southeastern black sea, present day
Jack, you’re not going to believe what I’ve just found. It’s gold. Solid gold.”
Jack Howard twisted around and stared at the orange glow of the headlamp from the other diver below him, the form almost completely obscured by the swirling black cloud of sediment that filled the tunnel. He dumped air from his buoyancy compensator and dropped down, flexing his knees to prevent his fins from scraping the jagged lava wall, then angled sideways to avoid becoming entangled in the cable that snaked up to the submersible on the seafloor above them. He injected a blast of air into his suit to reacquire neutral buoyancy, catching a glimpse of Costas’s face through his visor as he finned sideways to let Jack take his place. Costas was staring intently at the tunnel wall in front of him, aiming his headlamp at one spot. Jack followed his gaze, edging forward, keeping his breathing shallow to maintain his depth in the water, staring into the swirl of sediment. Slowly the particles settled, and he began to make out the wall beyond. He could see the twisted black lava from the eruption five years ago, its friable surface broken and exposed by the boring drill that had dug through the solidified flow the day before to create the tunnel. But then he saw something different, embedded in the lava, a smooth rock surface cracked and mottled by the searing heat of the eruption. He peered at the polished surface, his heart suddenly pounding with excitement. There was no doubt about it. He was looking at a pillar, on some kind of plinth. A pillar carved by human hands.
“Yes.” He punched his fist in the water, then turned to Costas, speaking into his intercom. “I’d begun to wonder whether this place really existed at all, or if it was just a figment of our imagination.” He turned back to the pillar, seeing where the plinth had been carved out of the natural tufa. He had a flashback to the moment he and Costas had first seen archaeological remains at this site five years ago from the Aquapod submersibles, watching in awe as the veils of silt dropped and the walls and roofs of the ancient city appeared, the most exhilarating moment to date in his career as an underwater archaeologist. Revisiting scenes of past triumph was sometimes a strange experience, recalling emotions and high drama long gone, but this time it was different, like entering a completely new world. The volcanic eruption that had engulfed the site and forced them to leave five years ago had created a totally unfamiliar environment, a seascape as barren and devoid of life as the surface of the moon. He turned to Costas. “This is the first proof we’ve had it was all real. You’re right. It’s archaeological gold.”
Costas tapped his shoulder, and aimed his headlamp midway up the wall above the plinth. “Jack, I meant real gold. Have another look.”
Jack followed Costas’s beam and took a deep breath, holding it for a moment to rise a foot and a half in the water. The beam lit up a final swirl of volcanic particles that obscured the pillar, and Jack put out his hand and wafted them away. He let his hand drop, and then gasped in amazement. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he whispered.
“See what I mean?”
Jack stared, wondering whether his imagination was playing tricks on him. The object in front of him was remarkably similar to one they had found five years ago, the object that had first led them to this place. He saw the reflected shimmer of gold on the inside of his visor, and he closed his eyes for a moment, half expecting it to be a phantasm, to be gone when he opened them. But it was still there, a golden disk about a hand’s breadth across embedded in the pillar, the sheen of gold almost blinding him in the reflected glare of the headlamp. He reached out and carefully pressed the fingers of his glove against it, feeling the solidity. It was real. He felt the adrenaline course through him, and turned and grinned at Costas. “Now I really believe it.”
“That’s the Atlantis symbol, isn’t it?”
Atlantis. It was the first time either of them had uttered the word since leaving Seaquest II in the submersible two hours before, as if to say it aloud would risk the site closing up on them again. Jack searched with his eyes, seeing nothing but the golden reflection. “Where are you looking?”
Costas turned his head to move his beam away. “Use your headlamp, angled down, low beam. You should get more shadow.”
Jack reached up to his helmet and activated the twin halogen lamps on either side, then ramped them down. Suddenly a symbol appeared on the disk, its lines deeply impressed into the gold. He stared in astonishment, his mind racing back to the extraordinary events of five years ago, to the excavation of a Bronze Age wreck in the Aegean Sea at the start of their quest. They had found a golden disk impressed with this symbol, alongside other symbols Jack had recognized from an ancient pottery disk found a century before at the Minoan site of Phaistos in Crete. The Phaistos symbols had baffled archaeologists for generations, but the disk from the wreck contained parallel symbols in the Minoan Linear script, an early form of Greek, which allowed the Phaistos symbols to be translated.
What they had revealed was astounding, the greatest revelation from an ancient text in the history of archaeology. One word had stood out, a word that had bedeviled archaeologists since time immemorial, a word spelled out in the syllabic script of the Minoans and represented by the symbol in front of Jack now: Atlantis. That had been remarkable enough, but then his colleague Maurice Hiebermeyer had made another discovery deep in the Egyptian desert, a fragment of papyrus showing that the story of Atlantis told by the Greek philosopher Plato had not been a myth but was based on hard reality, on an account given to a Greek traveler by an Egyptian priest who had inherited secret knowledge stretching back thousands of years before the first pharaohs. Together the papyrus and the disk contained clues that had brought Jack and his team to the southeastern corner of the Black Sea, searching a shoreline submerged when the Mediterranean had cascaded over a land bridge at the present-day Bosporus and filled the Black Sea basin, the last and most catastrophic event in the sea-level rise caused by the great melt at the end of the Ice Age twelve thousand years ago. For Jack, it had been the perfect archaeological quest, a marriage of textual clues, hard science, and intuition, and it had brought together all the skills of his team. They had revealed nothing short of the most dramatic archaeological site ever discovered, surrounding the twin peaks of a partly submerged volcano. It had been a spectacular vision of human ingenuity and achievement at the beginning of the Neolithic period, when people had built monuments that equaled those of the Egyptians and the Sumerians and the Mesoamericans thousands of years later.
Jack traced his glove over the symbol on the disk, up the central axis to where two symmetrical patterns extended outward like garden rakes, each terminating in a series of parallel lines. The text on the Phaistos disk had instructed them to follow the shape of the eagle with outstretched wings, and they had realized that the symbol was also a map, a plan of the submerged tunnels and chambers they had discovered under the peak of the volcano. Five years ago they had passed through extraordinary wonders: a huge chamber full of ancient cave paintings of the Ice Age, then a tunnel with carvings showing latter-day priests of Atlantis with conical hats, and then the holy of holies, the place where the tunnel ahead of them now might be leading. Yet that chamber with its huge statue of a mother goddess had been freshly carved shortly before the flood, and Jack was convinced that somewhere inside the tunnels and chambers lay other secrets, something that would link the holy of holies and the priests with those ancestral images from the Ice Age: perhaps an inner sanctum that would reveal how the belief system of the Ice Age hunter-gatherers had transformed into a religion of priests and gods and worship. The most likely location, the complex of tunnels ahead of them now, was a place they had only just begun to explore five years ago when the North Anatolian Fault had shuddered and the volcano surged to life again, forcing them away from the site seemingly forever.
Jack pressed his hand against the surface of the disk, wishing he could remove his glove and feel it against his skin. He had found gold before: gleaming coins of the Roman emperors, dazzling cups and jewelry on the Bronze Age wreck, gold fit for a king. But this disk was extraordinarily old, at least as old as the flooding of Atlantis more than seven thousand years ago. That was three thousand years before the earliest site elsewhere to produce worked gold, at Varna in Bulgaria. The gold in the disk could have come here with the first hunter-gatherers who had sought shelter in the caves on the slopes of the volcano during the Ice Age, who had painted the rock with images of mammoths and fearsome lions and leopards: a band of humans of precocious intellect and vision who had traveled south from the retreating glaciers with their most precious belongings. Their talent with metals was clear, their ability to collect and work copper and then to make an alloy to produce bronze, thousands of years before bronze technology reemerged and became widespread in the ancient world. They could have brought the gold with them from the nearest rich source, the gold-bearing streams of the Caucasus Mountains to the east, laying woolly mammoth skins in the water and collecting the precious flecks just as the Greek myths had Jason and the Argonauts do with the Golden Fleece. And they could have smelted and fashioned the gold into a disk bearing their sacred symbol, perhaps at the time they were transforming their world—moving beyond the natural caves in the volcano by cutting their own passageways and chambers in the rock, then fashioning mud, brick, lime, and volcanic ash into the walls of houses, creating the world’s first civilization.
To Jack, the golden disk represented everything that was fascinating about this place: the symbol of a people on the cusp of the greatest revolution in human history, a symbol that allowed them to look forward to a new world and yet also back to the time of their ancestors. He wanted to feel what they had felt, to see the world as they had seen it, to look far back in prehistory to the time before the memory of the deep past had become clouded by the foundation myths that followed the first cities and the first dynasties; and he wanted to look forward to where these people were going, to understand what motivated them as they poured all their energy into creating this place and then fleeing the oncoming flood. If he could see those things, then he would have found the greatest treasure of this place. He wanted to discover their past. Above all, he wanted to find out about their beliefs, how these people saw their existence at the dawn of modern religion. He wanted to find the gods of Atlantis.
Costas tapped Jack’s helmet. “You happy?”
Jack drew his eyes away from the symbol and looked at Costas, his form now visible as the sediment cleared. Beneath a tattered boilersuit filled with tools, Costas was completely encased in white, like an astronaut. His helmet bore the anchor logo of the International Maritime University, partly obscured by a laser range-finding device that he had spirited away from the engineering department, one of numerous gadgets that always festooned him when he went diving. Underneath the white outer layer they were both wearing e-suits, Kevlar-reinforced dry suits with integrated buoyancy systems, back-mounted oxygen rebreathers, and dive computers with readouts visible inside their helmets. But the famed environmental resilience of the e-suit did not extend to diving in near-boiling water inside an active volcano, so they were entirely encased in thermal protection developed at IMU from the latest NASA and Russian spacesuit technology. Jack had to remind himself that they were not inside some lunar simulator, but under the Black Sea off Turkey, more than a hundred feet below a solidified lava flow and heading for a place that made outer space seem distinctly congenial.
Excerpted from Atlantis God by David Gibbins. Copyright © 2012 by David Gibbins. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.