Note: This article was first published on Mysterious Universe (MU)

A new theory doing the rounds on the internet in recent times is that, the geological feature in the Sahara desert known as the “Eye of the Sahara” is the legendary kingdom of Atlantis. 

My initial reaction was one of skepticism, since Plato had described Atlantis as a large island, as big as Libya and Asia Minor combined, located beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. However, I decided to take a closer look at what the proponents of this idea are claiming to check if that conforms to the descriptions of Atlantis found in the Critias [1] and the Timaeus [2].

The Eye of the Sahara, also known as the “Richat Structure”, is a prominent circular feature in the Sahara desert of Mauritania. It is about 45 km in diameter and forms a conspicuous bull’s-eye in the otherwise featureless expanse of the desert. Since the feature is so large, one cannot really make out the whole structure from the ground. The overall contours were seen only after NASA started sending people to space, and was used as a landmark by shuttle crews. The Gemini-mission astronauts were the first to photograph the formation in the 1960s. Later, Landsat satellite images provided precise information about the size, height, and extent of the structure. 

Figure 1: The Eye of the Sahara in Mauritania, Western Africa. Source: Google Maps
Richat Structure, photographed from the International Space Station
Figure 2: Richat Structure, photographed from the International Space Station, NASA Earth Observatory, Public Domain

The Richat Structure of Mauritania, NASA
Figure 3: The Richat Structure of Mauritania. Credit: NASA, Public Domain

When the feature was first studied in the 1930s and 40s, it was thought to have been an impact crater, and was known as the Richat Crater. However, subsequent studies revealed that the structure lacks any impact proxies, and, therefore, must have formed due to terrestrial processes. 

The dominant theory is that it is a highly eroded geological dome. An underlying alkaline igneous intrusion of the Cretaceous age uplifted the overlying sedimentary rocks in the form of a dome. Subsequently, the differential erosion of alternating hard and soft rock layers of this geological dome, created the circular distribution of ridges and valleys. Today, the Eye of the Sahara is somewhat sunken below the level of the surrounding landscapes.

Extensive field mapping and aeromagnetic data has revealed that the sedimentary and igneous rocks have formed two concentric ring dykes around the central dome. A recent journal paper (2021) provides precise data of their dimensions.[3] 

  • The central dome is spread over a surface area of about 4 It forms a rough topography with vertical structures as high as 40 m. 
  • The inner ring dyke, located 3 km from the center, has an estimated thickness of about 30 m. 
  • The outer gabbroic ring dyke is located 8 km from the center of the structure with a thickness of about 70 meters.

The Eye of the Sahara, as viewed from Sentinel 2 satellite, ESA
Figure 4: The Eye of the Sahara, as viewed from Sentinel 2 satellite. Credit: ESA, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The central zone of the Richat Structure
Figure 5: The central zone of the Richat Structure displays a large unit of collapse breccia with hydrothermal internal sediments of Cretaceous age. Credit: Michel Jebrak, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

With that overview, let’s investigate why it has been proposed as a likely location of Atlantis. To the best of my knowledge, the hypothesis was first advanced by Martin K. Ettington in his book The Real Atlantis: In the Eye of the Sahara (2018), although I can’t be sure if someone else had made the connection earlier. Videos posted on the "Bright Insight" YouTube channel in 2018 and 2023, provides additional arguments. Let us see if the evidence stacks up in favor of this hypothesis.

Artist representation of Atlantis
Figure 6: Artist representation of Atlantis, as described by Plato. Credit: Rocio Espin Pinar

At first sight, the Richat Structure does bear an uncanny structural similarity to Atlantis since it has two concentric bands of ring dykes separated by eroded valleys. As per Plato’s description of Atlantis in the Critias, the central island of Atlantis - on which was located the hill where Poseidon and his mortal wife Cleito lived – was enclosed by two zones of land and three zones of water. The text states,

“Poseidon breaking the  ground, enclosed the hill in which she (Cleito) dwelt all round, making  alternate zones of sea and land, larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were two of land and three of water, which he turned as  with a lathe, each having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre.”
Let us look at the dimensions of the central island and the land and sea zones of Atlantis. As per the Critias, “The (central) island in which the palace was situated had a diameter of five stadia.” The measure of a Greek stade (plural: stadia) is generally taken as 180 meters. Thus, the diameter of the central island was 900 meters. This gives an estimated area of 0.63, which is 6-times less than the area of the central dome of the Richat structure (4 

Nevertheless, the areas are comparable in magnitude. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that the central dome of the Richat Structure covers such a large area. You do need a lot of space for the royal palace, temples, statues of gold, fountains, groves, baths, gardens, buildings, guard houses and docks that had been built on the central island of Atlantis, where the kings and their family lived. 

A comparison of Atlantis and the Richat Structure
Figure 7: A comparison of Atlantis and the Richat Structure.

As per the Critias, the outermost zones of land and sea of Atlantis were three stadia (540 meters) in width, the inner zones of land and sea were two stadia (360 meters) in width, while the zone of sea which surrounded the central island was one stadium (180 meters) in width. Here is the relevant section from the text:

“Now the largest of the zones into which a passage was cut from the sea was three stadia in breadth, and the zone of land which came next of equal breadth; but the next two zones, the one of water, the other of land, were two stadia, and the one which surrounded the central island was a stadium only in width.”
The dimensions of the zones of land and sea in Atlantis do not match with that of the Richat Structure. The inner ring dyke has an estimated width of only 30 meters as opposed to 360 meters in Atlantis, while the outer dyke has a width of 70 meters as opposed to 540 meters for Atlantis. The width of the ring dykes seem too small to support a city with all its amenities. 

However, on careful reading of the Critias, I found that these two zones of land had gardens, places for exercise for men and horses, a race course etc. It seems to me that these two zones were used primarily by the army for protecting the central island, with the zones of water acting as “moats”. People who provided support services to the royal palace may have also lived here. It was not a place meant for common people. If that were the case, the narrow widths of the ring dykes would have sufficed. 

The width of the zones of water surrounding the central island of Atlantis doesn’t correlate with the Richat Structure either. The first zone of water was said to be one stadium (180 meters) wide, whereas in the Richat structure, the inner dyke is 3 km from the center, which means the width of the eroded valley is approx. 2 km (since the radius of the central dome is approx. 1 km). The second zone of water was two stadia (360 meters) wide, while the outer dyke in the Richat structure is 8 km from the center, which means the width of the eroded valley is nearly 5 km. The third zone of water was three stadia (540 meters) wide, while the width of the third eroded valley works out to nearly 14.5 km (assuming the Richat Structure is 45 km wide).

The overall diameter of the concentric zones of Atlantis was 27 stades i.e. 4.8 km, while the diameter of the Richat Structure is around 45 km. So, the Richat Structure is nearly 10 times larger. Even though the dimensions do not match, it interesting that, the width of the zones of land and water are in increasing proportion in case of Atlantis as well as the Richat Structure.  

Artist’s representation of Atlantis
Figure 8: Artist’s representation of Atlantis, depicting the canal from the sea to the outermost zone. Credit: Rocio Espin Pinar

It is extremely unlikely that the eroded valleys between the ring dykes were filled with sea-water during the Ice Age when Atlantis flourished. As per the Critias, the concentric bands of land and sea was in the southern part of the island, around 50 stade i.e. 9 km from the surrounding ocean. The Atlanteans had built a canal from the sea to the outermost zone of water. This is what the text states:

“And beginning from the sea they bored a canal of three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty stadia in length, which they carried through to the outermost zone, making a passage from the sea up to this, which became a harbour, and leaving an opening sufficient to enable the largest vessels to find ingress.”
However the Eye of the Sahara is located nearly 500 km from the Atlantic coast, and there is no sign of any canal linking it to the ocean. Even if we assume that the canal may have existed in the past and got covered over during the YD period or by subsequent erosion, it is impossible for water to have flowed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Richat Structure, which is located 400 meters above sea level! During the Ice Age, sea levels were a further 120 meters lower. How on earth would sea water flow up such a gradient? 

Plato also mentioned that the Atlanteans had built bridges from the central island to the rest of the city. They also cut channels through the zones of land, so that ships could reach the central island. Every passage to the city was guarded by gates and towers, and a wall surrounded each of the city's rings. The walls were constructed of red, white and black rock, and were covered with brass, tin and orichalcum. Moreover, the entire city was encircled by an outer wall which was at a distance of 50 stades i.e. 9 km from the outermost zone. The Critias states,

“Leaving the palace and passing out across the three harbours, 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.”
The ordinary people lived outside the concentric zones, but within the outer wall. This means there was a significant urban sprawl outside the concentric zones. The overall diameter of the city of Atlantis, therefore works out to (50 + 13.5)*2 = 127 stades or 22.86 km, which is roughly half the width of the Richat Structure (45 km).

Figure 9: Atlantis probably had a significant urban sprawl outside the concentric zones. Credit: Rocio Espin Pinar

Clearly, the dimensions don’t match up. But what about the archaeological remains of Atlantis? 

If a large civilization like Atlantis had flourished in the Eye of the Sahara, and destroyed by a global catastrophe sometime during the Younger Dryas period, then it would have left some material traces – pottery fragments, carved stone blocks, tools and utensils made of gold, silver, brass, tin, orichalcum, wood, ivory etc. which the Atlanteans were said to have used in profusion. But archaeologists have found nothing of that sort. 

Instead, what they found was an exceptional accumulation of Acheulean artifacts.[4] Acheulean is an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture characterized by oval and pear-shaped hand axes associated with Homo Erectus. They were produced during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Europe. It is thought that Acheulean technologies first developed about 1.76 million years ago, and lasted until as late as 130,000 years ago.[5] In addition to Acheulean artifacts,

“Sparse and widely scattered Neolithic spear points and other artifacts have also been found. However, since these sites were first discovered by Theodore Monod in 1974, mapping of artifacts within the area of the Richat Structure have found them to be generally absent in its innermost depressions. So far, neither recognizable midden deposits (i.e. old dump for domestic waste) nor manmade structures have been recognized and reported from the Richat Structure. This is interpreted as indicating that the area of the Richat Structure was used for only short-term hunting and stone tool manufacturing.”[6]
Thus, the archaeological evidence for an Atlantis-like civilization is completely absent in the Richat Structure, and the area seems to have been inhabited by Homo Erectus in a very remote past and later by Neolithic hunter-gatherers.

Stones and salt flats inside the Richat Structure
Figure 10: Stones and salt flats inside the Richat Structure. Credit: LBM1948, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The island of Atlantis was much larger than the city, which, as we have discussed was around 127 stades in diameter and surrounded by an outer wall. Beyond the city wall, Atlantis had large fertile plains that extended for hundreds of kilometers. As per the Critias,

“The whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction three thousand stadia (540 km), but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia (360 km).”
So, we are basically talking of an enormous, oblong-shaped island, surrounded by high mountains, which measured 540 km by 360 km. The city of Atlantis, with its concentric zones of land and water in the center, was located at the southern end of the island, 9 km from the sea. 

The Richat Structure, however, is not an island, but is located inland, nearly 500 km from Atlantic coast. An interesting correlation here is that, one of the diameters of Atlantis was around 540 km, which is quite close to the distance between the Richat Structure and the Atlantic coast i.e. 500 km. The region beyond the Richat Structure would have been green and fertile during the African Humid phase (9500 BCE – 3500 BCE), supporting farmlands, forests, rivers, lakes and abundant wildlife of every kind. In that respect it conforms to the fertile outer plains of Atlantis.

Plato states that a large circular ditch encircled the plain around the city. No sign of such a circular ditch exists around the Richat Structure in the present day.

“It (the circular ditch) was excavated to the depth of a hundred, feet, and its breadth was a stadium (180 m) everywhere; it was carried round the whole of the plain, and was ten thousand stadia in length (1800 km). It received the streams which came down from the mountains, and winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into the sea. Further inland, likewise, straight canals of a hundred feet in width were cut from it through the plain, and again let off into the ditch leading to the sea.”  
Finally, let us talk about the location of Atlantis specified by Plato. Plato was very clear that Atlantis was located beyond the Pillars of Hercules, which is now known as the Straits of Gibraltar. In fact, the extremity of the island was close to the Strait, for Plato wrote that, the twin brother of Atlas ruled over “the extremity of the island towards the Pillars of Heracles, facing the country which is now called the region of Gades.” To reach the Richat Structure, on the other hand, one need not cross the Strait of Gibraltar by boat, but travel overland though Africa. 

One of the interesting points that Martin Ettington had raised in support of his argument is that, ancient Greek maps, based on “The Histories” (c.450 BCE), written by Herodotus, shows a place called Atlantes in north-west Africa, near Mount Atlas. He claims that this is an indication that the Greeks knew that Atlantis was in Africa and was not an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

A world map based on “The Histories” of Herodotus
Figure 11: A world map based on “The Histories” of Herodotus. Atlantes is a group of people living near Mount Atlas. Source:

However, according to Herodotus, “Atlantes” is not a place, but a group of people who live near Mount Atlas and derive their name from this mountain. This is what he wrote:

“Another ten days' journey from the Garamantes there is again a salt hill and water, where men live called Atarantes. These are the only men whom we know who have no names; for the whole people are called Atarantes, but no man has a name of his own. When the sun is high, they curse and very foully revile him, because his burning heat afflicts their people and their land. After another ten days' journey there is again a hill of salt, and water, and men living there. Near to this salt is a mountain called Atlas, whose shape is slender and conical; and it is said to be so high that its heights cannot be seen, for clouds are always on them winter and summer. The people of the country call it the “pillar of heaven”. These men get their name, which is Atlantes, from this mountain. It is said that they eat no living creature, and see no dreams in their sleep…I know and can tell the names of all the peoples that live on the ridge as far as the Atlantes, but no farther than that. But I know this, that the ridge reaches as far as the Pillars of Heracles and beyond them.”[7]
As per the text, the “Atlantes” people are not related to the island-kingdom of Atlantis described by Plato, but derive their name from Mount Atlas, which borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. 

Incidentally, Mount Atlas, which is regarded by the natives as the “pillar of heaven” derives its name from Atlas, the Titan of Greek mythology, who was condemned to hold up the heavens for eternity after the Titanomachy. Atlas also became the first king of the ancient region of "Mauretania" (which corresponds to modern-day Morocco and west Algeria, where Mount Atlas is located. The modern-day country of Mauritania is to the south, where the Richat Structure is located). Plato had mentioned that the first king of Atlantis was Atlas, but this Atlas was a different person, being the son of Poseidon the god of the sea and Cleito, a mortal woman. 

One could argue, of course, that the legends may have become confused over time, and the Titan Atlas of Greek mythology and Atlas, the son of Poseidon, were the same person. We certainly cannot rule out that possibility. One could further argue that the modern-day country of Mauritania may have been a part of ancient "Mauretania", which is not impossible either, otherwise why would the people of Mauritania name their country after this ancient kingdom. There must be a collective memory amongst the people of having once being an integral part of the ancient Mauretania. If we go down that line of thinking, then it is also possible that, in some remote antiquity, the people of Mauritania were known as "Atlantes", since they used to be ruled by King Atlas, and their capital city, which was founded inside the Richat Structure, could have been given the name Atlantis, which formed the basis of the legend handed down to Plato.  

On the whole, there are some interesting correlations between the Richat Structure and Atlantis, as well as many disparities. Let me sum up the correlations first. The central dome of the Richat Structure occupies a large area of 4 sq. km, which is 6-times larger than central island of Atlantis, but still within the range of comparison. The Richat Structure has two concentric ring dykes, and three eroded valleys, corresponding to the two zones of land and three zones of sea in Atlantis. The width of the zones of land and sea in Atlantis are in increasing proportion as are the widths of the ring dykes and eroded valleys in the Richat Structure. During the Ice Age, the Richat Structure would have been surrounded by the fertile, green plains of the Sahara with abundant natural resources, just as Atlantis was said to be enclosed by fertile plains. There is a possibility that the ancient region of Mauritania was ruled over by Atlas, the son of Poseidon, as a result of which the people of that region were called Atlantes, and the city built inside the Richat Structure came to be known as Atlantis.

However, there are many points which do not match up. The diameter of the concentric zones of Atlantis was 4.8 km, which is 10-times less than the diameter of the Richat Structure i.e. 45 km. The width of the zones of land in Atlantis are much larger than the width of the ring dykes in the Richat Structure (30m and 70m wide). There is no way that the eroded valleys between the ring dykes could have been filled with sea water during the Ice Age, since it is 400 m above current sea level, and would have been nearly 520 m above sea level during the Ice Age. There is no sign of any canal linking the Richat Structure with the Atlantic coast, which is nearly 500 km away. No archaeological remains of a high civilization or a permanent habitation at the site have yet been found, other than tools associated with Homo Erectus and Neolithic hunter-gatherers. No evidence has been found of a circular ditch in the outer plains. Finally, Plato had described Atlantis as a massive island located beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, measuring 540 km by 360 km, and surrounded by steep mountains that descend to the sea. The Richat Structure, on the other hand, is an inland geological feature, roughly 45 km in diameter, which can be reached from within the Straits by traveling overland.

So, what do we conclude from this? I think, going by the large number of disparities, it would be quite a stretch to claim that the Eye of the Sahara is the Atlantis described by Plato. On the other hand, we know that legends undergo a lot of modifications and exaggerations over time. The story of Atlantis had been transmitted by means of oral tradition for more than 9000 years after Atlantis was destroyed, before it was written down by Plato. We can’t assume, therefore, that everything Plato wrote about Atlantis was correct. The original Atlantis may not have looked exactly the same as Plato described it. We also know that the people of the ancient times were not big on geography. The ancient Greek maps of the world were quite childish when compared to modern globes. Hence, the descriptions of the geography of Atlantis by Plato could have been way off the mark. So, we need to loosen up a bit, and start asking some questions.

What if the original Atlantis was not really an island, but an inland geological feature like the Richat Structure, which gave the impression of being an island because it was surrounded by multiple zones of water? Over time, this could have led to the idea that the entire kingdom of Atlantis, 540 km by 360 km in dimension, was an island.

Could it not be that there were rivers and waterways which connected the Richat Structure with the Atlantic coast during the Ice Age, and the kings and merchants of Atlantis used to sail up the Atlantic coast and enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar, which gave rise to the notion of a large island-kingdom located beyond the Straits of Gibraltar?

What if the eroded valleys between the ring dykes were not filled with sea water but with freshwater that was brought in through canals from the many rivers and streams that crisscrossed the Sahara during the Ice Age? Plato mentions that the Atlanteans built many canals which connected their rivers with these zones of water. After the African Humid phase ended, these rivers and canals may have dried up and disappeared. The remnants of one possible canal can be seen towards the southern end of the Richat Structure. 

Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, was built on an island in the middle of a freshwater lake called Lake Texcoco. Then, why not Atlantis? In fact, it would make a lot more sense for a city to be built in the middle of a freshwater lake, for that would give you easy access to water for drinking and other household purposes.

Richat Structure, Mauritania
Figure 12: Richat Structure, Mauritania. Water could have flowed into the structure through the opening on the left. Credit: NASA/JPL/NIMA, Public Domain

We can see from the images that the ring dykes in the Richat Structure are not continuous but have breaks in some places. Perhaps, this is how the water from the outer zones flowed into the inner zones, and not through a single channel as Plato had described? It would make sense to have multiple points of entry and exit into such a large island-city, in order to reduce travel time, effort and traffic logjams in the water zones.

It is now scientifically established that fragments of a large comet struck the Earth at the Younger Dryas boundary and set off a global chain of cataclysms – wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, acid rain etc. - that destroyed the civilizations of that period. What if the cataclysms of the Younger Dryas struck the Richat Structure with such ferocity that it was virtually scrubbed clean of all the artifacts produced by the Atlanteans? Perhaps, that is why archaeologists have found Acheulean artifacts associated with Homo erectus (c.1.7 Mya – 130 K BP), followed by Neolithic stone tools (from c. 8000 BCE), and nothing for the period in-between, which is the time when Atlantis is said to have flourished? Maybe, all the evidence of an Atlantean civilization have been washed away to sea?

So, where do we stand? If we are looking for a precise match between the Atlantis described by Plato and the Eye of the Sahara, then we are not going to find it, for there are plenty of dissimilarities. However, if we go by the spirit of the story of Atlantis, and not get bogged down by too many details, knowing fully well that the legend must have undergone distortions and embellishments in course of oral transmissions over nearly 9000 years, then there is a glimmer of hope that the Eye of the Sahara could, indeed, be the location of Atlantis. 

It may well have been the “real” Atlantis, which served as an inspiration for the legend. The latitude of the Richat Structure (21.7° N) is very close to the Tropic of Cancer, which means it would have enjoyed moderate climate even during the peak of the Ice Age. That, combined with a green, fertile Sahara, filled with various kinds of flora and fauna (including elephants, which, as per Plato, were present in Atlantis) would have provided all the natural resources needed for a large civilization to thrive. Perhaps, future discoveries will shed more light on whether this line of thinking has any merit or not.


[1] Plato, Critias (360 BCE), tr. by Benjamin Jowett,
[2] Plato, Timaeus (360 BCE), tr. by Benjamin Jowett,
[3] El Houssein Abdeina, Sara Bazin, Gilles Chazot, Hervé Bertrand, Bernard Le Gall, Nasrrddine Youbi, Mohamed Salem Sabar, Mohamed Khalil Bensalah, Moulay Ahmed Boumehdi, "Geophysical modelling of the deep structure of the Richat magmatic intrusion (northern Mauritania): insights into its kinematics of emplacement", Arabian Journal of Geosciences (2021) 14:2315,
[4] “Richat Structure”, Wikipedia,
[5] "Acheulean", Wikipedia,
[6] “Richat Structure”, Wikipedia,
[7] Herodotus, The Histories, 4.184.1-4, 4.185.1,

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Bibhu Dev Misra

Independent researcher and writer on ancient mysteries, cultural connections, cosmic wisdom, religion and science. Graduate of IIT and IIM with two decades of work experience in different fields

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  1. Highly doubt it. It's a geological feature.

  2. Eye of Sargon. The earth is a corpse.