Washington Post Foreign Service
October 10, 2002

In Cuban Depths, Atlantis or Anomaly?
Images of Massive Stones 2,000 Feet Below Surface Fuel
Scientific Speculation

                   By Kevin Sullivan
                   Thursday; Page A25

                   HAVANA -- The images appear
                   slowly on the video screen, like
                   ghosts from the ocean floor. The
                   videotape, made by an unmanned
                   submarine, shows massive stones in
                   oddly symmetrical square and
                   pyramid shapes in the deep-sea

                   Sonar images taken from a research ship 2,000 feet above are even more
                   puzzling. They show that the smooth, white stones are laid out in a geometric
                   pattern. The images look like fragments of a city, in a place where nothing
                   man-made should exist, spanning nearly eight square miles of a deep-ocean
                   plain off Cuba's western tip.

                   "What we have here is a mystery," said Paul Weinzweig, of Advanced Digital
                   Communications (ADC), a Canadian company that is mapping the ocean
                   bottom of Cuba's territorial waters under contract with the government of
                   President Fidel Castro.

                   "Nature couldn't have built anything so symmetrical," Weinzweig said, running
                   his finger over sonar printouts aboard his ship, tied up at a wharf in Havana
                   harbor. "This isn't natural, but we don't know what it is."

                   The company's main mission is to hunt for shipwrecks filled with gold and
                   jewels, and to locate potentially lucrative oil and natural gas reserves in deep
                   water that Cuba does not have the means to explore.

                   Treasure hunting has become a growth industry in recent years as technology
                   has improved, allowing more precise exploration and easier recovery from
                   deeper ocean sites. Advanced Digital operates from the Ulises, a 260-foot
                   trawler that was converted to a research vessel for Castro's government by
                   the late French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

                   Since they began exploration three years ago with sophisticated side-scan
                   sonar and computerized global-positioning equipment, Weinzweig said they
                   have mapped several large oil and gas deposits and about 20 shipwrecks
                   sitting beneath ancient shipping lanes where hundreds of old wrecks are
                   believed to be resting. The most historically important so far has been the
                   USS Maine, which exploded and sank in Havana harbor in 1898, an event
                   that ignited the Spanish-American War.

                   In 1912, the ship was raised from the harbor floor by the U.S. Army Corps
                   of Engineers and towed out into deeper water four miles from the Cuban
                   shore, where it was scuttled. Strong currents carried the Maine away from the
                   site, and its precise location remained unknown until Ulises's sonar spotted it
                   two years ago.

                   Then, by sheer serendipity, on a summer day in 2000, as the Ulises was
                   towing its sonar back and forth across the ocean like someone mowing a
                   lawn, the unexpected rock formations appeared on the sonar readouts. That
                   startled Weinzweig and his partner and wife, Paulina Zelitsky, a Russian-born
                   engineer who has designed submarine bases for the Soviet military.

                   "We have looked at enormous amounts of ocean bottom, and we have never
                   seen anything like this," Weinzweig said.

                   The discovery immediately sparked speculation about Atlantis, the fabled lost
                   city first described by Plato in 360 B.C.. Weinzweig and Zelitsky were careful
                   not to use the A word and said that much more study was needed before
                   such a conclusion could be reached.

                   But that has not stopped a boomlet of speculation, most of it on the Internet.
                   Atlantis-hunters have long argued their competing theories that the lost city
                   was off Cuba, off the Greek island of Crete, off Gibraltar or elsewhere.
                   Several Web sites have touted the ADC images as a possible first sighting.

                   Among those who suspect the site may be Atlantis is George Erikson, a
                   California anthropologist who co-authored a book in which he predicted that
                   the lost city would be found offshore in the tropical Americas.

                   "I have always disagreed with all the archaeologists who dismiss myth," said
                   Erikson, who said he had been shunned by many scientists since publishing his
                   book about Atlantis. He said the story has too many historical roots to be
                   dismissed as sheer fantasy and that if the Cuban site proves to be Atlantis, he
                   hopes "to be the first to say, 'I told you so.' "

                   Manuel Iturralde, one of Cuba's leading geologists, said it was too soon to
                   know what the images prove. He has examined the evidence and concluded
                   that, "It's strange, it's weird; we've never seen something like this before, and
                   we don't have an explanation for it."

                   Iturralde said volcanic rocks recovered at the site strongly suggest that the
                   undersea plain was once above water, despite its extreme depth. He said the
                   existence of those rocks was difficult to explain, especially because there are
                   no volcanoes in Cuba.

                   He also said that if the symmetrical stones are determined to be the ruins of
                   buildings, it could have taken 50,000 years or more for tectonic shifting to
                   carry them so deep into the ocean. The ancient Great Pyramid of Giza in
                   Egypt is only about 5,000 years old, which means the Cuba site "wouldn't fit
                   with what we know about human architectural evolution," he said.

                   "It's an amazing question that we would like to solve," he said.

                   But Iturralde stressed that the evidence is inconclusive. He said that no
                   first-hand exploration in a mini-submarine had been conducted, which would
                   provide a much more comprehensive assessment. He said a remote-operated
                   video camera provides only a limited perspective, like someone looking at a
                   close-up image of an elephant's toe and trying to describe the whole animal.

                   The National Geographic Society has expressed interest and is considering an
                   expedition in manned submarines next summer, according to Sylvia Earl, a
                   famed American oceanographer and explorer-in-residence at the society.

                   "It's intriguing," Earl said in an interview from her Oakland, Calif., home. "It is
                   so compelling that I think we need to go check it out."

                   Earl said a planned expedition this past summer was canceled because of
                   funding problems. But she said National Geographic hopes to explore the site
                   next summer as part of its Sustainable Seas research program.

                   Earl has visited Cuba and described the preliminary evidence as "fantastic"
                   and "extraordinary." But she stressed that as a "skeptical scientist," she would
                   assume that the unusual stones were formed naturally until scientific evidence
                   proved otherwise.

                   "There is so much speculation about ancient civilizations," she said. "I'm in
                   tune with the reality and the science, not the myths or stories or fantasies."

                   As they search for answers, Weinzweig and Zelitsky have suddenly become
                   involved in a new mystery -- the discovery of a potential blockbuster
                   shipwreck. They said that on Aug. 15, their remotely operated vehicle came
                   across what appears to be a 500-year-old Spanish galleon that they had been
                   searching for.

                   They declined to name the ship, fearful of other treasure hunters, but they said
                   it carried a priceless cargo of emeralds, diamonds and ancient artifacts. By
                   contract, they said they can keep 40 percent of the value of whatever they
                   recover. They said the value of findings at the newly discovered wreck could
                   far exceed the nearly $4 million that their private backers have so far invested
                   in their operations.

                   Weinzweig said a closer examination is needed to prove the ship's identity. He
                   said that in treasure hunting, as in the search for Atlantis, there is no substitute
                   for science.

                   "One thing is legend," he said, sitting on Ulises's bridge. "Another is the hard
                   evidence you find on the ocean floor."

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