuff like this can't just be read about
posted by rebent at 10:17 PM on October 6, 2012


This is a great post! I remember listening to a 'Stuff You Should Know' podcast episode about the various theories/possible locations of Atlantis and Helike was mentioned. Really fascinating stuff. Thanks!
posted by destructive cactus at 10:27 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fabulous post! This is similar to and as exciting as the occasional special treats I remember from my awesome classics professor--all this search and discovery happened since I left school, so it is welcome news to me. The BBC video is lovely. In view of the great influx of foreign and sometimes high-handed searchers in times past (Schliemann's destruction of Troy and Lord Elgin's appropriation of treasures from the Parthenon come to mind), it is especially gratifying that Dr. Katsonopoulou not only is Greek but also grew up tne the area.
posted by Anitanola at 11:09 PM on October 6, 2012


Fantastic post, great topic.
posted by immlass at 11:22 PM on October 6, 2012


I love Greek history, wonderful post!
posted by quazichimp at 11:41 PM on October 6, 2012


Plato fabricated the story of Atlantis

Of course. Atlantis was an elaborate allegory on the evils of maritime empire. Atlantis is not Helike, it is Athens.
posted by stbalbach at 11:48 PM on October 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


This earthquake not only destroyed Helike, the tidal wave destroyed Sparta's fleet of triremes ending forever Sparta's naval power and making Athens the undisputed ruler of the sea. Thus this event held great importance among Athenians. The Atlantis as allegory of maritime empire gone too far, swallowed by the sea, held a great deal of power in the imagination. The very thing had already happened to their enemy and the fear of it happening to them too of course was easy to imagine.
posted by stbalbach at 11:56 PM on October 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


Holy cow. Thanks!
posted by trip and a half at 12:02 AM on October 7, 2012


I am particularly guilty of this story, my family name is Helice and i feel in some way involved in your fantastic story..
posted by solange23 at 12:24 AM on October 7, 2012


Is it "best post" month again? Nice!
posted by DreamerFi at 12:24 AM on October 7, 2012


a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami destroyed... the temple of the Heliconian Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the sea.

And yet, notably lacking from the Greek pantheon; the god of Irony.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:08 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If only the Greeks had a word for Irony!
posted by thelonius at 1:43 AM on October 7, 2012 [17 favorites]


It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a Helike
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:22 AM on October 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


The description of the earthquake, tsunami, lights and immense columns of flame remind me of a book I read long ago connecting the Exodus story with the eruption at Santorini. This included the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. Google doesn't show me anything earlier than Jacobovici's The Exodus Decoded, but I'm sure I read this at least 20 years ago...seemed like Velikovsky stuff.
posted by MtDewd at 5:19 AM on October 7, 2012


Great, thanks very much! Love this stuff. That's my Sunday morning sorted out.
posted by carter at 5:38 AM on October 7, 2012


Great post. It's really interesting how much is going on in this story. Not just the dig and the city of Helike itself.

Katsonopoulou grew up only five miles from the site, and it's essentially been her life mission. Her partner, Soter, worked with Carl Sagan at Cornell. Jacques Cousteau and Harold Edgerton were involved in the search.

Then there's the earthquake stories about the insects and animals fleeing, possibly from released subterranean gas before the quake. (Note that Helike isn't terribly far from Delphi). There's the Atlantis story. There's the discovery of a city below Helike from 2000 years earlier.

You could get lost in a story like this for years, connecting all the dots.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:40 AM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


the god of Irony
posted by The Whelk at 6:47 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw this at io9 during the week, and I was so shocked I'd not heard it before (I assume I was bedazzled by all the 'sunken cities' crackpot science stories I may attention to.
It is so awesome.
posted by Mezentian at 7:12 AM on October 7, 2012


2006 is a while ago - what's the status on the railroad project? I'm thinking that Greece is currently in no position to be laying down railroad tracks - but I could be wrong.

(A brief search got me nowhere, but I did find a transcript of the bbc thing.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2012


CheeseDigestsAll, I know. I was reading, and started getting lost on tangents. I stopped before I got too far away from Helike, and then I didn't even delve too far into the prior attempts to find the city, with searches in the sea bottom.


IndigoJones, I'm not sure, I wasn't able to find any solid news. Both Helike historic sites in English (Helike.org and HelikeProject.gr) are a bit dated, with news updates stopping at 2009. The Hellenic Railways Organisation (Wiki) has an English version of their website, with limited information, and the latest financial information is from 2009.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2012


I don't know about the railroad, but they must still be working the site. They published a call for volunteers for this summer.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:48 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In 2000, they uncovered a 20 foot wide Roman road and part of a large 4th century AD Roman, with evidence of the building being an earthquake ruin

Is this missing a word? Right now, it sounds like they found a road and a person, and the person was a building?
posted by limeonaire at 10:03 AM on October 7, 2012


Yes, the missing word is "compound," as in "part of a large 4th century AD Roman compound."
posted by filthy light thief at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is extremely fething relevant to my interests.
posted by xcasex at 11:01 AM on October 7, 2012


(Thanks, FLT and CDA)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:23 PM on October 7, 2012


The Whelk posted a link to a Wikipedia article:

"Momus or Momos (μῶμος) was in Greek mythology the personification of satire, mockery, censure; a god of writers and poets; a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism."

Isn't this just the god that MetaFilter needs?
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:25 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter doesn't need Momus
posted by The Whelk at 7:41 PM on October 7, 2012


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