Dating of Atlantis based on lake levels on the Altiplano

paleolake flooding on Altiplano
the Altiplano has been successively submerged by inland seas

The site of Atlantis at Pampa Aullagas on the Bolivian Altiplano with its outer ring of land and inner rings of water is presently a considerable number of feet above the surrounding land level and also the lake level of nearby Lake Poopo.

This may be partly due to the surrounding plain having dropped in elevation, and also to the nearby Lake Poopo having dropped in water level. In order for the circular rings of water to function as harbours with access to the lake, the lake must have been considerably higher and a higher level would also be necessary to feed the perimeter canal and irrigation system which was said to have run around the adjacent level rectangular plain.

outer ring pampa aullagas
view of the outer ring at Pampa Aullagas, the upper part is covered in volcanic boulders originally created by flowing lava while the bare sand on the slopes beneath the boulders suggests the plain has dropped in elevation away from the original volcanic mountain.

view of the outer ring at Pampa Aullagas, how it may have looked before the surrounding plain dropped in elevation.

The Salar de Uyuni located on the Bolivian Altiplano at an elevation of 3653m (11,985ft) above sea level, is the world’s largest salt flat. The salar and its companion, the Salar de Coipasa were formerly occupied by a series of large lakes. The youngest was a shallow paleolake “Coipasa”, radiocarbon-dated between 11400BC and 9500BC. (10,500 to 9,900 BC according to Blard, 2012). The youngest deep paleolake “Tauca” existed 16000BC to 11790BC. (16,000 to 12,500 BC according to Blard 2012). Older paleolake “Minchin” dated from 30,000 to 23,700BC in different phases.

    An analysis of core samples taken from the centre of the Salar de Uyuni shows that there are several layers of salt and layers of lacustrine mud, showing that the plain was successively covered by lakes alternating with dry spells.

    These lakes were fed by water flowing south via the Desaguadero River from Lake Titicaca in the north and in these periods the precipitation was much greater than today. Atlantis is presumed to have existed in one of the “wet” periods when its canals were fed by the overflowing waters of Lake Titicaca.

    The two most probable dates for the end of Atlantis according to Plato are (a) 9,600BC which is Plato's date "9,000 years before Solon" or (b) 1200BC if we substitute “months” for “years”.

    Going back in time, we can say with certainty that Atlantis could not have existed in the period of the earliest paleolakes such as lake Ballivan 3860m (12,664ft) because that would not only submerge the level plain, but also the circular rings of land and most of the Atlantis mountain itself!

    From 30,000 – 23,700BC the Altiplano was covered by Lake Minchin which also appears in some reports to have been a deep lake, though other reports have identified distinct, shallower phases.

    During the next wet spell from 23,000 – 13,000BC and particularly from 16,000 – 13,000BC or later, the Altiplano was covered by the paleolake Tauca.

    From 11,000 – 9,500BC Lake Titicaca overflowed again and during this period the central Altiplano was covered by a shallow paleolake “Coipasa”, (10,500 to 9,900BC according to Blard 2012).

At first glance it appears unlikely that Atlantis would have existed at the time of these paleolakes since if the southern part of the Altiplano had the same elevation it has today, the waters of lake Tauca would have been sufficiently deep to have drowned the various canals. But that does not take into account the fact that the southern part of the Altiplano may have sunk in elevation so estimates of the depths of the paleolakes based on modern mapping may not reflect the actual depths based on the land elevations at the time of the lakes, also the outer canals surrounding the mountain may have dropped in elevation when the surrounding alluvial plain also dropped in elevation due to the earthquakes.

Studies suggest that Lake Tauca had two noticeable levels, (a) 3760m (12,335ft) around 11,790BC and (b) 3720m (12,204ft) the latter phase perhaps corresponding to that which elsewhere has been described as lake Coipasa.

Plato mentioned that the rings of the land levels were raised a sufficient height above the level of the sea, so on the one hand, too high a lake level would drown the rings of land and too low a level would not allow the circular channels to function as harbours.

contour map pampa aullagas      contour map pampa aullagas
contour map of site at Pampa Aullagas with 20 metre intervals (left) and in feet (right)

contour map pampa aullagas paleolake tauca highstand      contour map pampa aullagas paleolake tauca
left, a highstand of 12,401 feet for paleolake Tauca would probably submerge all the outer and middle rings at Pampa Aullagas
right, at 12,335 feet, paleolake Tauca would extend to the middle channel on the western side, but submerging the outer rings of land at their present-day elevations, suggesting that they may also have at one time been at a higher level before sinking by earthquakes.

contour map pampa aullagas paleolake coipasa      contour map pampa aullagas island
left, the level of paleolake Coipasa at 12,204 feet would penetrate to the outer ring of the volcano according to the contour map.
right, the highest lake level today would be insufficient to penetrate to the outer channel.

Although the contour map does not show the circular channels which actually exist on site, it is clear that the level of Lake Tauca at 3760m (12,335ft) or Lake Coipasa at 12,204ft would have been appropriate to enter the volcano filling the circular channels (depending on configuration of the volcano at the time) and creating rings of water and rings of land and that the date is roughly in the timescale described by Plato, that is, once the paleolakes dried up leaving residual water in the channels and surrounded by the level plain thus fulfilling Plato's description of how the "god of the sea carved the rings out of the centre of the island, making it impassible to man since ships and sailing had not yet been invented!"

lake levels pampa aullagas
graphic showing how level of lake Tauca was correct to enter volcano
creating rings of land and sea assuming all rings to have originally been at the same level.

lake levels pampa aullagas paleolake coipasa
Alternative scenario showing how the waters of paleolake Coipasa may
have been the right level to enter the outer rings of the volcano according to today's elevations.

air photo pampa aullagas
air photo of site at Pampa Aullagas with remaining rings of land outlined

air photo pampa aullagas
view inside one of the channels on the east side at Pampa Aullagas

Plato reported that a canal was dug through the surrounding plain to bring boats from the lake to the volcano which suggests that the surrounding altiplano originally had a higher elevation, (making lakes Tauca and Coipasa correspondingly shallower) and today, on site it does appear as if the plain has dropped, leaving the volcano now high in the air. Strand lines around the edge of the Altiplano mark the former levels of the great paleolakes but because they are said to slant from north to south, also confirm that the southern Altiplano has dropped in elevation. If it were possible to establish the date at which the Altiplano sank, that would reveal to us the date of the end of "Atlantis".

The following sequence suggests how the volcano at Pampa Aullagas may have reached the form it has today, contributions from geologists would be welcomed!

profile cerro santos villka 1
sequence 1, volcanic cone emerges through Altiplano

profile cerro santos villka 2
sequence 2 lava flows from volcano onto surrounding alluvial soils

profile cerro santos villka 3
sequence 3, earlier and deeper paleolakes may have left carbonate deposits but there is no evidence of these higher up the volcano probably as the entire outer skin of the volcano has fallen away due to earthquakes. White, carbonate deposits exist on the outer ring of the volcano and on the rings of land on the eastern side. Paleolake Tauca may have half-filled the concentric rings if they existed then, or depending on the height of paleolake Tauca, if 12,401 feet it may have submerged the lava plateau, leaving white deposits on the stones.

profile cerro santos villka 4
sequence 4, when paleolake Tauca dries up, at some time an earthquake causes circular rings to open up, possibly caused by collapse of lava tubes, - the insides of the circular rings show fresh black stone not covered by carbonate deposits suggesting the rings opened at a time later than the paleolakes, - the surrounding plain is covered by 20ft of alluvial mud in addition to millenia of wind-blown deposits making the level of the plain higher than when the lava plateau was originally formed.

Atlantis canal Pampa Aullagas sequence 5
sequence 5, the plain is at a higher level as is Lake Poopo, allowing a channel to be dug from the lake to the outer ring of the volcano.

profile cerro santos villka 6
sequence 6, earthquakes cause the alluvial plain to collapse in elevation, the outer plateau of the volcano which rested on the alluvial plain also collapses except on the west side where the innermost ring is elevated due to rising lava beneath the volcano. When paleolake Coipasa arrives, it can only penetrate the outer rings of the volcano on the west side, but all the rings on the east side, however for a canal to be dug to the volcano at this time would depend on the height of the surrounding plain.

profile cerro santos villka 7
sequence 7, at some time the surrounding plain collapsed to a level whereby the volcano and surrounding plateau became inaccesable to the waters from Lake Poopo which today in the wet season would only reach to the outer rim of the volcano, making it an island but insufficient to fill the interior channels.

Pampa Aullagas Atlantis water level
Ground view of the mountain at Pampa Aullagas from the south, (with volcanic spring in the foreground), it is surrounded by a band of stones covered in white, fossilised lake deposits which show the original level of the lake at a much higher level than today, the surrounding plain has also dropped in elevation.

Atlantis Pampa Aullagas rio Marquez
view of the site at Pampa Aullagas from the east showing as Plato called it "a mountain low on all sides". This refers to the circular volcanic plateau which surrounds the central cone and which also contains the concentric rings. The fine line marks the ancient water level which would have filled the sandy depessions leaving circular bands of rock forming rings of land. The white sandy band on the central cone shows where this part of the cone has fallen away due to earthquakes and the white sand on the sides of the outer plateau show where the land and level plain has dropped away from the original volcano.

    Following on from Lake Tauca or Coipasa, successive wet and dry periods occurred with an extremely dry period from 4,000 – 3,000BC.

However, with the wet period beginning 2500 – 1900 BC, a paleolake formed in the River Desaguadero valley suggesting that at this period the water levels might have been correctly balanced  to feed the canals of Atlantis. It also suggests that Lake Poopo could have formed an almost continuous sea stretching right up to lake Titicaca.

    Following a “short” dry spell of 400 years, the next wet spell was from 1500 – 1200BC offering an alternative possible date for the end of Atlantis since 1200BC is concurrent with the invasion of Egypt by the “Sea Peoples” which could correspond to the war against Egypt which Plato described.

30,000 – 28,000BC Lake Minchin or 48,000 to 36,000BC

wet 24,000 – 13,000BC

(16,000 – 11,000 = Lake Tauca)

dry 13,000 – 11,000BC

onset of salt deposits Salar de Uyuni marked demise of paleolake Tauca around 13,000BC indicating that lake Titicaca had dropped below its outlet level, hence, it no longer fed the paleolake.

Wet 11,000 – 9,500BC..Lake Titicaca overflowed again and a paleolake occupied the central Altiplano (paleoake Coipasa)

Dry 9,500 – 8,000BC

Wet 8,000 – 6,500BC

Dry 6,500 – 5,000BC

Wet 5,000 – 4,000BC

Extremely dry 4,000 – 3,000BC

Wet 2,500 – 1,900BC..paleolake in Rio Desaguadero valley ( a few metres above modern level)

Wet 1500 – 1200BC

Wet 800 – 500BC

Wet 200BC – 0

Wet 1500AD – present

Lake Titicaca has been at or near its overflow level since about 1500BC and small lakes (such as modern Lake Poopo) have existed on the central Altiplano during much of this period.

above data from Dunbar and Baker, for full report, CLICK here

lake levels altiplano
note the two different levels for lago Tauca, 3760metres and 3720 metres, the lower level is sometimes called lago Coipasa.

lake levels altiplano
Lake Tauca, glaciation and lake levels report

Above, scheme of differing lake levels according to Fornari 2001 using Tauca data 1996.

lake levels tauca    lake levels tauca
Above left, Lake Tauca according to Servant and Fontes 1978.
right, Atlantis as an island and partly submerged by Lake Tauca highstand.

n.b. differing reports give different data hence occasional descrepancies in figures

Lake Tauca, (diagram above left), according to a 1983 report by Albrecht Kessler lasted from 10,500BC to 9,000BC and covered the Altiplano to a depth of 60 metres, note how Lake Poopo has enlarged to become an even bigger inland sea while water covers most of the rectangular (Basin Coipasa + Basin Uyuni) plain. When the lake dried up there would have been an optimum time when the plain was covered in fertile alluvial mud

Alternating deposits of salt and lacustrine mud according to Fornari 2001.

- a 2001 report by Michel Fornari gives a date for Lake Tauca of from 14,000 to 10,000BC and a depth of 20 feet for the initial layer of alluvial mud left behind when the lake dried up and before it became covered in salt deposits, other reports give a date of between 11,400BC and 9,500BC for the radiocarbon-dated shallow paleolake called “Coipasa” - a subdivision of the "Tauca" phase and the above chart records a depth of 500mm (20") of alluvial mud left behind by paleolake Coipasa and subsequently buried under 6 metres (20 feet) of salt deposits dating from that period until present day.

Lake high stands according to Blard 2012

Figures according to Blard 2012, state that the Lake Tauca cycle lasted from 16,000 to 12,500 BC and was characterized by a high water stand reaching at least 3770 m (12,368ft) from 14,500 to 13,000 BC, while the Lake Coipasa cycle according to Blard lasted from 10,500 to 9,900 BC and reached an elevation of 3700 m, (12,139ft) i.e. 42 m (138ft) above the elevation of the Salar de Uyuni (3658 m) (12,001ft). (Analysis of Lake Tauca sandbeach deposits near Nueva Esperanza (20.0495°S, 67.0644°O, 3765 metres, 12,352 feet, region is near northeast shore of Salar de Uyuni)

Lake Tauca highest stand from 14,500 to 13,000 BC according to Blard 2012

Today the plain is covered in salt salars due to the repeated flooding and evaporation of the waters over centuries. So the geological date is correct for an Atlantis culture to have began when lake Coipasa dried up as Plato gave a date of 9,000 years before Solon (9,600BC) and the object of the perimeter canal would have been to prevent the waters of Lake Poopo from encroaching onto the level plain so the canal could be used both for irrigation and to prevent flooding.

At one time the river Desaguadero originally drained the plain from South to North but later changed direction and today drains from North to South. Posnansky followed the strand lines of the former lakes as far south as the lake Poopo region and thought the original lake level was about 170 feet above the present-day level of lake Poopo. In the region of the village of Huari he noticed that the strand lines (which would have formed in a horizontal level) had become inclined but was not sure whether the sinking of the southern zone was a slow or rapid occurance.

Posnansky strand lines lake tauca
Posnansky's interpretation of the strand lines

path of the pole Bellamy strand lines
Path of the Pole, Bellamy's interpretation of the strand lines

Carbonate encustrations mark the strand line or level of the former lakes
in this case 140 metres above the salt pans of today's Altiplano according to the USGS.

carbonate deposits at Pampa Aullagas
Lake deposited carbonate encustrations on outer wall at Pampa Aullagas.

earthquake damage Pampa Aullagas
close-up showing encrusted lake deposits and earthquake damage at Pampa Aullagas.

carbonate encrusted black stone Pampa Aullagas
This black stone found fairly high up the southern side of the mountain appears encrusted with lake deposits.

carbonate line at Pampa Aullagas
This line of carbonate encustrations marks a level of the former lakes at Pampa Aullagas
and also shows where the face of the mountain has fallen away due to the earthquakes.

After the earthquakes and floods: did the earthquakes cause tsunamis?
Did the sinking of the southern Altiplano cause Lake Titicaca to overflow its banks
and sumberge the southern zone in a giant tidal wave or tsunami?

top figure. Lake Tauca 11,000BC. The Desaguadero is horizontal and parallel to the lake level.
Prior to the arrival of the lake, water drains from the Salar de Uyuni northwards.

Bellamys shoreline graph Altiplano
Present day shore lines according to Bellamy. At some time after lake Tauca in 11,000BC, the northern end has risen and the southern end has sunk giving the slanted ancient shore lines. Water today drains from Lake Titicaca southwards to Lake Poopó and Uyuni. Source: Bellamy "Built Before the Flood" with heights in feet added as per Bellamy's description in "the Path of the Pole" (above). Posnansky thought that the land in the northern section had risen due to being relieved of the weight of ice which had melted after the end of the Ice Age.
We can note that the figure for Sillustani is about the same as the modern figure for paleolake Cabana and the figure for Oruro/Poopo is about the same as the modern figure for paleolake Coipasa so perhaps Posnansky/Bellamy's figures would benefit from modern verification.

Combining the two drawings shows how the land has sunk at the southern end.

If this happened suddenly... the water from Lake Titicaca would flow southwards in a giant tidal wave......
wiping out everything in its path and submerging the island of Atlantis in Lake Poopo

I should mention also that Plato's date for the end of Atlantis is somewhat ambiguous since he gives the same date for its founding, 9,600BC as he does for its destruction, but in that respect he also refers to the date as being the date when the war began which, since there was no Athens or Egyptian state in 9,600BC probably refers to the invasion of the eastern Mediterranean by the Sea Peoples and subsequent Persian invasion of Greece, dating from the time of the Trojan War around 1260BC down to 480BC when the Persian navy was defeated in the Battle of Salamis marking the turning point of the war in favour of the Greeks. Plato's description of the 10,000 chariots and 1200 triremes of Atlantis is probably also based upon Herodotus' description of the army and navy of the Persians recorded in his Histories since the Persian fleet also had 1200 ships - incidentally again the same number Homer gives for the Greek fleet attacking Troy in the Illiad.

So Plato's story of Atlantis would appear to be a compound story, using geographic data such as a description of South America and the Altiplano along with a description of elements based upon the Persian Wars and a few embellishments provided by Plato himself, thus making it difficult to work out which aspects are true and which aspects may be invention.

The site at Pampa Aullagas corresponds well to the first part of the description of how the god of the sea "broke it off all round about making circular belts of land and sea so that is was impassable to man" but whether there was ever a canal from the sea leading to the outer rings is a much more difficult thing to prove, also with the canal said to run around the perimeter of the plain.

There also existed in Persia two capital cities said to be surrounded by concentric ringed walls, one at Eckbatana (although in modern times no evidence of ringed walls have been found there), the other at Susa and these walls were also said to have been painted in decorative colours and rising higher on the interior towards the centre.

susa aerial photo
Susa aerial photo, the citadel in the foreground shows remarkable similarity to the site
at Pampa Aullagas as it exists today. The fort at the rear of the site was built by French archaeologists
and the "Tomb of Daniel" is marked by the pointed spire on the left of the photo.

Atlantis Pampa Aullagas oblique view
Oblique view of Atlantis mountain at Pampa Pullagas.

See also Pampa Aullagas page for additional photos of Pampa Aullagas and
plain comparison page for comparison of the Altiplano with other proposed Atlantis locations.

J.M. Allen

sailing to Atlantis
sailing to the lost city of atlantis homepage