The Lost City of Atlantis it is not. In fact, what snorkelers discovered and divers later explored further is not even the Lost City of Zakynthos. A few years ago, snorkelers reveling in a bay off the Greek island of Zakynthos were genuinely convinced that they had found the ruins of a Greek civilization in relatively shallow waters which would have been quite the find had that, indeed, been what they found.
Paved floors, collonades, courtyards and nothing else in this lost city
Originally, many people’s imaginations allowed them to think that they had found a lost civilization that was forced to flee based on rising sea levels but the lack of pottery, jetsam, or other items you might associate with life (coins, tools, etc) in said city was absent. It was absent as the columns and other perceived stonework were not created by humans at all but rather a formation created by the breakdown of methane gas by microbes, and all architectural credit should be given to these ancient little creatures.
And these microbes did their part in the creation of this seemingly human civilization before human civilization began. In fact, it appears to date to the Pliocene era, which could date it to five million years ago.
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Joint research by the University of East Anglia (UK) and the University of Athens (Greece) explaining the natural phenomenon was published this week in the journal Marine and Petroleum Geology.
The aforementioned bay was specifically the Alikanas Bay where tens of thousands tourists don snorkeling equipment each year and swim it its warm waters. Following the find, the snorkelers reported to the Greek government, which despite its troubled economy, sent a team from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of Greece to investigate. This group Archaeologist Magda Athanasoula and diver Petros Tsampourakis as well as Professor Michael Stamatakis from the Department of Geology and Geoenvironment at the University of Athens.
Following the original inspection of the site by the team and their chemical and mineralogical analysis were finished, the two universities behind this week’s publication got involved.
Julian Andrews, a geochemist at UEA was the lead author of the recent study and explained the “deep seep” of methane that caused the formation of the “city.”
“We investigated the site, which is between two and five meters under water, and found that it is actually a natural geologically occurring phenomenon.
“The disk and doughnut morphology, which looked a bit like circular column bases, is typical of mineralization at hydrocarbon seeps — seen both in modern seafloor and palaeo settings.
“We found that the linear distribution of these doughnut shaped concretions is likely the result of a sub-surface fault which has not fully ruptured the surface of the sea bed. The fault allowed gases, particularly methane, to escape from depth. Microbes in the sediment use the carbon in methane as fuel. Microbe-driven oxidation of the methane then changes the chemistry of the sediment forming a kind of natural cement, known to geologists as concretion.
“In this case the cement was an unusual mineral called dolomite which rarely forms in seawater, but can be quite common in microbe-rich sediments,” Andrews wrote explaining the phenomenon.
“These concretions were then exhumed by erosion to be exposed on the seabed today.”
“This kind of phenomenon is quite rare in shallow waters. Most similar discoveries tend to be many hundreds and often thousands of meters deep underwater, the researchers added.
As Andrews and his colleagues point out in the study and their paper, “‘All that glistens is not gold’ or in this case ‘columns and pavements in the sea, not always antiquities will be.’”
Regardless, while a number of scientists were looking forward to studying the site for what happened to its inhabitants it’s equally cool that nature can do this on its own.