Spend a little time with Dr. Richard Freund of the , and you might be convinced that the lost city of Atlantis is buried deep within a swamp in southern Spain.
Freund, who directs the university's Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, worked with a team of Spanish, American and Canadian scientists to examine a muddy swamp in Spain that was first noted as a possible location for Atlantis by a German scientist looking at satellite photos in 2003.
Freund's 2009 expedition and his team's findings are outlined in the new National Geographic Channel film called "Finding Atlantis," which has its premiere on March 13 at 9 p.m. In advance of the premiere, the Greenberg Center will host a screening of the film at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 9, at the university's Wilde Auditorium, and the public is invited.
Google Earth as a tool of archeology
So how did Freund, who is known for his excavations into historic sites in the Middle East as outlined in his book "Digging Through the Bible," get involved in trying to find the famed lost city?
It began in 2003 with the report from the German scientist, who saw what looked like a circular structure with a straight line attached to it in a satellite photo that included the Parque National Coto de Donana, a vast swampy area south of Seville.
"Google Earth is one of the great archaeological tools today," Freund said of the satellite image. The circular impression spotted on the photo "doesn't happen naturally," he said.
Over the next few years, others conjectured that the structures visible on the satellite images were similar to the island of three concentric circles with only one entrance in and out described by Plato in his accounts of Atlantis, written in about 360 B.C. Plato also placed Atlantis near the "Pillars of Hercules," known today at the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
Through the swamp is now more than 100 miles from the Mediterranean, Freund postulated that the area once could have been situated on an open bay that was silted in by a tsunami or another natural disaster.
"I've become an expert in places that have become silted in," Freund said.
Scientists were challenged, though, in doing any excavation inside the swampy national park. The ground was covered in water and mud for 11 months of the year, and even in August and September, the water table was very high, Freund said.
'An MRI for the ground'
Since 1995, Freund has been using a technology more commonly used in oil and gas exploration to examine sites before excavation.
"We map the subsurface," he said. "It's like an MRI for the ground."
Freund and his team brought their equipment to the site during the area's driest months, August and September, in 2009.
"By shooting electricity into the ground, we're able to distinguish between different types of material," he said."This type of technology can map the entire subsurface instead of digging. ... It's a form of non-invasive archaeology."
What the team found in its subsurface mapping was a pattern at regular intervals — also something that doesn't occur naturally. It made sense to Freund, based on Plato's account, that the whole city could have been buried by a cataclysmic event and covered over in mud.
The National Geographic film also examines other sites around the world that claim to be the remnants of Atlantis, including one in Greece. But Freund believes that Atlantis would have to be near the Strait of Gibraltar because of Plato's meticulous description.
"This quacks like a duck and looks like a duck," he said, adding that National Geographic told him "you've got the best evidence."
In addition to the advanced scientific mapping and carbon dating on cores of material that confirmed human activity at the site about 4400 years ago, colleagues on Freund's team found two figurines on the first and second days of their trip that are "Astartes," or images of a widely known Phoenician goddess.
"What if Atlantis was located in Spain and the origin of civilization didn't happen in the Middle East but happened in Spain?" Freund said he asked himself. "I think that the Atlanteans are the parents of the Phoenicians."
Following the stones
Freund also theorized that if Atlantis was destroyed rapidly, any survivors would have paid tribute by building smaller scale versions of it, as other several other early civilizations had done with their holy sites.
He took a trip with a Spanish scientist to view ancient sites surrounded by several concentric moats and eventually traveled to a museum that contained many examples of "standing stones" with a symbol that looks similar to Plato's drawings of Atlantis.
"There are more than 100 of them, and they come from all different places in the area," Freund said.
The similarity of the stones convinced Freund that the surviving Atlanteans had built tributes to their destroyed city throughout Spain.
"In crime, you follow the money," he said. "In archaeology, you follow the stones."
So what's next for Freund? A trip this summer to a "very large artificial mound on the coast of Israel" that could be the oldest Phoenician port ever found.
Freund also has a new book coming out called "Digging Through History: From Atlantis to the Holocaust."