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  • Writer's pictureMike Parker

Ancient canals and farms found in the Eye of the Sahara build the case that this is Atlantis.

There was a lot of excitement amongst ancient history enthusiasts online, when the Richat structure, otherwise known as the Eye of the Sahara in Mauritania, was suggested as a possible location for Atlantis. To test the theory, it is necessary to find a good level of agreement between features observable at the site and the descriptions given in Plato's Timaeus and Critias dialogues.

In this article I present satellite imagery showing a probable canal system and ancient farms in the hills surrounding the Richat structure, which match the descriptions given in Plato's dialogues.

Overlaying the field boundaries and buildings of the farms is a mesh of interconnecting trackways. By searching for this mesh structure across the rest of the site, I have been able to identify a vast number of settlements around the Richat structure, providing evidence of vast levels of occupation in this area at some point in the ancient past. The settlements are found in the surrounding hills, and also on the slopes and lowlands surrounding the great trench of the Richat structure, matching the location of the city suburbs described in Plato's dialogues.

To those familiar with the subject, it will become apparent that the findings presented in this article, combined with the body of evidence already presented by others, makes it probable that this really is the lost city of Atlantis.

Canals and farms on the plateau surrounding the city

The Critias dialogue gives a description of a canal system which was used to bring timber and crops down from the plateau to the city. There were regularly spaced canals with traverse passages connecting them.

"And on the inland side of the city channels were cut in straight lines, of about 100 feet in width, across the plain, and these discharged themselves into the trench on the seaward side, the distance between each being 100 stades. It was in this way that they conveyed to the city the timber from the mountains and transported also on boats the seasons' products, by cutting transverse passages from one channel to the next and also to the city. And they cropped the land twice a year, making use of the rains from Heaven in the winter, and the waters that issue from the earth in summer, by conducting the streams from the trenches." Plato - Critias dialogue, Lamb translation [118d-e]

So we are looking for a system of more or less regularly spaced canals, running down hill side, with the occasional traverse passage linking them up, and evidence of farming nearby. We should not pay too much attention to exact measurements and units describing the spacing of the canals, as we know Solon translated the story for a Greek audience. It would be unwise to assume the Atlantean's measured out their canals to such exact whole numbers and using a system of units invented by the Greeks many thousands of years later.

Traces of a Canal system

The picture below shows part of the northwest section of the plateau, with the circular ditch of the Richat structure just visible in the southeast corner. Study this picture carefully. Look for the straight white lines running north-south at fairly regular intervals of about a mile looking at the scale in the top left corner. In the top two thirds of the picture the channels are bright and white as sand has blown into the depressions. In the bottom third of the picture they are considerably harder to see, where they are a muddy brown colour and only barely visible in the bottom left corner. You may have glanced over this a hundred times before now, but once you see them, you can never un-see them.

Source: Apple Maps.

The channels link up with smaller straight channels, which go off in other directions across the plain. In the view below there are several such channels, finer than those oriented north-south, which come from the northeast. Now you know where they are, if you explore the satellite imagery yourself at various levels of magnification, you will find dozens of them.

Source: Apple Maps.

There are also traverse passages linking the channels together, several of which can be seen in the view below. One of them is particularly prominent on the right hand side, and which appears to curve around a hill.

Source: Apple Maps.

That they have become filled with silt and sand, suggests they are depressions, and their straightness and regularity makes them unlikely to be natural features. If the Richat was once the city of Atlantis, this could be the canal system described in the Critias dialogue.

Farming on the Richat Plateau

Amidst this probable canal system, a few years ago I found a vast ancient farming settlement at 21.276N 11.650W. You can clearly see the traces of walls, buildings and even ponds across the landscape.

Source: Apple Maps.

Below is a particularly interesting farm, which I've nicknamed "the herb garden". You can see several prominent buildings in this picture.

Source: Apple Maps.

This farming settlement is absolutely vast. To illustrate this I have highlighted a handful of the irregularly shaped field boundaries in green using Google Earth.

Source: Google Earth.

The entire area is vast, and is enclosed by a massive outer boundary, which I have traced in yellow. Visit the site yourself on Google Earth and have a look around, to get a true impression of the vastness of it.

Source: Google Earth.

Looking closely at the outer boundary, it seems to be a fence. This is most apparent at 21.270N 11.659W where there is a break in the boundary and the fence seems to be leaning over slightly making the posts more visible. Further south there is an unfinished section of fence with posts only. Somebody has gone to a lot of effort to enclose this site.

Source: Apple Maps.

Using Google My Maps, I was able to trace a rough outline for the outer boundary and calculate the area of the farming settlement at 4.14 square kilometres, or 1023 Acres. Assuming an arable land requirement of 1 acre per person, this area could support around a thousand people, relatively few of whom lived inside the boundary as there aren't that many buildings scattered across these fields.

Source: Google My Maps.

When you look at the settlement in relation to the entire plateau, you get an impression of just how many people the area could have supported when the Sahara was green.

Source: Google My Maps.

How old is the farming settlement?

We can make a few deductions based on its location relative to the location of modern farms. The farm is situated at high altitude roughly 600 m or 1970 ft above sea level, on a very flat part of the plateau.


This is the exact opposite of where the locals sittuate their farms today. The locals of Oudane, a town at the mouth of the Richat structure, locate their farms in a fossil river bed, where they benefit from geographical concentration of moisture as it migrates downwards from the plateau under the influence of gravity, just as the river would have thousands of years before.

Source: Apple Maps.

If we view some of these farms at the same scale, we see that Oudane field boundaries are more regular and rectangular in shape. This is how field boundaries look when they are made by a young civilisation, where arable land is precious, and there is a need to divide what land there is equally amongst families. This is totally different to the irregular shaped and irregular sized fields in the ancient farming settlement. They were clearly not built by the same people.

Source: Apple Maps.

I can find a much better match for the irregular shapes and sizes of the field boundaries if I look at the fields near me in the United Kingdom, although our fields are obviously somewhat larger due to being farmed using agricultural machinery.

Source: Apple Maps.

The irregular shapes of fields in the UK came about as the original fields were divided up and sold over many generations. Some of the fields in the UK have been there since Roman times or earlier, although the majority are probably medieval (Williamson). So it is reasonable to deduce similarly that the ancient farming settlement in Mauritania must have been in use for a thousand years or more, before they were abandoned.

The farming settlement was likely abandoned due to climate change as the Sahara dried up at the end of the African Humid Period. An article by Palchan & Torfstein in Nature, examined sediment cores off the west coast of Africa to determine the duration of the African Humid Period at different latitudes. At a latitude of 21°N, where the Richat structure is located, the African Humid Period began about 12 thousand years ago and ended about 2 thousand years ago. On this basis we might expect the ancient farming settlement to be about 3 thousand years old. It could well be much older, it might be younger, but one thing is certain, you can't grow crops where there is no moisture.

Source: Palchan & Torfstein, Nature.

This is not the only ancient farming settlement on the plateau, although it is by far the best example I have found. They are generally only visible on the highest parts of the plateau. If you know the story of the destruction of Atlantis, you can probably guess why, but more on that another time.

A mesh of trackways

To see anything, you need contrast. We are able to see the stone walls of the farm boundaries and buildings in the farming settlement because the walls are dark in colour, contrasted with the light background of the white sand. What we can't see in this location is the mesh of trackways criss-crossing the landscape, because these trackways are made of sand so there is no contrast. To demonstrate this I need to show you a section of the plateau where both the field boundaries and trackways are visible such as at 21.283N 11.650W.

Source: Apple Maps.

How old are the trackways?

They are unlikely to be modern as there is a vast network of them and the nearest town is some distance away, making footfall in this area very low. Whilst it is conceivable people from the village might occasionally go on a hike "around" parts of the plateau, they would not criss-cross it according to an ordered mesh of trackways... they would amble around wherever they liked.

It is more likely that the trackways were made at the time the area was inhabited and their was regular footfall. They interact with the ancient settlement, for instance you can also see in this picture how the tracks go around buildings, and up to the edge of ponds. They are able to survive thousands of years because of the arid climate since the Sahara dried up at the end of the African Humid Period.

We can conclude from this that the trackways are probably evidence of ancient settlement and use this "trackway structure" as a model to identify other settlements across the site.

In the picture below the location of the farming settlement is show with the marker. Now what if I told you that the same trackway structure is visible pretty much everywhere on the plateau where you see a concentrated patch of small sandy white dots? I will pick out a few examples to show you what to look for.

Source: Apple Maps.

Here is the first example at 21.279N 11.665W, a mile or so west of the farming settlement. This is an area with a lot of sand build up around the buildings, giving enough contrast to show buildings where they are not completely buried in sand. Buildings on the green earth are far less visible.

Source: Apple Maps.

Here is another example at 21.269N 11.681W, another mile or so south-west, at the point the river bends northwards, and on the east of one of the canals.

Source: Apple Maps.

Trackways like this are visible over much of the western half of the plateau. They are not visible on the eastern half, but there are very good reasons for this, as I have eluded to previously. There isn't enough contrast to see field boundaries in most cases, if there even are field boundaries in these areas. Is this Countryside living? Or is this more farmland, and possibly open farmland? Either way this suggests a huge population with tens of thousands of people. For context, the town of Oudane has a population of about three thousand.

So, where are the houses?

Well, where should we expect to find them if we are guided by Plato's dialogues? The city suburbs were on the low lands and slopes surrounding the great trench encircling the inner city rings and harbours.

"Leaving the palace and passing out across the three you came to a wall which began at the sea and went all round: this was everywhere distant fifty stadia from the largest zone or harbour, and enclosed the whole, the ends meeting at the mouth of the channel which led to the sea. The entire area was densely crowded with habitations; and the canal and the largest of the harbours were full of vessels and merchants coming from all parts, who, from their numbers, kept up a multitudinous sound of human voices, and din and clatter of all sorts night and day." Plato - Critias dialogue, Jowett translation [117e].

Now I've trained you what to look for, I can show you some of the settlements on the slopes. First though, we need to be able to recognise the shoreline. Everywhere the earth is stained blue-green from copper ore was once covered in water. Look at the small rivers in the centre of the picture, they flow down the hillside in narrow channels, and fan out once they enter the water. This is the old shoreline, and the darker land above it are the slopes and lowlands.

Source: Apple Maps.

The first settlement I will show you is at 21.280N 11.345W, which is located at roughly 1 o'clock with respect to the centre island. The tracks follow the river tributaries. Buildings aren't very visible, as most are buried in sand. Notice the smaller piles of sand adjacent to the tracks, where derelict buildings have filled up with sand.

Source: Apple Maps.

Here is another example at 21.266N 11.391W, a bit further west at 12 o'clock. There are lots of tracks leading up the hill. Again you can see small piles of sand where ruined buildings have been filled in with sand. There are a few small dark rectangular features in places, which could be buildings, but past experience says it is difficult to distinguish such things from artefacts of the image resolution and compression.

Source: Apple Maps.

In this example at 21.269N 11.334W, at about 1 o'clock, in addition to the usual trackways, you can see a few small buildings.

Source: Apple Maps.

This is another example at 21.242N 11.518W or about 11 o'clock. Again notice how the small piles of sand are just off the trackways, where buildings would be.

Source: Apple Maps.

The trackways are visible on the slopes and lowlands on the western and northern sides of the centre rings.


In this article we looked at three examples of agreement between the Richat and Plato's dialogues. The first was the presence of a canal system in the surrounding hills. The second was the presence of extensive farming in the hills. The third was the presence of settlements in the hills and lowlands surrounding the great trench encircling the inner rings.

The site shows evidence of vast levels occupation at some time in the distant past, likely tens of thousands of people or even more based on the settlements that are identifiable using the techniques described in this article, only some of which I have shown here.

Is this Atlantis? A body of evidence is emerging that says it probably is.

Future articles will examine further instances of agreement between features at the site, descriptions of the location and so on, to demonstrate that Plato's dialogues give a detailed description that matches this site perfectly.




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