Since the Ancient World, there has been speculation of “underwater cities”: remnants of ancient civilizations that had fallen into the ocean through some sort of natural disasters. Plato once speculated about the lost city of Atlantis, and ever since then, every time underwater ruins are found in the Mediterranean, there’s been speculation about whether or not it could be the next Atlantis. Back in 2013, snorkelers discovered what appeared to be ancient stonework off the coast of the Greek island Zakynthos. Looking at the oddly structured stones, archaeologists suspected they had run across the ruins of an ancient city. Yet it turns out the columns, bagel-shaped rings and paving stone-like rocks aren’t part of the lost city of Atlantis, but rather something else entirely.
According to research by geochemists from the University of East Anglia, the so-called Lost City of Zakynthos wasn’t actually built by some ancient Hellenistic civilization, but rather microbes. According to the researchers, what appears to be ruins are actually the fossilized remains of sediments laid down by methane-eating microbes millions of years ago. They were created by microbes living in vents below the seafloor, where methane-rich fluids seeped toward the surface around 3 million to 4 million years ago. As they feasted on the methane, the microbes’ excretions produced carbonate minerals that formed large, hollow structures. Over time, erosion exposed these structures on the seafloor. While it isn’t the sort of archaeological treasure trove one would hope for, it’s a finding that can help scientists learn about the geologic past of the Aegean region.
Apart from a geological explanation, this could offer an insight into how the myth of Atlantis originated. It was first described by Plato; despite its relative insignificance in Plato’s work, the idea of an ancient civilization consumed by the ocean has lived on, with people speculating on whether or not it was based off of reality. Theories have been all over the place: perhaps it was in the Mediterranean, maybe an ancient American civilization, even Antarctica! Yet the underwater “ruins” here, developed by ancient microbes over millions of years that look like the ruins of some ancient civilization, could have been what spawned the myth in the first place.